With the 2016 national elections upcoming, wealthy donors supporting both parties are gearing up to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into the races; billionaires David and Charles Koch have already pledged to spend $889 million. But a report from Reuters shows that Americans, frustrated by the overwhelming influence of big money in politics, are organizing to fight back.
In the Philadelphia mayoral race, three billionaires spent $7 million to elect Anthony Hardy Williams. In response, unions and community groups rallied around his challenger, Jim Kenney, organizing a march to stop the wealthy donors from “buying [their] next mayor.” Technological developments are making such organization easier: the creators of Crowdpac, an app that lets entrepreneurs gather funding towards donations, say that they want the app to be used to organize small donors to counteract the effects of billionaire spending.
This is reflective of a wider trend in public opinion. Americans are sick of letting big money influence their elections; 84 percent say that money has too much influence in political campaigns today and nearly 3 in 4 Americans support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and limit campaign spending.
“There's growing public awareness about rich people trying to buy elections and that makes the task of winning all the more difficult," said Darrel West of the Brookings Institute.
Americans have organized at all levels of government to get big money out of politics. Activists have held rallies and marches devoted to the cause and demanded that their representatives in Congress take steps to reduce big money’s influence. Five million of them have signed a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to limit the amount of money spent in politics. Sixteen states and more than 650 cities have already called for an amendment.
President Obama is on board, and presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, Lindsey Graham, and Bernie Sanders have expressed support for a constitutional amendment. Clinton and Sanders have also emphasized the importance of nominating Supreme Court Justices who would restore balance to the Supreme Court and restore the American people’s ability to impose reasonable limits on money in politics.
The movement against big money in politics is gaining momentum as the election nears.
A number of leading campaign finance lawyers assert that Jeb Bush’s continued refusal to declare himself as a 2016 presidential candidate, despite his robust fundraising, is a blatant evasion of campaign finance restrictions. The New York Times reported today that campaign experts consider Bush’s activities, such as traveling to Iowa and other swing states and making stump speeches on his vision for the country, to have crossed the barrier into campaigning months ago. Organizations that work to eradicate big money in politics have taken action:
“Last week, two campaign watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Mr. Bush had broken election law by evading restrictions on candidates. The groups called his noncandidacy ‘a charade’ and called on prosecutors to intervene because they said the F.E.C. — perpetually gridlocked — was unlikely to do anything.”
Skirting campaign finance restrictions for as long as possible is profitable for Jeb Bush as it allows him to rake in contributions exceeding the $2,700 limit for official candidates and to continue to coordinate with his super PAC. By delaying his official announcement of candidacy, Jeb Bush is able to bring in an exorbitant amount of donations from wealthy backers and corporations, ensuring that big money has a substantial voice in the 2016 election.
Learn more about Jeb Bush with our 2016 Republican Candidates Report.
Gov. Scott Walker was chatting recently with right-wing radio host Dana Loesch about his efforts to set up regulatory hurdles to abortion access in Wisconsin, when heoffered this defense of a law he signed that would require a woman to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound before exercising her constitutionally protected right to an abortion:
I'm pro-life. I've passed pro-life legislation. We defunded Planned Parenthood, we signed a law that requires an ultrasound. Which, the thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea. You know, most people I talked to, whether they're pro-life or not, I find people all the time that pull out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids' ultrasound and how excited they are, so that's a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, we still have their first ultrasounds. It's just a cool thing out there.
Right Wing Watch, a project of People For the American Way, was listening to the show and brought attention to Walker's comments, and they understandably hit a nerve.
Sure, an ultrasound could be "cool" if you are a woman carrying a healthy child, surrounded by family, love and support and making your own medical choices along with your doctor. Or you are excited grandparents looking forward to years of joy with a child. What's not "cool" is if the state mandates that you undergo a medically unnecessary procedure in an effort to prevent you from making a choice that you, an adult woman whose circumstances your politicians have no right to know or judge,have already made and are unlikely to change.
Even less "cool" is the fact that the ultrasound bill was passed as part of an explicit effort to undermine women's access to health care. Its companion bill was an "admitting privileges" requirement, a common anti-choice tactic, that threatened to close two abortion clinics in the state. Since then, Walker has boasted to anti-choice leaders of using deceptive rhetoric about the ultrasound bill in order to downplay its true intentions.
Unlike the ultrasounds of the Walkers' children, forced ultrasounds like these aren't the kind that anyone wants to show off. What's astonishing is that Walker doesn't seem to get this. Instead, he's accusing the "gotcha" media of being "biased" and "lazy" and twisting the meaning of his comments. Unfortunately, some of the media are taking him at his word.
Walker's remarks weren't twisted. You can listen to his whole answer to the questionhere. The problem is that Walker just doesn't seem to get why what he said was so offensive. For someone who wants to be president, that's deeply troubling.
Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.
This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:
In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.
PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.
Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.
In Congress and state legislatures across the country, right-wing politicians are pushing hard to construct new barriers to women exercising the constitutional right to have an abortion.
Earlier this month the U.S. House passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and GOP legislators in Wisconsin are staging a parallel attack. They introduced a similar 20-week ban, which Gov. Scott Walker has indicated he would sign, and have scheduled a hearing on the bill for next week. PFAW supporters in Wisconsin will be out in force to demonstrate their commitment to protecting this core right.
A couple of important points about 20-week bans: first, they are plainly unconstitutional. One of the main holdings of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was a woman’s right to an abortion before the fetus becomes viable – that is, the point when a fetus could survive outside the uterus. As Imani Gandy writes at RH Reality Check:
In the past 40 years, the Court has never wavered from the fetal viability benchmark…Courts have consistently smacked down legislative attempts to ban abortions at 20 weeks. But states are undeterred by such pedestrian concerns as constitutionality.
Pushing these bans are a deliberate effort to prompt a challenge to the Roe decision, which anti-choice groups believe they can win.
Second, the overwhelming majority of abortions (close to 99 percent) happen before 21 weeks. Those that happen after that are often because of a complicated situation – such as the discovery of a severe fetal abnormality – and the path forward should be determined by a woman and her doctor, not by politicians looking to score points with their base.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these bans are part of an anti-choice agenda with a much broader goal: banning abortions across the board. From mandatory waiting period laws to “personhood” efforts which would give embryos full legal rights from the moment of conception, the anti-choice movement is playing the long game and slowly “chipping away at choice.”
When legislators try to insert themselves into decisions that should be made by women and their health care providers, it’s more than a political ploy. It’s a real threat to every woman’s health and autonomy.
As police violence plagues cities across the nation, communities are actively responding with initiatives to mitigate violence and work toward justice. Elected officials, faith leaders and community activists have come together to strengthen their communities in places such as Ferguson and Baltimore. As Pastor Barry Hargrove, president of the Progressive Baptist Convention of Maryland and an active minister in our African American Religious Affairs Program, explained, “There are lots of things happening behind the scenes, happening on the ground, that are not being reported.”
On Tuesday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing for members about the Black Lives Matter movement. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated a dialogue among Hargrove, Missouri State Senator and member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network Maria Chappelle-Nadal, PFAWF Director of Youth Leadership and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and PFAWF Director of African American Religious Affairs Leslie Watson Malachi.
In the telebriefing, these leaders answered questions about Baltimore and Ferguson and discussed progressive measures taking place in their own communities. In both Baltimore and Ferguson, local leaders have turned toward broad and responsive solutions – such as community policing, social justice education curricula, and prayer rallies – to address targeted violence against minorities.
Despite these steps, Chappelle-Nadal noted that there are still “a significant number of issues that have not been addressed by the legislature.” Chappelle-Nadal, as well as Hargrove, Gillum, and Malachi, encouraged participants to continue advocating for local policies that can help to provoke a systemic change in police practices and empower communities.
Call participants posed many productive questions, including a member who asked what steps could be taken to address tension between the police and communities. Hargrove suggested working within “spheres of influence,” whether it be faith-based organizations or public policy proposals. He also encouraged dialogues between police and community members; Chappelle-Nadal echoed this sentiment by urging citizens to build connections based on commonalities rather than differences.
Listen to the full briefing here:
On Friday, PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney joined Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC’s ‘PoliticsNation’ to talk about Mike Huckabee’s response to Josh Duggar’s sexual abuse scandal. After Duggar admitted to sexually abusing young girls as a teenager, Huckabee, a presidential hopeful, posted a lengthy Facebook status supporting Duggar and his family. He claimed Duggar was victimized by the public’s “insensitive bloodthirst” for scandal, and called Duggar’s actions inexcusable, but not unforgivable.
Courtney said that while he doesn’t believe he should tell Huckabee how to respond to the allegations, it is fair to look at how Huckabee has responded to other issues. As Courtney explained, Huckabee “responded with outrage when gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military. He responded with outrage every time we’ve seen laws to protect LGBT people at work.” And Courtney reminded viewers that Huckabee has even “responded with so much outrage to marriage equality that he’s compared gay people to Nazi propagandists and people who have sex with sheep.”
Huckabee’s support for the Duggars is shaded by his own hypocrisy, Courtney explained: Huckabee “seemed kind of stunned by the judgment that he feels the Duggars have received, but he’s responded with bitterness and judgment at every step along our country’s way to legal equality for gay people.” Courtney commented, “I hope that, frankly, [Huckabee] remembers this feeling next time he decides that he should be attacking gay and lesbian families in order to score some political points.”
Last September, a majority of the Senate voted in support of the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposal that would overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and let lawmakers put commonsense limits on money in elections.
Building off that progress, this week activists in more than 12 states delivered petitions to their House and Senate members asking them to support the Democracy For All Amendment. As wealthy special interests prepare to pour billions into the 2016 elections, ordinary Americans aren’t just shaking their heads. They are signing petitions, organizing events, lobbying their elected officials, and pushing for change.
In California, local leaders delivered 311,950 petitions – all signed by Californians who support an amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United – to Rep. Tony Cardenas. Their raised fingers represent the fight to protect the promise of “one person, one vote.”
In New York, activists did the same at the office of Rep. Yvette Clark.
One Maryland activist even hand-delivered his petitions directly to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
A number of local leaders in New Hampshire came out to deliver thousands of petitions to Sen. Kelly Ayotte...
…which caught the attention of local media.
All in all, more than five million Americans have signed petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Grassroots leaders across the country are going to keep up the pressure on their elected officials until support for the amendment in Congress reflects the overwhelming support among constituents.
This week PFAW staff joined members of the Arkansas Democracy Coalition to kick off a 2016 ballot initiative campaign to increase disclosure in election spending and support a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United. The series of events, including a performance showcasing the story of legendary campaign finance activist Doris “Granny D” Haddock and a march for democracy through downtown Little Rock, culminated with a press conference on the steps of the state capitol building.
Speakers included Paul Spencer of Regnat Populus, a convening organization of the Arkansas Democracy coalition; Rep. Clarke Tucker, a member of the Arkansas state legislature; Rhana Bazzini, an 83-year-old woman who has marched hundreds of miles in the tradition of Granny D to promote campaign finance reform; and Rio Tazewell, the Government By the People campaign coordinator at People For the American Way.
The Arkansas Democracy Coalition, in partnership with PFAW and other national allies, has submitted ballot language awaiting approval by the Arkansas Attorney General. Upon approval, a signature gathering campaign will launch to collect the 70,000 names needed to get the resolution on the ballot. If passed, the resolution would make Arkansas the 17th state on record in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.
This piece was written by PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager and originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
On May 19, part of President Obama’s executive actions to keep DREAMers and families from being deported was supposed to go into effect, but they’ve been temporarily blocked because of a lawsuit brought on by anti-immigrant Republicans. This week, immigration groups and progressive organizations across the country are rallying in support of the President’s executive actions.
After reading so many anti-Obama, anti-immigrant screeds, I began to wonder, what if all the Right’s most extreme rhetoric came together in one place? Behold! The ultimate anti-immigrant op-ed, brought to you by the Republican Party and their extremist base! Included are actual statements from GOP leaders and activists like Former Governor Jeb Bush, Representative Steve King (IA), and anti-immigrant leader William Gheen.
President Obama’s Out to Destroy Our Nation Through His Executive Actions on Immigration
President Obama’s lawless executive actions on immigration that protect DREAMers and families from deportation are an insult to the American people. Obama is acting like a Latin American dictator, King George, a tyrant, and Putin, abusing his power to promote his nefarious agenda.
This literally could be the death of the Republic. The executive actions could cause our country to descend abruptly into an abyss that we have never seen in the history of this country. Or at the least, the executive actions will turn us into a lawless third-world nation. Our Constitution will certainly be torn asunder.
If we stop families from being deported, we open the doors for our country to be invaded by immigrants, one person at a time. Our pockets are being picked and innocent people are being killed by illegal aliens and hurt and robbed and beaten and raped by criminal foreign nationals that are in our country. Most undocumented immigrants are 130-pound drug runners with calves the size of cantaloupes.
They're going to be dependent on welfare and handouts and hence will be dependent on the Democratic Party for their livelihoods. These immigrants just come here for easy acquisition of public support through welfare programs. They’re rushing over here because they’ve heard there’s a bowl of food just across the border. And once they’re here, they’ll raid the Social Security system and lie about their work history.
We can’t stand idly by as the President does this – he’s not above the law and above the Constitution. The Senate should not confirm a single nominee—executive or judicial—outside of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty persists. We could also shut down the government again!
But that’s not enough. We have a constitutional duty to stop this runaway, imperial presidency – should we impeach Obama? And at some point, we have to evaluate whether the president's conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States. That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it. We must also start talking about treason. Obama’s action certainly is an act of treason because it’s aiding and abetting the enemies of America and giving them comfort and aid.
In an International Business Times article from earlier this month, Andrew Perez and David Sirota reported that Jeb Bush, as governor of Florida, used taxpayer funds to subsidize a company owned by the far-right, anti-gay American Family Association (AFA).
Specifically, the “lucrative tax break” that Bush delivered helped the company’s production of “Web filter technology to prevent Internet users from seeing pornography or information about homosexual relationships or transgender identities.”
In the article, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan pointed out that Bush’s actions highlight his extremism as an elected official:
"That Jeb Bush gave taxpayer money to a subsidiary of a hate group whose founder has compared homosexuality to theft and murder and has claimed that gay people target children speaks volumes about who Bush is as an elected official,” said Michael Keegan of the liberal activist group People for the American Way. “If there was any question about his extremism before, this eliminates any shred of doubt.”
People For the American Way has long monitored the far-right, homophobic actions and rhetoric of the American Family Association. When Bush first provided the tax break to AFA’s company, PFAW was one of the leading groups to call him out on it. In 2001, PFAW President Ralph G. Neas and PFAW Florida Director Lisa Versaci urged Bush to rescind his support for an organization whose president had declared: “For the sake of our children and society, we must oppose the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we oppose murder, stealing, and adultery.”
Back in January, House Republican leaders cancelled a vote on a 20-week abortion ban, the top legislative priority of anti-choice groups, shortly before it was scheduled to take place on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. A group of more moderate anti-choice Republicans, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers, had objected to language that exempted rape survivors from the ban only if they had reported the assault to law enforcement first, which Ellmers said “further victimized the victims of rape.”
Anti-choice groups were furious and have been holding protests outside the offices of House Republican leaders demanding a new vote on the bill. It seems that they have now gotten their wish.
A number of outlets are reporting that the House leadership has scheduled a vote next week on the 20-week ban after months of negotiations about the rape exception. According to news reports, while the requirement that rape survivors file a police report is no longer in the bill, they are now required to present evidence that they “have received either medical treatment or licensed counseling at least 48 hours prior to the late-term procedure.”
According to LifeNews, the bill also includes an “informed consent” requirement that notifies women “of the age of her baby and the requirements under the law” and includes language making it easier to sue abortion providers.
The Weekly Standard reports that National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List are both behind the new version of the bill:
In 2013, the House passed the bill, called the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which included exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and when a physical health issue endangers the life of the mother. But an effort to pass identical legislation in the new Congress was scrapped in January on the eve of the annual March for Life because some GOP members, led publicly by Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, objected to the bill's reporting requirement for late-term abortions in the case of rape. The bill required the crime to be reported to law enforcement officials at any point prior to performing a late-term abortion.
According to House Republicans, that requirement has been removed from the bill. Instead, the legislation requires abortion doctors to ensure that victims have received either medical treatment or licensed counseling at least 48 hours prior to the late-term procedure. With that change, the bill has assuaged the concerns of those Republican members while still garnering strong support of national pro-life groups, including the National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List.
“I’m proud we’ve gotten to a point where we found a consensus between our members and the pro-life groups out there,” said Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee.
The fact that there was a rape exception in the bill at all was the result of last-minute negotiations on a previous version of the bill after its sponsor, Trent Franks, made a Todd Akin-like remark about pregnancy from rape being rare. As we explore in our recent report on the “personhood” movement, rape exceptions are extraordinarily divisive within the anti-choice community. The National Right to Life Committee’s decision to support the Franks bill even with the narrow rape exception caused a number of state anti-choice groups to form a rival organization that pushes for “no exceptions” anti-choice policies.
Blogger Jill Stanek reports that one person involved in the negotiations on the current version 20-week ban told her, “This is the most complicated bill I’ve ever worked on.”
At the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner this weekend, President Obama delivered 20 minutes of his trademark dry humor, working in jabs at Michele Bachmann, Joe Biden, climate change deniers in Congress, and himself, to name a few. Perhaps some of the most pertinent jokes of the evening came about halfway into his speech, when he poked fun at the 2016 GOP presidential field, the Koch brothers and the influence of big money in politics.
“Soon the first presidential contest will take place, and I for one cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick,” President Obama joked. “It’s exciting… the winner gets a billion dollar war chest. The runner up gets to be the bachelor on the next season of The Bachelor.”
“I mean, seriously – a billion dollars,” the president continued. “From just two guys. Is it just me or does that feel a little excessive?”
The president making these pointed jokes is the latest example of a growing cultural awareness of the problems stemming from big money in politics. With presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Sen. Bernie Sanders all in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, this issue is rapidly ripening for broader public discussion.