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House Democrats Endorse the DARE Initiative

Yesterday, House Democrats held a press conference highlighting the need to clean up the election system through what they are calling the DARE initiative. (To note, this is the same initiative Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi presented and spoke about in length at PFAW’s 30th Anniversary celebration this past June.) The acronym stands for the following:

D – Disclose

A – Amend

R – Reform

E – Elect

In just a short period of time, the impact of the Supreme Court’s egregious ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to corporate and special interest spending in our elections, has been felt nationwide. In response, a growing chorus of activists and organizations are mobilizing to overturn the decision by amending (the A in DARE) the Constitution. As evidenced by the press conference, public officials are responding to this movement. Nearly 2,000 are already on record in support of amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, including 92 Representatives in the House.

In attendance of the press conference were Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep John B. Larson (D-CT.), U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD.), U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA.), U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (),U.S. Rep Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), as well as Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign.

Nyhart outlined three critical steps needed to remedy this: full disclosure, small donor and citizen-led funding of elections, and the ability to limit donations from large corporate entities.

 

 

Recently Republicans and Democrats clashed on the Disclose Act, which would have required the disclosure of all major donors in the election process. Leader Pelosi expressed her concern that dark money is “suffocating the airwaves and suppressing the vote.”

 

 

Not so long ago, disclosure was a bi-partisan issue. Congressman Van Hollen made this clear, quoting Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s (R-KT) statement from 2000 endorsing such reforms: “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

Expressing his passion about the issue, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, motioning toward the Capitol building, told reporters, “in post-production you might want to include a ‘For Sale’ sign in front of that.” Kucinich stated, “Let’s be candid, the system is for sale.” The outgoing congressman urged immediate action on removing the corrupting influence of dark money, lest we lose our republic to the influence of special interests. This government must remain in the hands of the people - or as Mr. Nyhart put it, remain “Of, by, and for the many… not the money.”

 

[Dylan Hewitt, Amelia Coffey, and Michael Jameson contributed to this post]

PFAW

Prop 8 Backers Urge Supreme Court to Review

The ballot initiative that revoked marriage equality in California has taken a big step towards having its constitutionality determined by America’s highest court.  In a long-awaited move, proponents of Prop 8 have petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Hollingsworth .v Perry that the ballot initiative violated the federal Equal Protection Clause.  A nearly 500 page document, which can found here, lays out their rationale for urging the court to review the case.

Prop 8 Trial Tracker broke down the core of their argument:

The question presented in the case is: “Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.” The proponents tell the Court that they should answer the “profoundly important question whether the ancient and vital institution of marriage should be fundamentally redefined to include same-sex couples.” They write that leaving the Ninth Circuit’s decision intact would have “widespread and immediate negative consequences” and would leave the impression that any “experiment” with marriage would be “irrevocable”.

The Ninth Circuit issued a very narrow ruling, avoiding the question of whether gay and lesbian couples in general have a constitutional right to marry.  Instead, it based its ruling on narrow grounds unique to California, where same-sex couples were left with all the state rights of marriage but not the name. It found that taking their designation of “marriage” while leaving their rights unchanged did not serve any of the purposes put forth by its defenders. Instead, its only purpose and effect was to lessen a targeted group’s status and dignity by reclassifying their relationship and families as inferior. While the Supreme Court will be presented with the narrower question as framed by the Ninth Circuit, it is impossible to tell, if it agrees to hear the case at all, whether they will rule on this principle or more broadly on the ability of states to deny lesbians and gays the right to marry.

The Supreme Court will likely decide in early October whether or not to hear the case.  Back in February, PFAW applauded the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in upholding the decision of the district court striking down Prop 8.

Marriage equality is just one of the many critical issues that will come before the Supreme Court when they reconvene next session.  The elevation of Prop 8 to the highest level of the judicial system underscores the increasing importance of the Supreme Court and the Presidential election.

It is a difficult to imagine a more conservative Court than the one we have now, but Mitt Romney has pledged to appoint justices even further to the right then John Roberts and Samuel Alito.  Romney has also enlisted far-right judge Robert Bork to advise him on judicial matters.

Visit RomneyCourt.com  for more on Mitt Romney’s extreme vision for the Supreme Court.

PFAW

The Influx of Dark Money Could (Technically) Stop Tomorrow

Two weeks ago, Senate Democrats filed cloture on the Republican-led filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act, and failed to achieve the necessary 60 votes to bring the bill to the floor. Thus the DISCLOSE Act died once again, as it did in 2010, at the hands of Republican Senators who prefer obstruction and dark money over functionality and transparency. And unless there is an abrupt, unexpected reversal of the tide in the Senate, those who wish to bring a higher level of accountability to our democracy will, in the short term, have to explore alternative routes to bring about such reforms.

Those alternative routes exist in the federal agencies that interpret laws passed by Congress, but that so far have done a poor job in doing so correctly.

For confirmation of this, one need only look at the significant dilution of the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, which had strict provisions requiring outside groups – including 501(c)(6)’s & 501(c)(4)’s – who participate in electioneering communications (any communication about a clearly identified candidate on satellite, T.V., or radio within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election to a relevant targeted audience) to disclose their donors. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling upheld this part of the law, with eight of the nine justices in agreement.

However, transparency would take a back seat with the Federal Elections Commission’s interpretation of the law, in which a loophole to disclosure was written into their regulations. That FEC regulation only requires disclosure of donors for 501(c)(4)’s and 501(c)(6)’s if those donors specifically earmark their donations for the purpose of electioneering communications. Thus as long as a donor does not require specifics for an organization on how to use their donation, disclosure of the donor’s identity is not legally required. Yet the disclosure provisions of McCain Feingold were not written – and were never meant to be interpreted – this way.

On April 2, 2012 Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland’s 8th District won a lawsuit he filed against the FEC challenging the agency’s interpretation of the law. D.C. District Court Judge Amy Jackson found that the FEC had severely watered down existing legal requirements to disclose donors in campaign-related ads, stating “…Congress did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement through agency rulemaking.” While Judge Jackson’s ruling is supposed to restore the statutory requirement that requires greater disclosure of the donors who provide funding for electioneering communications, it remains unclear that it will be implemented. Paul Ryan, FEC program director and associate legal counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center has assessed, “Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that this dysfunctional commission will heed the court’s order anytime soon.” Implementation will also be delayed further due to appeals from conservative groups.

Had Congress’ law had been implemented accurately, full disclosure would have been the reality of the 2010 congressional races, which instead were marred by over $135 million in undisclosed spending; and which continues to mar the current election cycle.

Another party at fault is the IRS, which has sat idly by as a number of overtly politically-based 501(c)(4)’s have engaged in an overabundance of election activity when they are supposed to be first and foremost social welfare organizations. It seems obvious to all that the primary activity of organizations like Crossroads GPS and American Action Network is to engage in political advocacy and spend hundreds of millions of dollars influencing elections. Due to IRS inaction on the issue, the donors of these organizations need not be publicly disclosed.

In June the IRS finally initiated steps to to investigate some of these organizations taking advantage of tax exempt status while at the same time being overly engaged in election processes, in particular Crossroads GPS. However it is unlikely that any actions or penalties will be taken or applied in the near future leaving these huge, undisclosed, tax-exempt pools of money to flood our electoral process for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, IRS regulations that implement Internal Revenue Code distort the intent of the law. As noted by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center in a letter to IRS commissioners:

The Internal Revenue Code provides that section 501(c)(4) groups must engage "exclusively" in social welfare activities. … The regulations implementing this provision state, however, that "social welfare" organizations must be "primarily engaged" in social welfare activities.

If, as Congress intended, 501(c)(4) groups could achieve their tax-exempt status only by “exclusively” engaging in social welfare activities, the Crossroad GPS’s of the world would instantly have their (c)(4) statuses revoked. Instead, as we’ve witnessed with the tax-exempt status of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the big money players are able to indirectly charge the American taxpayer for their lobbying and political activity by not paying their fair share, benefitting their entrenched interests and not the country as a whole.

We must not give up on transparency in our democracy, especially if our electoral process is to remain awash in unlimited spending under the Citizens United ruling. In the not so distant past this was the dream of Republicans and Democrats alike. In his 2002 memoir “Worth Fighting For,” John McCain, a former champion of transparency, wrote “By the time I became a leading advocate of campaign finance reform, I had come to appreciate that the public's suspicions were not always mistaken. Money does buy access in Washington, and access increases influence that often results in benefiting the few at the expense of the many.” We await a return to this sober analysis by the GOP, and by the agencies who implement the laws Congress passes; the foundations of our republic are dependent on it.

PFAW

Senate Hearing Examines Need For Constitutional Remedies to Overturn Citizens United

Last week, the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate held hearings entitled, “Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs,” which examined the devastating Citizens United decision, and the need to amend the Constitution to overturn it. As acknowledged by the hearings’ participants – and as evidenced by the overflow crowd who came to see the hearing in person, as well as the 1.9 million petition signatures calling for an amendment that were delivered to the committee and on display in the room – these hearings were held in response to the growing grassroots movement across the country in support of constitutional remedies, and demonstrated a form of bottom-up democratic participation seldom witnessed in Washington.

As noted by the Executive Vice President of PFAW, Marge Baker, “… by holding these hearings, our elected representatives are honoring the millions of Americans who are calling for a Constitution that ensures that “We the People” means all the people, not just the privileged few.”

The first panel of the hearings featured testimony from Senator Max Baucus, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Representative Donna Edwards, all of whom have introduced amendment resolutions in the 112th Congress. Although their approaches differ, one theme remained consistent throughout their testimonies: since legislative remedies alone cannot undo the damage wrought by Citizens United, the amendment strategy must be employed to take back our democracy.

In his opening remarks, Senator Durbin, who chairs the Constitution Subcommittee, echoed the thoughts of many of his colleagues – currently 28 U.S. Senators are in support of an amendment, as are 92 U.S. Representatives – by stating, “After much deliberation, with some hesitation, I have reached the conclusion that a constitutional amendment is necessary to clean up our campaign finance system once and for all.”

Indeed, although we strongly advocate for an amendment that would restore the American people’s ability to regulate election spending, People For The American Way agrees that the amendment process should not be taken lightly. As we noted in the written testimony we submitted for the hearings:

Amending the United States Constitution is not something we recommend lightly, but the danger caused by the Roberts Court’s distortion of the First Amendment requires us to take corrective action. Some who are genuinely concerned about the threat to our democracy might nevertheless be reluctant to tamper with perhaps the greatest legal document in world history. As an organization that deeply respects the Constitution, we understand that reluctance, and we address this section of our comments to those of that view.

The American people, as shown by polling PFAW conducted on the issue, understand better than their elected representatives the need to support constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. The second panel of the hearings reflected this sentiment. It featured testimony from former Louisiana Governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Charles ‘Buddy’ Roemer and the celebrated legal scholar Professor Lawrence Lessig. As Professor Lessig stated in his testimony, “simply, the people have lost faith in their government,” and therefore deep reform is now necessary. Testifying at the request of the ranking Republican member of the subcommittee, Senator Lindsey Graham, was senior fellow of the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro. He opposed not only the amendment proposals in the hearings, but also the DISCLOSE Act, which Republicans recently blocked from coming to a vote in a highly partisan filibuster.

In a piece published last week, Senior Fellow of People For the American Way Professor Jamie Raskin stated, “The American people have been forced several times to amend the Constitution to reverse the damage caused by the Supreme Court when it acts in collusion with the enemies of social justice and popular democracy.” Professor Raskin then cited the Dred Scott decision, Minor v. Hapersett, and Breedlove v. Suttles all as cases that solidified unjust and undemocratic judicial systems; and all of which were later overturned by constitutional amendment.

It is up to the American people to ensure that Congress continues to examine the amendment strategy, and that Citizens United is added to that list. Video highlights of the hearings are featured below, while individual testimonies can be found on PFAW’s YouTube Page.

PFAW

On Obstructing Judges, Senate Republicans Get Even Worse

Republicans are seeking the first ever successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support.
PFAW

Filibuster of 10th Circuit Nominee Would Be Unprecedented

On Monday, the Senate will hold a cloture vote to end the filibuster of Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This filibuster is just the latest example of the destructive obstruction of judicial nominees that Republicans have engaged in from the very start of the Obama presidency.

In fact, if this filibuster succeeds, it will be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support.

Bacharach, who hails from Oklahoma, is extraordinarily well qualified to be a circuit court judge. The ABA panel that evaluates judicial nominees unanimously gave him their highest possible rating, "well qualified." He has been a magistrate judge in the Western District of Oklahoma for over a decade, giving him substantial experience with the criminal and civil legal issues he would face as a circuit court judge.

Much of Oklahoma's legal establishment has publicly supported his nomination: the Chief Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma; the Oklahoma Bar Association; the Dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Law; the General Counsel at Oklahoma City University; the Dean Emeritus at Oklahoma City University School of Law; the President of the Oklahoma County Bar Association; fellow members of the Federal Bar Association; and attorneys who worked closely with him while he was in private practice.

Bacharach also has strong bipartisan support. He has the support of President Obama and both of Oklahoma's Republican senators. In addition, he was approved by the Judiciary Committee nearly unanimously, with only Sen. Lee voting no (for reasons unrelated to the nominee). Sen. Coburn has said it would be "stupid" for his party to block a floor vote on Bacharach.

Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that his party would refuse to consent to any further confirmation votes for circuit court nominees, purportedly because it is an election year. He cited the so-called "Thurmond Rule," which he mischaracterized as a practice of not allowing any judicial confirmation votes as we approach a presidential election. In reality, it is not a "rule" at all. Instead, it is the name for the general principle that the party not in the White House will sometimes slow confirmation of controversial judicial nominees at some point in the months leading up to a presidential election. It has nothing to do with consensus nominees like Bacharach.

In fact, as noted above, a successful filibuster of Bacharach would be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support. That is hardly consistent with Senate history or practice.

But it would be consistent with Republican efforts to obstruct President Obama's judicial nominees regardless of their qualifications, regardless of their strong bipartisan support, and regardless of the damage the obstruction inflicts on the American people. After years of calling filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees unconstitutional, Senate Republicans turned around and filibustered President Obama's very first judicial nominee (David Hamilton, to the Seventh Circuit). This year, most of the circuit court nominees who have been confirmed have required a cloture vote to break Republican filibusters.

Republican efforts to filibuster Robert Bacharach are completely unjustified, but are also no surprise.

 

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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 .

PFAW

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