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A Look at Citizens United in Practice

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, election watchers have predicted that the influx of unaccountable and often anonymous election spending would lead to a dramatic increase in dirty, dishonest attack ads. A report by the New York Times confirms those fears. High-profile Republican strategists for a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts created a proposal titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” which lays out an aggressive character attack against the President. Focusing on his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the ads will seek to portray the President as unfit to lead because of his formative experiences – a strategy that his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, refused to authorize. Even Mitt Romney has avoided such attacks, believing that they would backfire – but unaccountable super PACs are not necessarily taking it off the table:

“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”

How can one person’s extreme opinion make its way to aerial banners flying over the Democratic Convention, outdoor advertisements and television screens across the country?

“Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election in both the presidential race and Congressional races,” said Brian Baker, the president and general counsel to Mr. Ricketts’ super PAC, called the Ending Spending Action Fund. “He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand.”

Thanks to his wealth and Citizens United, he can do just that. Unfortunately, average Americans don’t have this luxury, and our democracy suffers greatly as a result.

Following the outcry in response to today’s article, Mr. Ricketts issued a statement claiming he had never approved the plan and disavows the type of politics it represents, saying that the proposal “was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.” Nonetheless, the critical harm posed by Citizens United is clear. Just because Mr. Ricketts chose not to run this attack ad doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. The need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United to protect our democracy from the lopsided influence of wealthy special interests is even more clear today.

PFAW

Educators Dismiss ALEC

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) will not renew their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization said in a statement released on Tuesday. NACSA is the third major educational organization to drop their association with ALEC, joining Kaplan and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Both ALEC and NACSA support charter schools, but NACSA appears to have decided that ALEC’s extreme vision for charter school systems – which place corporate profitmaking above the needs of students, parents and communities – is out of touch with its mission to “advance excellence in public charters schools as a way to improve public education for all children.”

Rather than proposals designed to improve our public education system, ALEC’s model bills instead transfer public education funds into the hands of private corporations. Such proposals include voucher programs and publicly funded subsidies for religious and other private schools. ALEC’s Education Accountability Act would allow a state to override the elected school board and declare schools “educationally bankrupt,” then divert its funds to private schools. Of course, ALEC’s assault on public education wouldn’t be complete without attacks on teachers, school personnel and basic educational standards.

Just as important, there was never a legitimate reason for NACSA to support an organization that promotes legislation that attacks working families, rolls back consumer rights, blocks access to courts of law and disenfranchises thousands of eligible voters.

It’s not surprising that NACSA and other educators have concluded that ALEC is far more trouble than it’s worth.

PFAW

White House Condemns Obstruction of Judicial Nominations

Jay Carney discusses the unprecedented obstruction of qualified judicial nominees at the daily White House press briefing.
PFAW

All of a Sudden, House GOP Doesn’t Like “Issues that Divide Us”

 The National Journal today reports on the rocky progress of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time this year has become an object of partisan dispute. Why? The Democratic-backed reauthorization includes new protections for LGBT people, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. That bill passed in the Senate despite 31 no votes – all from Republican men.

In response, the House GOP put together an alternate bill that not only axes the new protections recommended by Democrats but eliminates some protections that are already in the bill. Yesterday, the White House threatened to veto the House bill.

Now, the House GOP is playing the victim, accusing Democrats of trying to make them look bad by including things like help for gays and lesbians and undocumented immigrants in the bill:

The Senate version would expand current protections to gay, bisexual, or transgender victims of domestic abuse, subject non-Native American suspects of domestic abuse occurring on reservations to the jurisdiction of tribal courts, and increase temporary visas for victims who are undocumented immigrants. The House bill was amended on Tuesday to allow illegal immigrant “U visa” recipients to receive permanent residence if the perpetrators of the crimes against them are aliens, are convicted of the crimes, and are deported to the visa holders’ home countries.

But Republican leaders have accused Democrats of adding those hot-button issues to intentionally create a fight for political advantage—and lash out at House Republicans for waging a “war against women.” House GOP leaders—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia—say they want to stay away from “issues that divide us.”

That’s right. House Republican leaders – who threatened to shut down the government to stop Planned Parenthood funding, who won’t even consider cutting tax loopholes for giant corporations, who continually go out of their way to express their opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians – are now worried about “issues that divide us.” Like, apparently, protecting gay people, Native Americans and immigrants from domestic abuse.

One “issue that divides us” apparently didn’t turn off some House Republicans. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia offered an amendment to the bill that, according to the National Journal, would provide “help for convicted domestic abusers who want their gun-ownership rights back.” That one, at least, didn’t make it past the Rules Committee.

PFAW

Virginia Rejects Openly Gay Judicial Nominee After Campaign By Far-Right Activists

Virginia’s House of Delegates yesterday rejected the nomination of a state prosecutor to serve as a judge – just because he is openly gay.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran who has been a prosecutor in Richmond for 12 years, enjoyed bipartisan support in the House of Delegates until, at the last minute, he came under attack from far-right Delegate Bob Marshall and the right-wing Family Foundation. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports:

A late-hour lobbying offensive by social conservatives prevailed in the House of Delegates early Tuesday to torpedo bipartisan support for the judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor.

After a lengthy discussion, the GOP-controlled House of Delegates defeated the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, Richmond's chief deputy commonwealth's attorney. He would have been the first openly gay judge elected in Virginia.

Thorne-Begland received 33 votes, and 31 delegates voted against him. He needed a majority of the 100-member House -- 51 votes -- to secure the judgeship.

….

In an email blast to supporters late last week, the Christian conservative Family Foundation questioned Thorne-Begland's fitness for the bench given his support for gay marriage, which is not legal in Virginia. Thorne-Begland and his partner, Michael, live together and are raising twins.

Marshall, too had charged that Thorne-Begland pursued an "aggressive activist homosexual agenda.

Opponents of gay rights, in their effort to keep LGBT people out of the public square, have in the past few years gone after several openly gay judges and judicial nominees. Supporters of California’s discriminatory Prop 8 tried to get a federal judge’s ruling against them thrown out because the judge is openly gay. Another judge issued an epic takedown of their argument.

A number of Republican delegates in Virginia, as well as the state’s socially conservative governor Bob McDonnell backed Thorne-Begland’s nomination until Del. Marshall began his onslaught.

Del. Marshall is the one who claimed in 2010 that disabled children are God's punishment for abortion. On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a policy that Thorne-Begland worked to end after his distinguished career in the Navy – Marshall said openly gay troops would distract their fellow servicemembers: "It's a distraction when I'm on the battlefield and have to concentrate on the enemy 600 yards away and I'm worried about this guy whose got eyes on me." Once Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, Del Marshall tried to get gay Virginians banned from the state’s National Guard.

Marshall later told the Washington Post that he objected to Thorne-Begland’s brave coming out in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

I would guess — law of averages — we’ve probably nominated people who have homosexual inclinations,” Marshall said. Marshall faulted Thorne-Begland for coming out as a gay Naval officer on “Nightline” two decades ago to challenge the military’s now-repealed ban on gays openly serving in the military. He said that amounted not just to insubordination, but to a waste of taxpayer dollars, since it resulted in his dismissal from the Navy. “The Navy spent $1 million training him,” Marshall said. “That’s cheating the country out of the investment in him.”

In the end, it was Del. Marshall’s arguments that won out in the effort to halt the career of a dedicated Virginia public servant.

PFAW

WI Recall: In film, Walker talks of 'divide and conquer' union strategy

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (emphasis added):

A filmmaker released a video today that shows Gov. Scott Walker saying he would use "divide and conquer" as a strategy against unions.

Walker made the comments to Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who has since given $510,000 to the governor's campaign -- making her Walker's single-largest donor and the largest known donor to a candidate in state history.

...

In the video shot on Jan. 18, 2011 -- shortly before Walker's controversial budget-repair bill was introduced and spawned mass protests -- Hendricks asked the governor whether he could make Wisconsin a "completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work" state. The Republican donor was referring to right-to-work laws, which prohibit private-sector unions from compelling workers to pay union dues if the workers choose not to belong to the union.

Walker replied that his "first step" would be "to divide and conquer" through his budget-adjustment bill, which curtailed most collective bargaining for most public employee unions.

More proof that Walker is working to serve the billionaire ideologues who want to bulldoze every institution set up to protect the public interest against rapacious corporate interests. And this shows, in his own words, how Walker sought to divide Wisconsin workers against each other with his unconscionable smear campaign last year against public employees.

This is why we're going to recall him on June 5!

UPDATE: Here's some video:

PFAW

President Obama recognizes LGBT families

It’s clear that, for the President, this isn’t just about couples getting married. It’s also about couples raising children with the sense of security that comes from family equality.
PFAW

Students Protest Corporate Political Spending

As part of the Corporate Reform Coalition, People For the American Way has been pressing for solutions to the problem of major corporations using their vast treasuries to influence elections. Our message to corporations is clear: leave democracy to the people and stop spending money on politics.

Corporate money in politics affects Americans not just as citizens, but as investors. If you own stock or contribute to a 401(k), corporations could be using your money to fund candidates, causes or political ads that you may not approve of, all without your knowledge. Even students are at risk – the endowments of many colleges and universities invest those funds with corporations that make secret political contributions.

This week, as activists descended on the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, student groups took the opportunity to stake their claim in the issue and demand that companies refrain from using endowment funding in order to influence our elections.

The branch of Bank of America in Washington DC we visited wasn’t eager to hear from students concerned about where there tuition dollars were going. The bank locked its doors during the protest – barring activists and customers alike from the premises. But the message has been sent: All Americans, from students to seniors, have a right to a electoral process that is free from the corrosive influence of undisclosed, unaccountable corporate and special-interest political spending.

PFAW

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

video platform

 

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

As President Obama Supports Marriage Equality, a Look Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Right Wing Watch Research Exposes Extremism of Capitol Event

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

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

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

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

PFAW

President Obama Committed to Continued Push on Judicial Nominations

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

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

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

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

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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PFAW

Marriage Equality: A State-By-State Guide

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Rally Against the Recall

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

PFAW

Senators Hear from Americans Concerned about the Courts

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