In an interview with Vox released today, President Obama expressed his support for constitutional remedies to our country’s worsening money in politics problem.
The president said:
I would love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it.
This isn’t the first time the president has weighed in on the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. In 2012 during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, President Obama made a splash when he said that “over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United.” As the Vox article notes, today’s comments go a step beyond his previous remarks.
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You can watch the full interview with President Obama here:
PFAW activists joined with allies from Public Citizen, Open Democracy, and others last Thursday at public hearings on New Hampshire House and Senate bills calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.
About 50 supporters of a constitutional amendment attended each hearing, creating standing room only and overflow in the small room reserved for the House bill hearing.
Speakers included small business owners, activists who passed local town resolutions in favor of an amendment, and high school students. Not a single person testified in opposition to the proposed legislation, underscoring the deep support among Americans of all backgrounds for fixing our big money system.
The bills (HB 371 and SB 136) call for the state legislature to recommend a constitutional amendment to the state’s congressional delegation, as well as for public hearings in geographically diverse areas across the state to decide the exact language for such an amendment.
A committee in the New Hampshire House will vote on the bill in an executive session on Wednesday afternoon, while the appropriate Senate committee has not yet set a date for a vote. PFAW activists and allies will be back at the state capitol next week for a lobby day to meet with key representatives and senators on Wednesday, February 4th.
Interested in joining us? For more information and to RSVP, email Lindsay Jakows at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an important victory for fair courts and the principle that justice is available to all, an appeals court in California today issued a decision granting a new trial for an undocumented immigrant whose immigration status was revealed to jurors despite its irrelevance to the issues in the case. People For the American Way had joined the UC Hastings Appellate Project and the ACLU of Southern California in submitting an amicus brief in the case, Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc. dba Advanced Biotech.
In this case, a former factory worker named Wilfredo Velasquez sued Advanced Biotech, Inc. for its alleged failure to tell his employer about the harms of a chemical he was exposed to while on the job — exposure which he says led to a devastating lung disease. But during the jury selection, the trial judge revealed to jurors that Velasquez was undocumented, an action that, in the words of our amicus brief, “unnecessarily injected prejudice into the selection process, making it impossible to know whether Mr. Velasquez received his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial by impartial jurors.” The threat to Velasquez’s right to a fair trial became clear when the jury concluded that Advanced Biotech had indeed been negligent — yet still awarded no damages to Velasquez, meaning that he, in effect, lost his case.
Fortunately, today the appeals court righted this wrong by granting Velasquez a new trial. The state appeals court noted that “cases both in California and in multiple other jurisdictions have recognized the strong danger of prejudice attendant with the disclosure of a party’s status as an undocumented immigrant.” Indeed, we have seen how undocumented immigrants face ongoing hostility in our country.
As the amicus brief notes, every person, regardless of immigration status, has a right to “a verdict rendered by an impartial jury.” It is a right that must remain a foundational principle of our judicial system.
On Monday the push for the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and allow legislators to put reasonable limits on money in elections, became a bipartisan effort in Congress when Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) signed on as a cosponsor of the legislation.
While this is a historic step that deserves celebration, in many ways it is long overdue. Washington is the only place where the fight to get big money out of politics is a partisan issue, and it hasn’t always been that way.
Similar amendments proposed in the past have found bipartisan support in Congress, including from Rep. Jones. Republican elected officials across the country have been advocating at the local and state level to get big money out of politics. In fact, a recent report from Free Speech For People highlights the more than 100 Republican officials nationwide who favor an amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.
Among voters, it’s also a bipartisan movement, with Americans of all political stripes speaking out against a democracy unduly influenced by corporations and billionaires. A 2014 poll found that in Senate battleground states, almost three in four voters favor a constitutional amendment to undo the harm of decisions like Citizens United, including majorities in “even the reddest states.” This support did not waver among Republican voters polled: amendment supporters outnumbered opponents by a 26 percent margin.
Still, Rep. Jones’ decision to become a cosponsor of the Democracy For All Amendment is an important step forward. Money in politics is an issue that affects all of us, and one that Americans of all political backgrounds feel strongly about. It’s only fitting that our federal elected officials in both parties listen to the voices of their constituents and join the movement to take our democratic process back from the grips of wealthy special interests.
Over the weekend, likely Republican 2016 presidential candidates stepped up to the microphone at two extremist events to throw red meat at their Radical Right base and prove their ultraconservative bona fides in the run up to primary season.
Union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won the day with the most well-received speech, in which his biggest applause came when he bragged about his party’s attempts at voter suppression in his state, saying, “we required in our state, by law, a photo ID to vote.”
Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee said states should ignore Supreme Court rulings favorable to marriage equality.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie played up how staunchly anti-choice he is.
Senator Ted Cruz made the case for caucus voters to weed out anyone but extreme right-wing candidates. “Every candidate is going to come to you and say they are the most conservative person that ever lived,” Cruz said. “Talk is cheap.”
And at a separate Religious Right event, hosted by SPLC-designated hate group the American Family Association, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal discussed the need to enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples in the Constitution, promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories and closed his speech with the statement “our god wins.” That event, titled The Response, perfectly embodied the dangers of mixing religion with politics in the way that the Right so loves to do.
By making political issues – even incredibly important ones, and even ones that are historically divisive – litmus tests for their followers’ religious conviction, they cast their opponents not only as wrong, but as evil and satanic, allowing for no possibility of compromise and making even civil coexistence difficult.
It was a lot of what you’d expect – unfortunately – but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. These are the people who are setting the agenda for one of America’s two major parties – and the one that right now controls both houses of Congress.
Read more and check out video from both events at RightWingWatch.org.
UPDATE: Jon Stewart's can't-miss segment on the Freedom Summit from the Daily Show (video courtesy of Comedy Central):
This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.
Five years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down its damaging decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The ruling, which allowed wealthy interests to buy unprecedented influence in elections, was and still is deeply unpopular. But the issue of money in politics remains, for some people, relegated to a category of "someone else's issue" -- the policy wonks in Washington, the researchers who spend long hours sifting through the latest campaign data. "It's their issue," we think.
In reality, the decisions like Citizens United that paved the way for the big-money election system we have today affect our lives every day, even when those connections can be hard to see.
Last month, Demos released a report laying bare some of those links, especially as they affect people of color. Their analysis highlighted how big money in politics undermines racial equality:
Elections funded primarily by wealthy, white donors mean that candidates as a whole are less likely to prioritize the needs of people of color; and that candidates of color are less likely to run for elected office, raise less money when they do, and are less likely to win.
The report point outs that in some ways, this is not new: As long as our country has been a country, people of color have been shortchanged by our democratic system. Our history is littered with violent retaliation and unrelenting roadblocks for many who tried to actively participate in our democracy. But those setting a political agenda that shortchanges people of color haven't always had unlimited billionaire and corporate political dollars backing them up.
What does this mean in real people's lives? It means more mass incarceration, for one, the harm of which African Americans disproportionately bear. Wealthy people are more likely than low-income people to support the construction of more prisons, and studies have found that the rich have greater influence on policy outcomes. Private prison companies, whose bottom lines depend on getting people behind bars, spend millions to influence policymakers, and groups like the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have pushed for tougher sentencing laws. But it's often people of color who pay the price, when family members and friends suddenly disappear from their communities.
It also means a stagnant minimum wage, which women of color are disproportionately likely to be earning. While the public strongly supports raising the minimum wage, groups like the Chamber of Commerce, which opposes raising it, can afford to pour millions into elections and hold serious sway with lawmakers. Though not immediately apparent, there is a direct connection to the amount of money a low-income woman takes home in her paycheck and the Supreme Court decisions governing our big-money political system.
And the list could go on and on. At the end of the day, money in politics cannot be "someone else's issue." Because it distorts who is heard by our elected officials, it affects what's in your paycheck, who ends up in prison, what kind of health care we have access to, what kind of environment we leave for our children, and much more.
That's why one piece of the larger fight for racial justice must be reforming the rules governing money in elections. It's fitting that we mark the fifth anniversary of Citizens United on the same week we remember the life of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963, in his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, King said, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."
In the wake of Citizens United, the struggle to make those promises real has become even more urgent.
Last week, People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch reported on a Christian Post column by right-wing commentator Larry Tomczak in which he warned that Hollywood is “promoting homosexuality” by “targeting innocent and impressionable children.” In particular, Tomczak attacked Ellen DeGeneres, whom he wrote “celebrates her lesbianism and ‘marriage’ in between appearances of guests like Taylor Swift to attract young girls.”
The column caught the attention of none other than Ellen herself, who responded to Tomczak on her show this week.
She told Tomczak: “First of all, I’m not ‘married.’ I’m married. That’s all,” adding “I don’t even know what it means to ‘celebrate my lesbianism.’”
She then revealed her true “gay agenda”:
PFAW members and other local activists lined the sidewalk outside of the National Republican Club Tuesday afternoon to protest a fundraiser event for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
Scalise, who was elected Majority Whip by his Republican colleagues back in June, has come under fire recently after it came to light that in 2002, he gave a speech to a white supremacist group affiliated with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise even has referred to himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”
Incredibly, even after these revelations, the Republican caucus—including Speaker John Boehner – is standing by Scalise. And Scalise certainly doesn’t seem to think this scandal is reason to slow down his fundraising efforts, as evidenced by the meeting his team held with donors on Tuesday, where PFAW members joined protestors from other organizations including Color of Change and Jewish advocacy group Bend the Arc.
It’s hard to believe that the GOP, which has struggled so much to reach minority voters, isn’t distancing itself from party leadership with ties to white supremacists. Republicans need to be held accountable – we need to ask our Republican representatives in Congress whether, in 2015, they are brave enough to take a stand against racism.
Thousands of PFAW members have already signed the petition calling on Speaker Boehner to remove Scalise from his leadership position. Add your name now.
The Republican Party never ceases to amaze me. For a party whose problems with minorities are well documented, you would think the GOP would be sensitive to anything that could further erode their reputation among this growing population. Yet after learning that the new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise gave a speech to a white supremacist organization led by former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, Speaker Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party are standing by their man.
Let me just say that again. The # 3 Republican in the House of Representatives gave a speech to a white supremacists group in 2002 led by a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard! Rep. Scalise even described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”
The Center for American Progress released a report on Tuesday which underscores the growth in population of the people white supremacist organizations despise. At the heart of the report was the question of whether the Republican party could begin to make inroads with voters of color in order to compete in presidential elections. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if recent actions are any indication, it’s not looking likely.
People For the American Way and our friends at American Bridge released a Spanish-language ad Monday highlighting Scalise’s actions and reminding Latino voters what the Republican party is really all about. The web ad will run in Virginia and Colorado. Read more about the ad here, and check it out below:
In a victory for LGBT equality and genuine religious liberty, Michigan’s state legislature ended its 2014 lame duck session last night without passing a bill that would have allowed individuals and businesses to cite religious beliefs to bypass state anti-discrimination laws.
The Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act would have allowed business owners to refuse service to LGBT customers, and was initially introduced as a counter to a proposed state bill that would protect LGBT people from discrimination. But while the anti-discrimination bill never even moved, the discriminatory bill passed in the House.
After the bill was introduced in the state legislature, PFAW members and local activists mobilized to call lawmakers and raise awareness of the bill’s dangerous consequences for LGBT Michiganders. Efforts like this are not unique to Michigan and come in the wake of this year’s 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case. This legislation is part of a nationwide campaign by the Right to hijack freedom of religion and use it as a weapon to deny Americans their fundamental rights.
Fortunately, the bill -- which has been called the “right to discriminate” bill by some – did not even come to the State Senate floor for a vote.
This was the second of two victories in the Michigan state legislature’s lame duck session. Earlier this month, Michigan Republicans introduced a bill that would change the way the state’s electoral votes are counted in presidential elections. This strategy isn’t unique to Michigan, but is part of a larger right-wing effort to use Republican election victories in blue and swing states to consolidate political power by rigging the Electoral College, tilting the playing field to the GOP’s advantage. Last year, PFAW helped beat back similar plans in Pennsylvania and Virginia that would have changed the way those states apportion their electoral votes. In Michigan, we were just as engaged, with our members and staff attending committee hearings and lobbying legislators.
With the passage of a key deadline last week, the Electoral College rigging bill is also effectively dead for the year. But its proponents can (and likely will) bring it up again in the 2015 session – as they may also do with the “right to discriminate” bill. Michigan’s lame duck session has ended without either of these insidious bills becoming law, but the fight is far from over. We expect to see similar state-level legislative attacks from the Right throughout the next year. PFAW is proud to be a leader in the ongoing fight against right-wing extremism, and we’re ready to keep working in defense of progressive values in 2015 and beyond.
On Friday PFAW members and activists joined senior staff on a telebriefing about the types of priorities and tactics we can expect to see from the Right in the coming year. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney kicked off the call with a description of the political landscape in the wake of the midterm elections, where right-wing politicians are “now holding the levers of power in critical decision-making roles.”
Executive Vice President Marge Baker discussed the “CRomnibus” spending bill, saying that the antics we have seen during the lame duck are a microcosm of what we’re going to see in the new Congress. She noted that the harmful special interest riders snuck into the bill, such as the Wall Street giveaway and the raising of limits on contributions to political parties, are examples of the kind of “strong-arming techniques” we are likely to continue to see going forward.
Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery also joined the call, noting that the Right has a sizable agenda for the new year — one that begins with right-wing activists’ hatred of President Obama. This agenda, he said, includes repealing Obamacare, impeaching the president, resisting “to the bitter end” the advancement of marriage equality, and fighting anti-discrimination laws. Montgomery noted that in the coming year, we can expect to see GOP politicians making their already-close ties with Religious Right figures even closer.
Regional Political Coordinator Scott Foval discussed the Right’s political work at the state level. He highlighted Michigan’s state house, where in only the past couple of weeks both a “right to discriminate” bill and an electoral college-rigging bill have been moving through the legislature. Foval pointed out that this type of legislation may surface in other states across the country. The coming year will provide many opportunities for PFAW members to get involved at the state level as citizen lobbyists, he said.
Speakers underscored that the answers to all of the issues PFAW members raised on the call — from the damaging spending bill riders, to the influence of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the state and local level, to the disturbing revelations from the recently-released torture report — is to organize and advocate for the values we believe in.
You can listen to the full telebriefing here:
Last night, after months of delay, the Senate voted to confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy as the new U.S. surgeon general.
Dr. Murthy's confirmation was strenuously opposed by the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress, due to his belief that guns and gun violence are a public health concern. Murthy, an experienced and highly qualified physician who teaches at Harvard Medical School, has expressed support for limited, common-sense reforms regarding assault weapons, mandatory safety training and ammunition.
Murthy's confirmation is a victory for public health and common sense, and a loss for one of America's most influential special interest groups, the NRA.
It’s hard to know where to begin when running down the list of harmful special interest giveaways in the omnibus spending bill narrowly passed by the House yesterday. Earlier this week, we wrote about a rider in the bill that would allow the amount of money rich donors can give to political parties to skyrocket. The legislation moving through Congress also includes a provision that would have the effect of allowing mountaintop mining companies to keep filling Appalachian streams with toxic waste. Yet another rider is a “Wall Street giveaway,” actually drafted by Citigroup’s lobbyists, that would repeal a piece of financial regulation and let banks take part in more kinds of high-risk trading deals with government backed money.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren railed against the Wall Street rider on the Senate floor:
[Americans] see a Congress that works just fine for the big guys, but it won’t lift a finger to help them. If big companies can deploy armies of lawyers and lobbyists to get the Congress to vote for special deals that benefit themselves, then we will simply confirm the view of the American people that the system is rigged.
It is, as Sen. Warren says, hard not to think that “the system is rigged” when members of Congress use a spending bill to sneak through major policy shifts that benefit wealthy political donors, Wall Street executives, and big businesses, while leaving the majority of Americans with an even weaker political voice.
This is especially true when you consider that those who voted for the rider-filled spending deal were, by and large, the members who received bigger contributions from the benefitting industries. The Washington Post compared the House spending bill votes with Center for Responsive Politics data on campaign contributions to each representative from the finance, insurance, and real estate industries. What they found is disheartening, but not surprising:
On average, members of Congress who voted yes received $322,000 from those industries. Those who voted no? $162,000.
And that doesn’t even take into account the dark money whose source is unknown to the public (but likely known by the officials who benefit from it).
It’s one more example of the influence that money can buy in our current system, where big gifts from corporate spenders pave the way for corporate political victories. When Wall Street lobbyists can literally write the laws they want, no matter the impact on ordinary Americans, it’s clear that we need serious reform to the rules governing money in politics.
The government spending bill released by the House last night includes a rider that would drastically increase the amount of money the super-rich can give to national party committees. The language included in the spending deal would allow wealthy donors to give ten times the current limit to political parties.
Adam Smith at Public Campaign put the potential new limits into perspective in a powerful graphic:
With the new annual individual party limit expected to be more than six times the median household income, it’s clear that this shift is simply about handing the wealthiest political donors even more power and access. A tiny fraction of the country already dominates political spending; these changes would make it even harder for ordinary Americans to have a seat at the table.
What’s more, these provisions, which would have major implications for the health of our democratic process, were not even debated by Congress. They were simply snuck into an omnibus spending bill – a quiet attack that threatens to further undermine what’s left of our country’s common-sense rules limiting big money in politics.
After the midterm elections, exit polls found that nearly two-thirds of voters said that our system already favors the wealthy. Americans are ready for a government that works for everyone. But it looks like what we’re getting instead are Congressional leaders increasing committed to big money donors at the expense of everyone else.