While we may be accustomed to seeing charts and tables about the impact of big money in politics, it’s far less common to hear about the real-world stories of its influence. Yesterday researchers from Ohio State University released a new report on “The New Soft Money,” a first-of-its-kind look at the day to day impact of independent expenditures (such as spending by super PACs) on federal campaigns and governance.
Through interviews with former members of Congress, campaign and legislative staff, candidates, and other political figures, the report details — in the interviewees’ own words — the effects of the explosion of independent spending into our political system following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
A few highlights from the report make clear the enormous impact outside spending has on the functioning of our democracy:
“No one’s saying, ‘Here’s $50 million for a good compromise.” -Former Rep. Dan Boren (pg. 93)
“When Club for Growth first came out we used to laugh about them, we used to chuckle on the floor… But, after the Citizens United case, they became….much more active….if you didn’t behave in a certain way they would come into your district and spend a lot of money to make sure you were defeated in the primary.” -Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (p. 87-88)
Some political insiders described the ongoing implicit threat of independent spending on attack ads as just as effective as an explicit threat would be:
“You’re already threatened.... You’re sitting there saying ... is Americans for Prosperity going to advertise against me in a primary, yes or no?....If you’re sitting there making a decision, [thinking]… we’d better do something about it, but if I do something about it, I know the Koch brothers are going to run an ad against me. I know they’re going to put a lot of money to try to defeat me in a primary. I know it… They don’t have to threaten me…the net effect is the same. I’m afraid to do what I think is right.” -Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who ran for Senate again in 2012 (p. 82)
The report was released on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee voted to move forward a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, serving as even more evidence of the pressing need to reform our campaign finance system.
In today’s Senate subcommittee markup on a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics, Sen. Ted Cruz was ready with a long line of scary predictions as to what the proposed amendment would really do. From claiming that it would repeal the First Amendment to asserting that under the original proposed amendment, a “little old lady” could be put in jail for spending five dollars to put up a political yard sign, Cruz had horror stories at the ready. During the markup, Sen. Cruz dramatically tweeted that a “constitutional amendment proposed by Democrats would allow Congress to ban books!”
As we have pointed out before, Sen. Cruz’s doomsday predictions are far cry from reality.
Here’s what is reality: the proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to be able to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money in elections, as they did for years and years before the Citizens United decision. It would not change the landscape with respect to books. Grandmas would still be able to put out their candidate yard signs. The First Amendment would be restored from the damage done by Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.
Fortunately other members of the subcommittee were able to set the record straight. Sen. Durbin underscored the idea that a large bank account does not “entitle you to buy every seat at the table, control the agenda, silence your opponents.” In other words, the First Amendment is about protecting the right to free speech, not the “right” of wealthy special interests to buy elections and drown out all other voices. As Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has noted previously: “I’m still looking for the word ‘money’ in the First Amendment.”
But presumably the goal of Sen. Cruz’s censored-grandma myth and other horror stories is to pull the conversation far away from the actual merits of the proposal at hand. Rather than talking about the influx of money flooding our elections, we’re talking about book banning. But with across-the-board support for efforts to get big money out of politics, it’s a distraction ploy that Americans aren’t buying.
In an interview recorded in September 2012, North Carolina Speaker of the House and U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis compared the growing population of African Americans and Latinos to a stagnant “traditional population of North Carolina and the United States.”
In an interview highlighted by Talking Points Memo, which first spotted the 2012 interview, a spokesman for Tillis claimed that “traditional North Carolinians refers to North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations.”
If you listen to the full context of Tillis’ remarks, however, it is clear that he was referring to the “traditional population” as a group distinct from the “Latino population” and the “African American population.”
Right Wing Watch points out that “traditional population” and “traditional Americans” are frequently used by anti-immigrant extremists as euphemisms for “white population.” For instance, in The Social Contract, a journal founded by an influential anti-immigrant leader, the term is used in a 2012 essay by Brenda Walker when she says, “Traditional Americans are assailed by affirmative action and benefits for illegal aliens, which are not available to citizens.”
In speaking of the “traditional population,” Tillis stands alongside people like William Gheen, founder of anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, who said that immigration reform would create a situation in which “traditional Americans, like those who that have been here for hundreds of years in descendancy, will no longer govern our own nation.”
It is true that North Carolina’s African American, Latino, and Asian American populations are growing faster than its white population. For instance, the Latino population in North Carolina grew by 111.1 percent from 2000 to 2010, increasing from 4.7 percent of the population to 8.4 percent. Yet Tillis has consistently worked to marginalize Latinos, by cutting spending on education, opposing healthcare reform, and supporting a restrictive voter identification law ironically called “VIVA.” That’s why People for the American Way is working in North Carolina this year to make sure Latino voters know the threat posed by Tillis’ extreme agenda.
Last year PFAW’s Spanish-language advertising helped spur turnout among Latinos in Virginia’s gubernatorial elections, and did the same in many 2012 battleground contests. As we look to the 2014 elections, Tillis’ actions and statements marginalizing the Latino community will represent a real challenge to his standing in an increasingly powerful voting bloc.
The White House announced today that President Obama will issue an executive order protecting the employees of federal contractors from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the White House, it is an action rooted in the principle that “your ability to get ahead should be determined by your hard work, ambition, and goals – not by the circumstances of your birth, your sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Though most Americans don’t realize it, in the majority of states you can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But across the board Americans believe that workplace discrimination is wrong, and that employees should be judged on how well they do their job, not on who they are or who they love.
The upcoming executive order, which ThinkProgress characterizes as “the single largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in our country’s history,” could protect up to 16 million workers — a major step forward for LGBT equality and for basic fairness in the workplace. But even as we celebrate the anticipated expansion of protections, it’s important to remember that our country still needs a federal law like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect LGBT workers across the country — not just those who work for federal contractors — from employment discrimination. In addition to covering more workers, ENDA would not be at risk of being undone by a future president, as the upcoming order may be.
No one should be forced to choose between risking their job and hiding who they are or who they love.
As the news of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss last night to Tea Party challenger David Brat sinks in, Brat’s anti-immigrant extremism is increasingly coming into the spotlight. Today Right Wing Watch wrote that Brat actively sought out the endorsement of ALIPAC, an anti-immigrant hate group whose leader has suggested that violence may be necessary to quell President Obama’s supposed war on “white America.” Brat campaigned on the claim that a vote for Cantor was “a vote for amnesty.”
But there is another aspect to the race also worth paying attention to: Brat’s focus on corruption in Washington. This morning our friends at Public Campaign pointed out that Brat, who was vastly outspent by Cantor, consistently made speaking out against political corruption a part of his campaign. In his victory speech, Brat said to supporters: “What you proved tonight was dollars don’t vote — you do.”
The overwhelming majority of Americans (92 percent of voters, according to a November 2013 poll) think it’s important for elected officials do more to reduce money’s influence on elections — a statistic we often highlight in our work for urgently-needed campaign finance reforms. What last night’s news brings to the foreground is the obvious fact that this 92 percent cannot possibly reflect Americans of only one political leaning. A commitment to fighting corruption and the outsized influence of big money in politics is a deeply-held belief of people of all political stripes, whatever their other beliefs may be.
This morning Politico proclaimed, “Big money couldn’t save Eric Cantor.” And despite Brat’s extremism, there is something hopeful about the fact that people can fight back against the tidal wave of cash flooding our electoral system. To be sure, this outcome is the exception rather than the rule. More than nine times in ten, the better-financed congressional candidate wins. In the post-Citizens United and post-McCutcheon campaign finance landscape, to pretend that money doesn’t matter hugely in the outcome of elections — and in who has access to and influence over politicians once the election is over — is to be willfully blind.
But it’s also important to be reminded that when voters set their minds to it, they still have the power to reshape our nation — for good or ill.
Nearly two years ago, President Obama caused a splash by expressing support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. Asked during the online forum what he was going to do to “end the corrupting influence of money in politics,” President Obama put the spotlight on the movement for a constitutional amendment by explicitly mentioning the amendment strategy:
Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it).
A new book released this week by POLITICO reporter Ken Vogel shows that President Obama had been privately discussing an amendment months before his public comment in August 2012. Vogel’s book describes President Obama telling Democratic donors in February of that year:
“Now, I taught constitutional law…I don't tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it.”
The fact that President Obama was sharing support for an amendment even earlier than previously known underscores the importance of the issue to our nation’s president. In addition to President Obama, 44 U.S. senators, 123 U.S. representatives, and more than 1,700 state legislators have gone on record in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.
The day after Sen. Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics was considered at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Udall joined People For the American Way activists, supporters, and staff members on a member telebriefing to discuss the amendment and what Americans can do to support it.
Sen. Udall noted in his introduction that together we have come a long way in the movement to get big money out of politics, due in part to the work of People For the American Way. He said that in the last few years, our nation’s campaign finance laws have come under increasing attack. There are only two ways, Sen. Udall said, to have lasting reform on this issue: either the Court can reverse itself, or we can amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Sen. Udall pointed out that elections should be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts.
When asked by a participant to address the false claim pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and other right-wing politicians and activists that this amendment is an attack on the First Amendment, Sen. Udall explained: “This is about restoring the First Amendment so it applies equally to all Americans.” He pointed out that our access to constitutional rights and our ability to participate in the democratic process should not be based on our net worth.
Sen. Udall urged activists on the call to voice their support at every opportunity they have. Specifically, he encouraged advocates to get a copy of the amendment and urge their local officials to support it by passing resolutions. Despite the lengthy process of amending the Constitution, Sen. Udall asked participants not to be discouraged; with a strong grassroots movement, he said, we can make it happen.
PFAW executive vice president Marge Baker also fielded questions from participants on the call. She urged activists to connect campaign finance reform to the issues most important to them and their communities, whether that’s fighting for health and safety on the job, defending the environment, or protecting voting rights. On voting rights, Baker pointed out that the Supreme Court’s attacks on campaign finance laws go hand in hand with their attacks on the right to cast a vote; both have the effect of disempowering average Americans in our democracy. This is why, Baker pointed out, we must take on the Supreme Court and reclaim our political system – making it a democracy truly of, by, and for the people.
You can listen to the call here:
45 US Senators now support a constititutional amendment to undo the harm of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon. Do yours?
|California||Sen. Diane Feinstein|
|Colorado||Sen. Michael F. Bennet|
|Connecticut||Sen. Richard Blumenthal|
|Connecticut||Sen. Christopher Murphy|
|Delaware||Sen. Christopher A. Coons|
|Hawaii||Sen. Mazie K. Hirono|
|Hawaii||Sen. Brian Schatz|
|Illinois||Sen. Richard Durbin|
|Iowa||Sen. Tom Harkin|
|Maine||Sen. Angus S. King, Jr.|
|Maryland||Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin|
|Maryland||Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski|
|Massachusetts||Sen. Elizabeth Warren|
|Minnesota||Sen. Al Franken|
|Minnesota||Sen. Amy Klobuchar|
|Montana||Sen. Jon Tester|
|Montana||Sen. John E. Walsh|
|Nevada||Sen. Harry Reid|
|New Hampshire||Sen. Jeanne Shaheen|
|New Jersey||Sen. Cory A. Booker|
|New Jersey||Sen. Robert Menendez|
|New Mexico||Sen. Tom Udall|
|New Mexico||Sen. Martin Heinrich|
|New York||Sen. Charles E. Schumer|
|New York||Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand|
|North Carolina||Sen. Kay Hagan|
|North Dakota||Sen. Heidi Heitkamp|
|Ohio||Sen. Sherrod Brown|
|Oregon||Sen. Ron Wyden|
|Oregon||Sen. Jeff Merkley|
|Rhode Island||Sen. Jack Reed|
|Rhode Island||Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse|
|South Dakota||Sen. Tim Johnson|
|Vermont||Sen. Patrick Leahy|
|Vermont||Sen. Bernard Sanders|
|Washington||Sen. Patty Murray|
|Wisconsin||Sen. Tammy Baldwin|
|West Virginia||Sen. Joe Manchin|
|West Virginia||Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV|
For more elected officials who support an amendment, visit United4thePeople.org.
Before yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed campaign finance constitutional amendment had even begun, advocates from People For the American Way and partner organizations had already delivered a powerful message from the American people. Carrying signs saying “Restore the First Amendment” and “Amend the Constitution to #GetMoneyOut,” activists rolled in stacked boxes of more than two million petitions in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.
In his opening remarks, Sen. Patrick Leahy noted that these petitions serve as a “tangible reminder that Americans are calling on Congress to act.”
In an rare move that underscored the importance of the proposed amendment, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell testified at the hearing. Sen. Reid issued a call to action for the amendment, urging Americans to work together to restore the basic principle of one American, one vote. “Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances,” he said.
Sen. McConnell, on the other hand, used the platform to claim that the proposed amendment is about shutting people up, calling it the “latest proposal to weaken the First Amendment.” Later, Sen. Ted Cruz continued to push the false claim that the amendment would “repeal the free speech protections of the First Amendment” and “muzzle” Americans.
But other witnesses were quick to debunk this myth, including constitutional law expert Jamie Raskin, who is also a senior fellow at People For the American Way. In his testimony, Raskin noted:
[E]ven as our huge majorities of Americans support reclaiming our democracy, opponents of the Amendment are waving the flag of the First Amendment, as if political democracy and free speech are enemies. But the Citizens United era has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with plutocratic power. Citizens United did not increase the rights of a single citizen to express his or her views with speech or with money. Before the decision, all citizens, including CEOs, could express themselves freely, make contributions, and spend all the money they had to promote their politics. They could band together with the help of the corporation and form a PAC. All Citizens United did was confer a power on CEOs to write corporate treasury checks for political expenditures, without a vote of the shareholders, prior consultation or even disclosure.
In terms of real world consequences, Raskin went on to note, these damaging Supreme Court decisions did not “expand the political freedom of citizens but… reduce[d] the political power of citizens.”
North Carolina State Senator Floyd McKissick described some of those real world effects, noting that he can divide his time in the state legislature into two distinct periods: “before Citizens United, and after”:
Suddenly, no matter what the race was, money came flooding in. Even elected officials who had been in office for decades told me they’d never seen anything like it. We were barraged by television ads that were uglier and less honest than I would have thought possible. And they all seemed to be coming from groups with names we had never even heard of. But it was clear that corporations and individuals who could write giant checks had a new level of power in the state.
This Tuesday at a press conference in the US Capitol hosted by Brave New Films and featuring Robert Greenwald’s latest documentary, “Koch Bros Exposed,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker made a resounding call for amending the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s egregious decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC.
“We need our voices heard… we need to change the status quo,” Majority Leader Reid stated after calling for an amendment.
“We need a government by the many, not a government by the money,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed. She went on to declare, “the time to amend the Constitution is now!”
Comparing the amount the Koch brothers spent in the 2012 election cycle to the amount they made, on average, over the past three years, Sen. Sanders pointed out: “$400 million is not a lot of money when you make $11 billion a year.”
Following Sen. Sanders, People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President for Policy and Program, Marge Baker, took the podium and stated, “The time has come to discuss solutions.” She highlighted the growing support for the amendment strategy, the momentum behind the small donor empowering Government By the People Act, the push at the state level for disclosure and campaign finance law, and the growing movement around the country of everyday citizens who are working to build a more democratic government.
The following is a guest post from Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, a member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.
Six decades ago the nation said “separate, but equal” is separate, but it certainly is not equal. This week we celebrate the 60 year anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Brown gave our nation the opportunity to show the world that we are as good as our promise. And while the impact of this groundbreaking decision cannot be overstated, a quality education is still not a guarantee for African American and Latino students today.
In my state of Florida and across the country, students of color continue to be underserved by our school system. Recent data from the Department of Education highlights massive racial inequalities that persist six decades later. Beginning in preschool, African American students are suspended disproportionately – a distressingly early start on what many have characterized as the school-to-prison pipeline. Students of color are more likely to have lower paid teachers and fewer course options.
Undocumented students also face serious barriers in our education system. In Florida, undocumented students do not receive in-state tuition at state universities and colleges. Florida’s DREAM Act would fix this, allowing undocumented students who attended a Florida high school for at least three years to receive in-state tuition to attend one of Florida’s public colleges or universities.
Our students’ success or failure is incumbent on each and every one of us. As a teacher and as a member of the state Senate’s education committee, I know that building strong communities, a strong economy, a strong electorate, and a strong country requires investments in a public education system that works for all students. When we fail to fight for equal educational opportunities, our democracy is at risk. If we hope to improve our future, we must realize we are only as successful as our least privileged.
On the anniversary of the Brown decision, May 17th, I will join over 120 young elected officials from all corners of the nation to discuss and build education policy together. We will honor this moment in history through continued action to improve our children’s education system. We will do this because our kids deserve the chance to be their best, and because our future will demand it of them.
On the floor of the Senate today, Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a constitutional amendment to counter the outsized role of big money in our electoral system. Senate leaders are not wasting any time in moving forward; Sen. Leahy announced today that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the amendment early next month. The Senate action on an amendment – which 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns have already gone on record in favor of – serves as a significant step forward in the growing movement to put the power in our democracy back in the hands of the people.
Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote…
…[T]he flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons.
Read People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker’s statement on the upcoming hearing here.
Federal district court nominee Michael Boggs of Georgia had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The hearing was his opportunity to address the many serious concerns we and others have had about his record. When he first ran for office as a state judge, he assured voters that they could know where he stood by looking at his legislative record, including his opposition to marriage equality. But judges aren’t supposed to let their personal political beliefs determine how they rule on cases. In addition, the legislative record he cited is deeply disturbing.
Unfortunately, his testimony in response to senators’ questions only deepened our concerns. So in a letter Wednesday to members of the Senate, People For the American Way expressed strong opposition to this confirmation. PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon delineated the reasoning behind the organization’s opposition to Boggs’ confirmation.
“[Boggs’] record makes clear that senators should not confirm him to a lifetime position as a United States judge,” the letter states. “…we do not believe Michael Boggs has demonstrated that he would be able to bring to his service as a lifetime judge on the federal courts the requisite impartiality necessary for such a position.”
The five page letter discusses the problems around Boggs’ ability to perform in the role of judge and his actions relating to LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and government promotion of religion. It also discusses the controversy around his support for the inclusion of Confederate imagery in the Georgia state flag, as well as his candor before the Judiciary Committee. You can read the full text of the letter here.
Yesterday evening a federal judge ruled Idaho’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples unconstitutional. If the state begins issuing marriage licenses Friday morning, plaintiffs Amber Beierle and Rachael Roberts say they are more than ready to make their union official. Beierle reflected, “I don't think people understand what [the ruling] means to native Idahoans who love this state and want to stay in this state but who want to be heard.”
In her ruling, Judge Candy Dale made clear that the state’s ban denied critical rights to same-sex couples simply because of who they are:
Idaho's Marriage laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love.
Close on the heels of the striking of Arkansas’ marriage ban, the ruling in Idaho comes as further evidence that the movement toward full nationwide marriage equality cannot be stopped. Even as the far Right continues to compare same-sex marriage to bestiality and to absurdly insist that marriage bans “take nothing away from anyone,” the stack of judicial wins for equality grows taller and taller.
Six months ago today, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote someone because of who they are or who they love. Despite the fact that the majority of states’ laws leave lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers unprotected – and the fact that most Americans believe that this workplace discrimination is wrong – House GOP leadership continues to stand in the way of progress.
Why are they ignoring the will of the people and blocking LGBT Americans from fundamental rights? You can help put the pressure on Congress to pass ENDA by sharing our brand new infographic:
You can also check out our other ENDA-focused resources.