Citizens United

Citizens United Impacts Ohio Senate Race

Senator Sherrod Brown, in this morning's debate over the DISCLOSE Act, noted an article in today's Columbus Dispatch demonstrating the great need for this law:

Before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January, the most Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner could directly contribute to Senate candidate Rob Portman was $4,800.

But because of a decision opening campaigns to corporate contributions, Lindner's American Financial Group was able to give 83 times that amount, $400,000 ... to American Crossroads, a group that former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove helped create to aid GOP candidates. In mid-August, American Crossroads launched a statewide TV ad backing Portman's Senate candidacy.

In this case, a newspaper exposed the corporate spending. But that disclosure to the voters is the exception, not the rule. DISCLOSE would change that - and that's why Senate Republicans are fighting it tooth and nail.

It's worth noting that Portman's Democratic opponent, Lee Fisher, has signed People For the American Way and Public Citizen's Pledge to Protect America's Democracy and supports a constitutional amendment to correct Citizens United.

 

 

PFAW

“The Money’s Flowing,” But From Where?

Michael Luo and Stephanie Strom of The New York Times profiled the rapid growth of political organizations that can receive unlimited contributions but do not have to disclose their donors. 501(c)(4) groups* have become more numerous, and unlike 527’s, do not have to reveal the sources of their funding, which is “arguably more important than ever after the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case earlier this year that eased restrictions on corporate spending on campaigns.”

“I can tell you from personal experience, the money’s flowing,” said Michael E. Toner, a former Republican F.E.C. commissioner, now in private practice at the firm Bryan Cave.

The growing popularity of the groups is making the gaps in oversight of them increasingly worrisome among those mindful of the influence of money on politics.

“The Supreme Court has completely lifted restrictions on corporate spending on elections,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, a watchdog group. “And 501(c) serves as a haven for these front groups to run electioneering ads and keep their donors completely secret.”

Almost all of the biggest players among third-party groups, in terms of buying television time in House and Senate races since August, have been 501(c) organizations, and their purchases have heavily favored Republicans, according to data from Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

These organizations are considered “social welfare” groups that are legally allowed to lobby on certain issues, but until Citizens United, were not permitted to explicitly urge voters to vote for or against a candidate. “As a result, rarely do advertisements by 501(c)(4) groups explicitly call for the election or defeat of candidates,” Luo and Strom write, “Instead, they typically attack their positions on issues.” That has changed dramatically since Citizens United, as seen in the rise of organizations like American Crossroads GPS. 501 (c)6 groups that are “business associations” like the US Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Job Security are “spending heavily in support of Republicans.”

But with weak and ineffective regulatory oversight, many of these political organizations disguised as “social welfare” groups can continue to hide their donors from the public eye:

In fact, the I.R.S. is unlikely to know that some of these groups exist until well after the election because they are not required to seek the agency’s approval until they file their first tax forms — more than a year after they begin activity.    

"These groups are popping up like mushrooms after a rain right now, and many of them will be out of business by late November,” Mr. Owens said. “Technically, they would have until January 2012 at the earliest to file anything with the I.R.S. It’s a farce.”    

Social welfare nonprofits are permitted to do an unlimited amount of lobbying on issues related to their primary purpose, but there are limits on campaigning for or against specific candidates.

I.R.S. officials cautioned that what may seem like political activity to the average lay person might not be considered as such under the agency’s legal criteria.



* People For the American Way is a 501(c)(4) organization.

 

 

PFAW

So Much for "Prompt Disclosure"

When the Supreme Court decided earlier this year to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, the justices in the majority (save Justice Clarence Thomas) took care to note that “prompt disclosure” of political spending would allow citizens to hold candidates, and their funders, accountable. It’s a nice idea…but things haven’t exactly worked out that way.

Instead, Public Citizen reported last week, in the first election after Citizens United, groups funneling money to political activities have increasingly been hiding where their money comes from.

Only 32 percent of the organizations broadcasting electioneering communications in the 2010 primary season revealed in their filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the identities of donors funding their advertisements, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of FEC filings. In contrast, nearly 50 percent revealed their donors in the 2008 election cycle, and close to 100 percent did so in the 2004 and 2006 cycles. Electioneering communications are campaign ads run shortly before elections that focus on candidates but don’t expressly urge a vote for or against them.

Only 10 percent of Republican groups disclosed their funders, in contrast to 50 percent of Democratic groups.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Target learned the hard way this summer, shareholders, consumers, and voters aren’t particularly keen on large corporations bankrolling political campaigns. Funneling money through secretive groups allows corporate political spenders to have the best of both worlds: they can fund the campaigns of candidates favorable to them, and never have to be held accountable.

An attempt this summer to patch up the loophole that allows corporations to keep their election spending secret ran up against stiff opposition from corporate lobbyists and a unified filibuster from the GOP. President Obama summed up the result in his weekly radio address Saturday:

What is clear is that Congress has a responsibility to act. But the truth is, any law will come too late to prevent the damage that has already been done this election season. That is why, any time you see an attack ad by one of these shadowy groups, you should ask yourself, who is paying for this ad? Is it the health insurance lobby? The oil industry? The credit card companies?

But more than that, you can make sure that the tens of millions of dollars spent on misleading ads do not drown out your voice. Because no matter how many ads they run – no matter how many elections they try to buy – the power to determine the fate of this country doesn’t lie in their hands. It lies in yours. It’s up to all of us to defend that most basic American principle of a government of, by, and for the people. What’s at stake is not just an election. It’s our democracy itself.

This fall, the Senate will have another chance to bring the DISCLOSE Act to a vote. As the New York Times pointed out yesterday, the vote should be a no-brainer for moderate senators like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine:

The Citizens United decision, paradoxically, supported greater disclosure of donors, but Senate Republicans have filibustered a bill that would eliminate the secrecy shield. Just one vote is preventing passage. That act is coming back for another Senate vote. The two Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, might want to read a recent poll by the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, which showed that 80 percent of the state’s voters support public disclosure.

In a poll we commissioned in June, 85% of Americans said that corporations already have too much influence over the political process. Voters want information. Will Congress provide it?
 

PFAW

Obama Speaks Out, Again, on Citizens United

While addressing a fundraiser in Connecticut for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is running against self-funding multimillionaire Linda McMahon, President Obama laid into the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and its devastating consequences. With the possibility of the Senate passing a new version of the DISLCOSE Act, which would mitigate the Supreme Court’s ruling by requiring political organizations to publicly disclose its financial backers, President Obama reminded us again on why Citizens United is so dangerous to democracy:

This is a tough election season. People are hurting and they are understandably frustrated. And a lot of them are scared. And a lot of them are anxious. And that means that even when people don't have ideas, if they've got enough money behind them, they may be able to convince some folks that, you know what, just cast a protest vote, throw the bums out. That's a mentality that has an appeal. And you can't blame folks for feeling that way sometime. But that's not a future for our country, a country that's more divided, that's more unequal, that's less dynamic, where we're falling behind in everything from investment in infrastructure to investment in R&D. That's not a vision for the future.

And if that's not a future you accept for this nation, if that's not the future you want for your kids and for your grandkids, then we are asking you for help in this election.


Because if you don't think the stakes are large -- and I want you to consider this -- right now, all across the country, special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates. Because last year, there was a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United. They're allowed to spend as much as they want without ever revealing who's paying for the ads. That's exactly what they're doing. Millions of dollars. And the groups are benign-sounding: Americans for Prosperity. Who's against that? Or Committee for Truth in Politics. Or Americans for Apple Pie. Moms for Motherhood. I made those last two up.


None of them will disclose who's paying for these ads. You don't know if it's a Wall Street bank. You don't know if it's a big oil company. You don't know if it's an insurance company. You don't even know if it's a foreign-controlled entity. In some races, they are spending more money than the candidates. Not here because here the candidate is spending a lot of money. They're spending more money than the parties. They want to take Congress back and return to the days where lobbyists wrote the laws. It is the most insidious power grab since the monopolies of the Gilded Age. That's happening right now. So there's a lot of talk about populist anger and grassroots. But that's not what's driving a lot of these elections.


We tried to fix this, but the leaders of the other party wouldn't even allow it to come up for a vote. They want to keep the public in the dark. They want to serve the special interests that served them so well over the last 19 months.


We will not let them. We are not about to allow a corporate takeover of our democracy. We're not about to go back to the days when special interests took advantage of Main Street families. We're not going to go back to the days when insurance companies wrote the rules that let you languish without health care because you had a preexisting condition. We're not going to go back to the exact same agenda we had before I took office.

PFAW

The Citizens United Fallout Reaches Ohio

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, state-level laws regulating corporate election spending have been crumbling. Today, yet another bit the dust:

An agreement between Ohio elections officials and an anti-abortion group voids a state ban that kept businesses and unions from funding pre-election broadcast ads in support of specific candidates.

The Wednesday agreement in U.S. District Court in Columbus settles part of a 2008 lawsuit brought by Ohio Right to Life Society Inc. against the Ohio Elections Commission and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. It follows a January U.S. Supreme Court decision that strikes down a similar federal ban.
 

PFAW

The DISCLOSE Act's Second Chance

As Congress returns to work this month, the Senate will likely have another chance to vote on the DISCLOSE Act, legislation meant to mitigate the damage of Citizens United by requiring full disclosure of corporate spending in elections.

The House passed the DISCLOSE Act in June. In July, it sank in the Senate, when not a single Republican was willing to break a filibuster on the bill. Moderate Republicans Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, despite previous support for clean election legislation, all sided with their party to kill the bill.

In the Washington Post today, E. J. Dionne writes that the support of those three senators is key to the passage of the DISCLOSE Act—though the pressure they face to oppose it is greater than ever:

As moderate Republicans, Snowe and Collins are undoubtedly looking over their right shoulders, fearful that they may go the way of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Bob Bennett. This helps explain why they went south during negotiations over the health-care bill.

But repairing Citizens United is not an ideological question, although some cast it that way. Fiscal conservatives should be as worried as anyone about corporations using their newfound power to extract expensive special benefits from the government. Even conservatives who opposed campaign reform in the past have always insisted that they favor disclosure of campaign contributions. Disclosure is now more important than ever.

Snowe, Collins and Brown have made their careers by touting their independence. But that claim doesn't come cheap. This is the issue on which their promissory note is due.

This election cycle has already produced plenty of examples of corporations funneling money through front groups to support or smear candidates. In an ideal world, every member of Congress would stand up to corporate lobbyists and support a bill that would throw light on that murky political strategy. But at the very least, a disclosure bill should have the active support of those who profess to be independent campaign reformers.
 

PFAW

New Groups Taking Advantage of Concealed Election Spending

Can we have the DISCLOSE Act now? USA Today reports that more than a dozen groups have been organized since June to take advantage of the lax election spending rules left by the Citizens United decision earlier this year…and most of them aren’t going to tell us who’s funding them:

In many cases, the public will not know who has funded the ads until long after they have aired.

"This is the new order of political finance," says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. Outside groups can "sling mud with hidden money."

Since June 1, at least 15 organizations have launched these operations to influence congressional races, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

In Mother Jones, Peter Stone explains one reason why corporate interests are jumping through hoops to influence elections without being noticed:

You might wonder: Given that Citizens United allowed companies, say General Motors or Aetna, to get involved in elections directly, why would they need to go through groups like BIPAC or the US Chamber of Commerce? The problem, says Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the FEC, is that the decision is so unpopular many companies may not want to be seen as taking advantage of it. (In the wake of President Obama's attack on the Citizens United ruling in the State of the Union address—he noted that it would allow special interests and "foreign corporations to spend without limits in our elections"—80 percent of Americans told pollsters they disagreed with the ruling.)

Then, there’s also the powerful example of Target, which taught corporations that it’s ok to give money to political causes—as long as you don’t get caught.
 

PFAW

Disclosure Laws Under Attack

Even after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision rolled back longstanding state and federal laws that attempted to limit corporate influence in democracy, opponents of any type of campaign finance rules have redoubled their efforts to weaken transparency in elections. Two right-wing political organizations and a business group recently sued to block the state of Minnesota from enforcing campaign disclosure and donation laws. They are seeking an injunction to prevent the implementation of the state's rule for corporations to disclose their political activities. In addition, they "seek to overturn prohibitions on corporations contributing directly to campaigns and parties." Currently, as a result of Citizens United, corporations can fund advocacy groups who can support and oppose certain candidates, but not the candidates themselves. If their lawsuit is successful, corporate financing of campaigns would expand to even greater levels.

Due to the state's current disclosure rules, donations from companies such as Target and BestBuy to the right-wing group MN Forward came to light. Without the DISCLOSE Act, organizations involved in federal elections are already able to conceal their donors, and President Obama recently warned against "a flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names." "They don't want you to know which interests are paying for the ads," Obama said; "The only people who don't want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide."

If the plaintiffs in Minnesota (which includes a for-profit business and two conservative non-profits: the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life) are successful, not only would corporations be allowed to hide their political financing from the public, but may even be able to directly contribute to the campaigns of candidates for public office.

It is already extremely difficult, especially without the DISCLOSE Act, to discover corporate financing of political groups. As a report by the Washington Post explains:

Long-standing IRS regulations require some groups to reveal their donors, and that is why the agency suddenly finds itself with what some might see as a more crucial watchdog role, stepping in to monitor disclosure in the absence of the FEC. But the IRS rules also have long-standing loopholes and, with limited resources and enforcement tools, the nation's tax collector is not set up to be a campaign regulator.

"The chances of the IRS being able to catch a violation of the tax law around campaigns is virtually nil," said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale who directed the agency's tax-exempt organizations division for 10 years. "Certainly if it happens, it's going to be well after the election has already ended."

As the assault on the remaining campaign disclosure laws intensifies, spending in elections is about to climb to new heights. Borrell Associates predicts that the Citizens United decision will lead to $400 million in new ads this election season, and that "political ad spending will reach $4.2 billion this year, double the $2.1 billion the firm estimated was spent in 2008."

But the most serious opponents of the effort to shed light on corporate financing in elections are obstructionists in the Senate: the Republicans who vote lock-step to prevent the DISCLOSE Act from coming up for an up-or-down vote. President Obama's call for the Senate to reconsider the DISCLOSE Act, which already passed the House, reminds us that the fight against the enormous corporate clout in our democracy is not over:

PFAW

Corporate Spending Run Amok in Florida

One week before the Florida primary, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum have spent a combined $51.2 million in the fight for their party’s nomination for governor. Rick Scott, the former head of the HCA/Columbia hospital conglomerate, already spent close to $38 million on his gubernatorial bid. In order to compete with Scott’s massive self-financed war chest, Bill McCollum, a former congressman and Florida’s current attorney general, has reached out to corporations to back his campaign.

Two political action committees have emerged to support McCollum’s campaign: the Sunshine State Freedom Fund and the Florida First Initiative. The Sunshine State Freedom Fund has received tens of thousands of dollars from corporations, including a $25,000 donation from the car dealership chain AutoNation.

The McCollum-allied Florida First Initiative obtained even more money from corporate backers, receiving $100,000 from Progress Energy and $50,000 from the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield. Most noticeably, the League of American Voters Inc. donated a whopping $600,000 to the Florida First Initiative. But as Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald point out, the League of American Voters “does not have to disclose its donors under federal tax law because it is a 501(c)4 nonprofit activist group.”

However, the reporters found out that the “secretive political committee” received a large amount of its funding from U.S. Sugar Corp. In fact, according to Bousquet and Caputo, U.S. Sugar Corp. is spending around $1.1 million altogether to prop up McCollum’s campaign for governor. U.S. Sugar Corp’s enormous funding to back Attorney General McCollum is especially troubling considering that the State of Florida is currently purchasing land from the same corporation, a project that involves the Attorney General’s office and the state’s future governor.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we may see Florida-like levels of corporate involvement elsewhere. Already in states like Minnesota, where barriers to corporate electioneering came down following the Citizens United ruling, corporations have dramatically increased their role in supporting particular candidates for office. Because of Citizens United, the enormous amount of corporate election spending witnessed in Florida may become the norm in other races across the country.

PFAW

What Citizens United has to do with Rod Blagojevich

Last night, a federal jury in Chicago convicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on just one of 24 counts of political corruption. On the rest of the counts, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked.

Scott Turow, the bestselling novelist who started his career as a US Attorney prosecuting political corruption cases in Chicago, writes in the New York Times that whatever the fuzziness of fact in the Blagojevich case, what is even fuzzier is the way our legal system deals with political corruption. The influence of big money is everywhere in our political process—and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the door for less showy, but equally problematic, versions of the corruption that Blagojevich is accused of.

Indeed, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court decided that such organizations could spend as much as they wished at any time, assuming there was no direct coordination with the candidate. In doing so, the court overturned its own precedents and refused to distinguish the free speech rights of corporations and unions in any way from those of actual people.

The problem with this logic is that corporations have a legal duty not to spend money unless it is likely to improve profits. Unions, too, are expected to make only contributions that will benefit members. As a result, no idealistic patina of concern about good government or values-driven issues can burnish these payments.

The future of other campaign finance restrictions looks bleak. Thirty-four years ago, when the Supreme Court first declared in Buckley v. Valeo that the First Amendment protected election spending, it nonetheless approved contribution limits “to prevent ... the appearance of corruption.” In Citizens United, the Roberts Court gave short shrift to any concern about appearances. Limits on direct contributions to candidates appear likely to be the next campaign safeguard to fall.

In any case, the bevy of ways in which donors can get around current spending laws, combined with the Supreme Court’s elastic approach to the First Amendment, have left our campaign finance system as little more than a form of legalized influence-buying. Only those as naive as Wanda Brandstetter or as crass and ham-handed as Rod Blagojevich find themselves subject to prosecution, while others wise enough to say less out loud find snug protection in the First Amendment, no matter how bald their desire to influence government actions.

We see daily examples of this sort of dynamic happening in elections—take the Florida governor’s race--where any causal relationships between campaign cash and policy decisions can never be fully sorted out. It’s a dangerous thing for democracy…and one, as Turow points out, we aren’t going to fix without a Constitutional amendment.
 

PFAW

Fox Doubles Down on GOP Bias

Although there has always been an extremely thin line between news journalism and Republican Party activism at the Fox News Channel, network's parent company -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. just became not just a propaganda arm of the GOP, but also the party's financier. According to a Bloomberg report, the Republican Governors Association received a $1 million donation from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox Broadcasting and the Fox News Channel, and conservative newspapers such as the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. In fact, News Corp. was the RGA's "biggest corporate donor." The RGA, whose "primary mission is to help elect Republicans to governorships throughout the nation," is headed by Republican Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who was formerly the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

News Corp is not the only media company directly funding political advocacy groups. Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., which operates multiple television and radio outlets in Minnesota, New York, and New Mexico, contributed $100,000 to MN Forward, a conservative organization backed by other corporations such as Target and BestBuy. MN Forward's main goal is to support far-right Republican Tom Emmer's campaign for Governor of Minnesota.

Now that media companies such as News Corp and Hubbard Broadcasting are specifically siding with Republicans candidates in the upcoming election, it's only fair that news anchors inform their viewers of their parent company's direct support for certain candidates. While Republican favoritism has always been obvious on Fox News, the Citizens United ruling allows Fox's support for the GOP to go even further potentially by making enormous direct financial contributions to Republican campaign committees. Fox is no longer just a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, as it is now its unambiguous sponsor and patron.

PFAW

Failure to Disclose

While banks and insurance companies are heavily betting on Republicans this election year, we may never know what companies are behind third-party ads pushing for corporate-friendly policies and politicians. Since forty-one Republican senators voted in lock-step to block the DISCLOSE Act ("Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections"), the bill hasn't yet had an opportunity to receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

The DISCLOSE Act, which the House passed in June, would prohibit corporations that are foreign-owned or receive federal dollars from engaging in electoral activity, and would mandate that third party political groups publicize their donors and include disclaimers on advertisements. So far, however, the obstructionists in the Senate have derailed this drive for transparency in politics by blocking a vote on DISCLOSE. Unless the Senate leadership is able to break through this obstructionism when Congress comes back from its August recess,third party groups will have free license to spend handsomely on elections without releasing a single source of their funding.

A recent Fortune article points out why the DISCLOSE Act is needed, as even Goldman Sachs, which says it will not directly contribute to political organizations, "can publicly say it won't fund political ads, and still go right ahead doing it privately." As Tory Newmyer maintains: "[T]rade associations and other non-profit groups can now spend freely on ads attacking or supporting specific candidates. And because those groups don't always have to identify their funders, they provide a safe vehicle for corporations looking to launder their involvement in dicey election contests."

Due to a state law, the business-backed independent expenditure political committee Minnesota Forward was forced to publicly list its donors. However, when advocates found out that companies such as Target and BestBuy were behind a group that supports a gubernatorial candidate with a horrendous record on gay-rights and consumer protection, they encountered severe pushback from customers and advocates.

But while Target and BestBuy got caught, other corporations and affiliated groups learned from their mistakes. Dirk Van Dongen, the head of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, believes that the boycotts of Target won't stop other businesses from becoming involved in electoral activity, "noting that businesses can give anonymously to trade association and other non-profit campaign efforts."

In fact, Target did not promise to stop making political contributions, but would simply send them through a "review board" in the future. David Schultz, a campaign finance specialist at Hamline University, predicts that corporations, "exclusively driven by the Citizens United case," will increase their electoral spending by as much as 50% this year.

Corporate review boards do little to mitigate the impact of the new rules allowing for anonymous political engagement on the part of corporations. As Senator Chuck Schumer rightly maintains:

Allowing corporate and special interests, now because they have so much money, to pour that money into our political system without even disclosure, without even knowing who they are or what they are saying or why they are saying it, they are taking politics away, government away from the average person because of the influence of such large amounts of dollars.

PFAW

Senators Set the Record Straight on Just Who the “Activist” Justices Are

A recent PFAW poll revealed that the vast majority of Americans are intensely concerned about the growing corporate influence in our country and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Judging from numerous remarks made during last week’s Senate hearings on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Court, it seems that many of our elected representatives feel the same way. Though Republicans attempted to vilify Kagan (and Thurgood Marshall!) with accusations of judicial activism, Democrats fired back, pointing out that in fact it is the conservative Court majority that has employed such activism in going out of its way to side with corporate America. Senators used the floor debate to decry the Roberts Court’s record of favoring corporations over individuals and its disregard for Congressional intent and legal precedent:

Senator Schumer:

The American people are reaping the bitter harvest from new laws that have been made and old precedents that have been overturned. Put simply, in decision after decision, this conservative, activist Court has bent the law to suit an ideology. At the top of the list, of course, is the Citizens United case where an activist majority of the Court overturned a century of well-understood law that regulated the amount of money special interests could spend to elect their own candidates to public office.

Senator Gillibrand:

Narrow 5-to-4 decisions by a conservative majority have become the hallmark of the Roberts Court. These decisions have often been overreaching in scope and have repeatedly ignored settled law and congressional intent. For example, in the Citizens United case, the Court not only disregarded the extensive record compiled by Congress but abandoned established precedent.

Senator Franken:

[A]bove the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court are four words, and four words only: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ When the Roberts Court chooses between corporate America and working Americans, it goes with corporate America almost every time, even when the citizens of this country, sitting in a duly appointed jury, have decided it the other way. That is not right. It is not equal justice under the law.

Senator Leahy:

It is essential that judicial nominees understand that, as judges, they are not members of any administration . . . Courts are not subsidiaries of any political party or interest group, and our judges should not be partisans. That is why . . . the recent decision by five conservative activist Justices in Citizens United to throw out 100 years of legal developments in order to invite massive corporate spending on elections for the first time in 100 years was such a jolt to the system.

Senator Whitehouse:

On the Roberts Court, one pattern is striking, the clear pattern of corporate victories at the Roberts Court. It reaches across many fields—across arbitration, antitrust, employment discrimination, campaign finance, legal pleading standards, and many others. Over and over on this current Supreme Court, the Roberts bloc guiding it has consistently, repeatedly rewritten our law in the favor of corporations versus ordinary Americans.”

Senator Cardin:

Well, this Supreme Court, too many times, by 5-to-4 decisions by the so-called conservative Justices, has been the most activist Court on ruling on the side of corporate America over ordinary Americans.

Senator Dorgan:

What I have seen recently and certainly in the case of Citizens United—and I believe it is the case in Ledbetter v. Goodyear—the Supreme Court too often these days divides into teams. By the way, the team that seems to be winning is the team on the side of the powerful, the team on the side of the big interests, the team on the side of the corporate interests. That ought not be the way the Supreme Court operates.

 

PFAW

New Poll Shows Americans Want Less Corporate Influence in Politics

Last month, we commissioned a poll asking people across the country what they thought of corporate influence in elections and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to expand that influence. The results were staggering.

A whopping 85% of voters surveyed said they thought corporations already have too much influence in our political system. 95 % agreed that “Corporations spend money on politics mainly to buy influence in government and elect people who are favorable to their financial interests.” 77% supported a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to limit the amount corporations can spend on elections, and 74% said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who shared that view.

Yesterday, MoveOn.org released the results [PDF] of a new poll on corporate money in politics, and guess what?

The MoveOn poll found:

  • “79% of voters polled, including 72% of Republicans and 75% of Independents, believe that it’s important that a candidate commit to reducing the influence of corporations over elections”
  • “Almost two out of three voters (60%) disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. Sixty-seven percent of those would be more likely to support a candidate who backs a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.
  • “Seventy-seven percent of voters overall (including 70% of Republicans Independents), view corporate election spending as an attempt to bribe politicians rather than an expression of free speech that should not be limited.”


No matter how you cut the numbers, the pattern is clear. Americans want voters, not corporate money, to own our democracy.

Speaking of which…have you asked your elected officials and candidates to sign the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy?
 

PFAW

Citizens United and State Laws

The Citizens United decision didn’t merely overturn nearly a century of federal laws and precedents; it also threw state campaign finance laws into turmoil. Before Citizens United, 24 states restricted corporate spending in elections. After the Supreme Court invalidated the federal laws governing corporate influence in political campaigns, states started scrambling to prepare for their own campaign finance laws to be struck down. And none too soon: as we’ve mentioned before, legal challenges have already started to bring down some of these state-level laws.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s attorney general formally announced that the state’s campaign finance laws would have to be repealed. A local news station reported that lifting these restrictions could lead to an increase in campaign spending from $30 million last year to $90 million this year. It remains to be seen whether Wisconson, like many of the other states affected by the Supreme Court decision, will enact disclosure laws to lessen the impact of corporate money on elections.

The conservative majority on the Roberts court didn’t just invalidate the anti-corruption measures enacted by our democratically elected Congress. It also limited the ability of state governments to decide for themselves how to regulate their own elections. Wisconsin’s election laws are just the latest casualty. To keep track of what’s happening in other states, go here.

PFAW

Target apologizes, but will stay in politics

Why would two companies that received 100% ratings from the Human Rights Campaign's 2010 Corporate Equality Index give a combined $250,000 to a group backing a candidate with extreme anti-gay views? According to Target's CEO, the company was only trying to advance "policies aligned with our business objectives" when it contributed $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group whose sole purpose is to support the candidacy of State Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota.

MN Forward is a creation of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, and its top priority is, of course, lowering the corporate tax rate. In fact, MN Forward is led by Brian McClung, who previously served as "government affairs director for the Twin West Chamber of Commerce" and ran the "group's political-action committee." Benefiting from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the organization already raised $1.1 million, much of it from corporate donors like Hubbard Broadcasting, Red Wing Shoe Co., Federated Insurance and Davisco Foods. Ultimately, MNForward hopes to obtain $2 to $5 million in order to run advertisements across the state promoting Emmer.

It's not a surprise that big business has rallied around Emmer, who repeatedly voted against consumer protection laws, such as "good faith" requirements for insurance companies, and raising the minimum wage. In fact, Emmer was rewarded with a perfect 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce for his 2010 voting record. But Emmer is not only a consistent defender of corporations in the State House, but is also a leading opponent of gay rights.

He voted against a bill that would permit same-sex domestic partners to have rights over the burial of their deceased partners, and also opposed allowing domestic partners of state employees to collect health insurance. Emmer even voted against legislation that would mandate anti-bullying policies in public schools to protect LGBT youth. When a local Christian rock band's lead singer called the execution of gays "moral," Emmer refused to condemn the band, and instead called them "nice people."

While Emmer declined to denounce the viciously anti-gay rock band he has financially supported, he did take the opportunity to blast critics of corporate influence in elections as enemies of free speech.

In the end, faced with an outcry from shareholders and a boycott from consumers, Target's CEO apologized for the donations. However, the company did not say that it would stop making contributions; instead, it will create a review board to oversee future contributions.

No word yet from BestBuy and other companies who have financially backed MN Forward.

PFAW

Senator Cornyn Still Thinks “Judicial Activism” is a Liberal Phenomenon

Senator Cornyn’s sound bite today: “A judge who presumes to be a lawmaker becomes a lawbreaker.” That is, a Justice who decides based on a desired policy outcome rather than a correct interpretation of the Constitution is a “judicial activist” and has no right to serve on the Supreme Court.

It’s always amazing to hear an ultra conservative like Senator Cornyn complain about judges legislating from the bench. Does he think that the conservative block of the Roberts Court, which overturned a century of settled law in the Citizens United case to achieve their desired pro-corporate policy result, is made up of lawbreakers?

Senator Cornyn also emphasized that, if we disagree with a law or a Supreme Court decision, we have the right to work towards a constitutional amendment. We couldn’t agree with him more. That’s why we’re fighting for a constitutional amendment to correct Citizens United and once again limit corporate money in our elections.

PFAW

Sessions Mistakes Kagan for Roberts

GOP Senator Jeff Sessions has taken to the Senate floor to oppose the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. He's accused Kagan of believing that judges can simply ignore the Constitution and replace it with her personal vision of what the law should be.

I think he's confusing Kagan for the five justices who decided in Citizens United that it was gigantic corporations who the founders had in mind when adopting the First Amendment. That's a vision of society totally at odds with what the founders had in mind, to say nothing of what the American people want. It's a vision shared only by extremist pro-business conservative ideologues.

PFAW

GOP’s Citizens United Hypocrisy

As we witness the growing influx of corporate spending in elections from Kentucky to Minnesota as a result of the Citizens United ruling, campaigns across the country are bracing for a barrage of corporate expenditures. Senate Republicans claim that by refusing to allow the DISCLOSE Act to come up for a vote, they are defending free speech rights established by the Court. But Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute criticizes the Republicans’ dangerously selective view of the Citizens United decision. While the 5-4 decision grants for-profit corporations the same free speech rights as individuals, the Court also ruled 8-1 to affirm the government’s right to enact rigorous campaign disclosure laws:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who holds the undisputed twin titles of No. 1 campaign finance anti-reformer and No. 1 hypocrite, once said he didn't understand why a little disclosure is better than a lot of disclosure. Now the Kentucky Republican is leading his party and outside activists in spurning the clear, 8-1 mandate of the Roberts Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision to encourage robust disclosure, as they call the disclosure they once championed a horrendous burden and even an unconstitutional blockage of free speech.

Even though Senate Republicans defend Citizens United, going so far as to compare it to Brown v. Board of Education, they appear to dismiss the Supreme Court’s approval of disclosure requirements to prevent secretive and misleading campaign practices by corporations. Like candidates running for office, CEOs of corporations should appear in their advertisements and go on record with their political expenditures, and publicly report money used for political purposes. As constitutional law expert Lawrence Tribe writes:

[F]ederal legislation should, at a minimum, build on the disclosure and disclaimer requirements that the Court upheld by an 8-1 vote in Citizens United, requirements specifying that electioneering communications funded by anyone other than the candidate must disclose who is “responsible for the content of this advertising” and must display on screen “in a clearly readable manner” for at least four seconds the name and address or website of whoever funded the communication.


 

 

PFAW

The Consequences of Citizens United

Ever since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Citizens United case in January, we’ve been warning that the decision would empower corporations to funnel unlimited donations through shadow advocacy groups to directly influence elections.

And guess what? It’s begun.

Just as we (and President Obama) predicted, corporations are already forming and funding political action groups with innocuous sounding names to anonymously support candidates they like and attack candidates they don’t.

For example, the coal industry already has a plan to create a shadow organization to directly advocate against “anti-coal” candidates, obscuring the sources of the organization’s money as they go:

The companies hope to create a politically active nonprofit under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, so they won't have to publicly disclose their activities — such as advertising — until they file a tax return next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last winter that corporations and labor unions may pour unlimited funds into such efforts to influence elections.

"With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard," wrote Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., in an undated letter he sent to other coal companies.

Citizens United didn’t just, as some supporters have claimed, allow corporate voices to be heard; it granted corporations unprecedented influence in democratic elections while permitting them to hide their involvement. It’s shadow organizations like this that make one wonder: why are Senate Republicans filibustering the DISCLOSE Act, which would help make corporate involvement in elections more transparent?

Meanwhile, the Minnesota gubernatorial race is providing another textbook example of the problems Citizens United is already causing for our democracy. Taking advantage of their new ability to pour limitless money into elections, several big corporations, including the retail giant Target, donated $100,000 each to a shadow group called Minnesota Forward, which has already produced an ad for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

Public reaction to Target’s involvement in the race shows just why many politically involved corporations would prefer to remain anonymous:

Emmer is well known as a hardline conservative on social issues. For instance; he opposes gay marriage — a stance that angers some of Target's employees and customers. The company has been known for its gay-friendly employment policies.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel tried to address such concerns today with a letter to employees. He wrote, that "inclusiveness remains a core value of our company." That said, he added, "I consider it my responsibility to create conditions in which Target can thrive." And Minnesota Forward has pegged Emmer as the pro-growth candidate.

If the Senate had passed the DISCLOSE Act yesterday, Minnesota Forward would have to be a lot more forthcoming about the sources of its funding. As long as DISCLOSE is filibustered, the group has a lot more leeway for behind-the-scenes political activity. (And, until Congress passes a Shareholder Protection Act, even Target’s shareholders won’t be able to have a say in which political candidates their money is going to support). Voters and consumers have the right to know whether a corporation’s political money is where its mouth is.

Health insurance companies, too, are banding together to take advantage of the newly permissive electioneering rules:

Five of the nation’s largest health insurers are in serious discussions about creating a new nonprofit group and bankrolling it to the tune of about $20 million to influence tight congressional races and boost the image of their industry.

… “The objective is to make the House more accommodating to concerns that have been raised,” says one industry source. “They’re looking at toss-up candidates,” adding that the companies want to “focus resources to influence campaigns.”

Needless to say, like the coal companies, health insurance groups will not have to make their donations to such an advocacy organization public.

A stunning 85% of Americans agree that corporations already have too much influence on our elections; now we have proof that the Citizens United ruling is giving corporations even more power in our democracy. The proliferation of shadow groups doing the dirty work of big corporations makes the task of amending the Constitution to protect our elections from corporate money all the more urgent.

PFAW