Heritage Foundation

GOP targets Latinos’ ability to vote

This piece by People For the American Way Political Coordinator Carlos A. Sanchez originally appeared in Fox News Latino.

Even as a diverse coalition of Americans unite around the principle that voting rights are an essential American principle that needs to be protected, the Republican Party remains firmly committed to doing the opposite. Their continued push for policies that make it more difficult for people to vote disproportionately affects minority and young voters.

Republicans – including leading Presidential candidates – have for years been pushing initiatives that make it harder to vote. Jeb Bush supports states’ efforts to enact voter ID laws, and as governor, he restricted early voting and infamously purged 12,000 eligible voters before the 2000 presidential election. Marco Rubio asked, “What’s the big deal?” with voter ID laws. Scott Walker enacted what has been described as “one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.”

Voter ID laws systematically target Latinos’ and other minorities’ ability to vote. In 2012, measures to restrict voting could have affected over 10 million Latino voters. A Brennan Center for Justice study reported, “In Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, the number of eligible Latino citizens that could be affected by these barriers exceeds the margin of victory in each of those states during the 2008 presidential election.”

And it’s no accident that these laws disproportionately affect Latinos. A separate study from last year found “a solid link between legislator support for voter ID laws and bias toward Latino voters, as measured in their responses to constituent e-mails.” And yet another study that was released earlier this year found that even in states without voter ID laws, Latinos were targeted: “Election officials themselves also appear to be biased against minority voters, and Latinos in particular. For example, poll workers are more likely to ask minority voters to show identification, including in states without voter identification laws.”

Some Republicans have explicitly made known their intentions of suppressing Latino and African-American voters in order to win elections. Over 30 years ago, ALEC-founder and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation Paul Weyrich spoke plainly:  “I don’t want everybody to vote…As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Republican after Republican has continued in his footsteps: An Ohio GOP County Chair stated he supports limits on early voting because, “I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai believed voter ID laws would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Former GOP Precinct Chair Don Yelton used the “n” word as he tried to deny that a voter ID law in North Carolina was racist (and he explained that “the law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt”). Conservative activist and notoriously anti-immigrant Phyllis Schlafly said, “The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game.” Schlafly’s Eagle Forum endorsed Marco Rubio in his run for Senate (here’s a lovely picture of the two of them) and applauded Scott Walker for his opposition to legal immigration.

The Republican response to the growing power of minority voters could not be clearer: shut them out of the election process. Under the guise of fighting voter fraud, despite a striking absence of evidence that fraud exists, Republican-led chambers across our nation have moved in concert to restrict access through the polls for political reasons. It’s that simple.

What’s even more upsetting is to hear a group who claims to represent the best interests of a community choose to ignore the facts in favor of their funder’s agenda.  Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Iniative, said he’s fine with voter ID laws and that he doesn’t think Republicans are trying to suppress the Latino vote. Libre is a Koch-funded GOP shadow group that time and again turns its back on the Latino community – for example, Libre supported Republican candidates who opposed immigration reform in 2014. Garza’s support for voter ID laws is yet another instance of him and Republicans supporting a policy that’s devastating to Latinos.

It’s time for the Republican Party to end their campaign against voting rights—and for people like Daniel Garza to stop giving them cover when they do it.

Carlos A. Sanchez is the Coordinator of Political Campaigns for People For the American Way.


National School Choice Week: PR for Privatizers?

On Wednesday morning, a roomful of school children were herded into a congressional meeting room and required to sit through an hour and a half worth of speeches by conservative Members of Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, Sens. Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Patrick McHenry, Education & Workforce Committee Chair John Kline of Minnesota, and a handful of others. Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana was the emcee.

The Capitol Hill event was in honor of National School Choice Week, whose organizers describe it as a nonpolitical, nonpartisan “independent public awareness campaign” promoting the idea that every child deserves access to an excellent education. Who would disagree?

In other words, it’s a PR campaign, one that wraps itself in the moral mantle of children. But the bright yellow scarves it wraps around its participants are meant to distract attention from the fact that sponsors of this week’s thousands of events include many anti-public education, anti-union, anti-government ideologues, including the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance for Prosperity and others. The President of National School Choice Week, Andrew Campanella, used to work at the Alliance for School Choice, whose board is chaired by deep-pocketed right-wing activist Betsy DeVos and is funded by a who’s who of right-wing foundations.

As we noted during last year’s NSCW:

Education policy is a vast, complicated, and hotly contested arena. Terms like “education reform” and “school choice” sound good, but they are so broad as to be almost meaningless. They can be applied to genuine efforts to strengthen teaching and educational opportunity as well as cynical schemes to destroy public employee unions and dismantle public education altogether.

In particular, “school choice” encompasses a huge array of education policies, from public charter and magnet schools to taxpayer-funded for-profit cyberschools and homeschooling.  Even a seemingly specific term like “charter schools” cloaks a more complex reality that ranges from innovation labs co-located in public schools to for-profit chain operations.  

Indeed, this year, Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter published “A Smarter Charter: Finding What works for Charter Schools and Public Education.” The book documents that the original vision for charter schools – teachers empowered to be creative in diverse schools that could identify ways to strengthen public education – has been turned on its head. Rather than a teacher-empowering and collaborative paradigm, charter schools are often noted for tightly controlled teachers in highly segregated schools dominated by an ideology of competition with public schools. 

There are more collaborative models, just as there are charter schools with strong academic track records as well as those that lag behind the public schools that choice advocates consistently disparage. Important distinctions get lost under the big, vague, banner of school choice. And that’s intentional.

NSCW is about painting in broad strokes and drawing no distinctions, for example, between public magnet schools and for-profit corporations cashing in on the “reform” movement. No distinction is made between giving students choice among their district’s public schools and diverting education dollars into religious academies and online homeschooling via vouchers and other schemes.  These do not have the same impact on public schools, or the same levels of public accountability, but in the interest of keeping things simple, and winning public support for across-the-board expansion of these programs, they’re all “choice.”

As we wrote last year:

The problem with this “collective messaging” approach is that it hides the anti-public-education agenda of some “reformers.” Celebrating “school choice” across the board lends credibility to organizations pushing for destructive policies that are not at all popular with the American public. In spite of decades of right-wing-funded attacks on public education, for example, Americans oppose privatization plans like vouchers that transfer public education funds to private schools.

Self-proclaimed reformers often dismiss concerns about privatization as a “red herring.” But you can’t embrace the Milton Friedman Foundation as a partner and then pretend that privatization is only an imaginary threat dreamed up by teachers unions.  Friedman has an explicit goal of getting rid of public schools altogether; they see programs like vouchers for poor kids as a tactical stepping stone toward that ultimate goal.

Other supporters of National School Choice Week have included companies that want to tap into the huge flow of public dollars spent every year on education. K12, a member of the “choice”-promoting American Legislative Exchange Council and a company the New York Times has described as “the biggest player in the online-school business,” paid its president more than $5.5. million last year; two other executives each made more than $4 million. A November 2014 investigation by Bloomberg focused on the company’s efforts to turn around “subpar test scores” and declining enrollments.

National School Choice Week promoters say it is nonpolitical and has no legislative agenda, but that’s hard to take seriously given the agendas of its backers. At this week’s event on Capitol Hill, the only Democratic Member of Congress to join the Republican parade was Illinois’ Dan Lipinski, who declined to endorse Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012. (Former Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford also spoke.)

Members of Congress at Wednesday’s event talked about pushing legislation this year to expand “school choice” programs, meaning that battles over vouchers, charter schools, and other education issues will be on the agenda this year, including February’s Senate markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “There are currently private school voucher and tuition tax credit programs in 23 states and at least 10 states are looking to create new or expanding existing school voucher programs this year.”

Obviously, not everyone who participates in National School Choice Week activities is an anti-public-education ideologue. People from across the political spectrum are eager to strengthen schools and give students an opportunity for a great education. That includes public school teachers, administrators, and school board members – people who are collectively smeared as “the blob” by some “reformers.” People who are seeking to strengthen public education and make schools better for all children should think twice about making common cause with organizations that see public education as something to be dismantled and corporations that see students as the means to a bigger bottom line.


Senate Judiciary Committee Exposes the Corporate Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing this morning looking into the disturbing trend of the Roberts Court to shut down people’s access to justice when they go to court to vindicate their rights against large corporations.

The hearing was on Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court's Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior. Chairman Leahy opened the hearing discussing how recent Supreme Court cases are making it harder for working Americans to get their day in court. He expressed particular concern about three cases:

  • Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which will make it harder to hold big companies accountable when they violate civil rights laws;
  • Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders, which shielded from accountability those who knowingly committed securities fraud; and
  • AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which prevents victims of consumer fraud from the protections of jury trials and class actions.

The committee invited four distinguished people to address the issue: Betty Dukes (plaintiff in the sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart) was the one panelist who was also a party to one of the cases being discussed. She spoke poignantly about her experience at Wal-Mart and the fear that so many women have of going against their employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. She promised to continue her fight, but knows that without a national class action, many women will be intimidated into not litigating.

Andrew J. Pincus (a Washington lawyer who has argued many cases before the Court) and Robert Alt (from the Heritage Foundation) denied that the Court was tilting unfairly to favor corporations, argued that the cases were decided rightly, and stated that the Court was simply upholding existing law. In contrast, Melissa Hart (law professor at the University of Colorado) and James Cox (law professor at Duke) took the position that the Court is wrongly shielding wrongdoers from accountability.

Professor Hart correctly characterized as a policy decision the Roberts Court's tendency to interpret procedural law so restrictively, despite congressional intent otherwise, so that Americans become unable to present their case to an impartial court.

Senator Whitehouse discussed the critical role juries play in American government. He noted that juries are mentioned three times in the Constitution, and that they remain a government institution that Big Business cannot corrupt. For years, the far right has been denigrating "trial lawyers" and "runaway juries" in an effort to keep Americans from being able to hold the powerful accountable. Whitehouse argued that the Roberts Court is acting consistently with that pattern.

People For the American Way Foundation submitted testimony to the committee on how the Roberts Court has removed substantive and procedural protections that are the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. These decisions often provide road maps to corporate interests in how to avoid accountability for harm that they do. The constitutional design empowering individuals to consolidate their power against corporations is slowly being eroded by a fiercely ideological Court. Today's hearing is part of an effort to expose the harm that is being done.


GOP Brings the War on Unions to the Federal Government

We’ve seen Koch-funded politicians across the country introduce bills that dismantle public-sector unions at the state level. Now it seems they’ve got their eye on a bigger prize, attempting to destroy unions at the federal level as well.

On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce held a hearing on “Official Time” which the government defines as “authorized, paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees.” Unions use this time to complete tasks such as setting safety requirements, overtime assignments, and dispute-resolution procedures, all of which are necessary for a productive workforce.

Official time was granted by the Civil Reform Act of 1978. This time is strictly regulated, and can only be used on activities that both labor and management deem reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.

Despite the fact that official time costs only $130 million per year -- significantly less expensive than having outsiders handle arbitration and other issues that would arise without official time -- and has survived and been deemed useful through three Republican administrations, the GOP is now considering cutting it due to “budgetary restraints.”

It’s no surprise that the Koch brothers have invested heavily in those who are now trying to chip away at federal employee unions. The congressman who brought up this issue, Rep. Phil Gingrey, counts Koch Industries as one of his top 20 contributors. Of the “expert witnesses” at the hearing discussing official time, two were from organizations heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Witnesses from both the Heritage Foundation and Competitive Enterprise Institute were present, organizations that received 4,115,571 and $700,499 respectively in 2009.

Federal unions are required, by law, to represent all employees in certain agencies or positions, even if they don’t pay their union dues. In exchange for this, they are allowed “official time” in which to complete some union work. John Gage, the National President for the American Federation of Government Employees, stated the ramifications of ending official time clearly, revealing that ending official time would nearly completely take away the collective bargaining rights of federal employees, making it impossible for unions to effectively function.


Heritage Foundation Fellow: “Welfare has served as a substitute for the male breadwinner”

“Protecting the poor should not be a partisan issue,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland Wednesday at a congressional hearing on “Duplication, Overlap & Inefficiencies in Federal Welfare Programs.” It shouldn’t, but House Republicans at the hearing seemed more concerned with cutting tiny fractions of federal spending than with the men, women, and children who suffer when the services they rely on lose funding.

The Oversight and Government Reform hearing was supposedly aimed at “duplication” in welfare programs, but witnesses and Republican members of Congress used the occasion to lob many of their favorite attacks on welfare programs as a whole.

Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, criticized welfare programs, claiming that they reward people for not working and not marrying. “What welfare assistance has done is to supplant a male in the household. That may be a little crude, but yes, welfare has served as a substitute for the male breadwinner in the home. These low-income mothers would not be able to raise these kids without those welfare checks."

Crude? Try sexist.

When Patricia Dalton, COO of the Government Accountability Office, lamented that some federally funded programs provided similar services to similar populations, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks, explained that program overlap doesn’t always mean duplication. Because different programs have different criteria for qualification, many families may be struggling, but not count as being “poor enough” to qualify for all the services they need.

Over and over again in this hearing, Republicans discussed “streamlining duplicative programs,” a euphemism for cutting spending on the services that struggling Americans need the most.


Oversight Committee to Look to Vulnerable Targets for Budget Cuts, Avoid Tough Scrutiny

The House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee is planning two hearings today, providing an interesting one-two punch against favorite Republican debt scapegoats: public workers and the poor.

The first hearing of the day, Official Time: Good Value for the Taxpayer? will likely discuss how we need to shrink the size of the federal workforce. The second, Duplication, Overlap and Inefficiencies in Federal Welfare Programs will likely discuss how our social safety net is somehow unsustainable.

My predictions as to the take-away messages of these hearings are based on Chairman Issa’s predictable witness list. As we’ve noted with great frequency, Issa calls industry and think-tank “experts” to the stand who will tell him what he wants to hear, and today’s lineup is no exception. The Heritage Foundation will be featured prominently this afternoon, as well as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Interestingly, both of these very conservative think tanks have received large amounts of funding from the Koch brothers – to the tune of $4,115,571 and $700,499 respectively in 2009. Yes, these are the very same Koch brothers who quietly fund the tea party and a plethora of right wing politicians and organizations. Check out the Center for American Progress’ report and PFAW’s Koch Brothers Fact Sheet for many, many more details.

John Mashburn, executive director of the Carleson Center for Public Policy, will be testifying in the welfare hearing. His organization, which might as well be the Ronald Reagan fan club, wants to reduce federal assistance programs to a series of block grants administered by the states:

The first order of business for the CCPP will be to help reverse the damage done to the 1996 welfare reform. Then, it will concentrate on extending the successful design of returning power and responsibility to the states for other welfare programs, specifically Medicaid and Food Stamps. 

Agenda items:

  • Restore the integrity of the 1996 welfare reform. 
  • Develop a plan to emulate the 1996 model to block grant Medicaid to the states.
  • Develop a plan to block grant the Food Stamp program to the states.
  • Develop a plan to consolidate the 180+ additional categorical federal means-tested programs and replace them with finite block grants to the states.

As many Republicans are discovering back home in their districts, applying this goal to Medicare is proving to be rather unpopular. It’s concerning that other important social programs could face the same treatment, especially since the beneficiaries of these programs don’t carry the same political clout as senior citizens.


Epstein Echoes Sessions: “Massive Resistance” to Citizens United

Today I went back to the Heritage Foundation for their annual “Scholars and Scribes” panel reviewing the recent and upcoming activities of the Supreme Court. There was some discussion of judicial activism, but most of the panelists seemed to have finally given up on the claim that conservative Justices have acted as neutral “umpires” in the past year.

What is surprising is that, now that the Court’s decision in Citizens United ruined the “judicial activism” mantra for the Right, a new tactic has apparently taken hold. During a question and answer session, conservative legal scholar Richard Epstein echoed Senator Jeff Sessions in comparing the Citizens United decision to, of all things, Brown v. Board of Education. His take was slightly different and, if possible, even more unhinged from reality. Those of us who oppose and are working to overturn the Citizens United ruling, Epstein said, “look a little bit like the same kind of massive resistance” engendered by Brown v. Board.

To compare the 93% of Americans who think that there should be limits on corporate political spending to the recalcitrant racists who tried to stop the desegregation of public schools is absurd and offensive. If conservatives are trying to paint corporations as victims akin to those who have suffered from institutionalized racism, they’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.


Jon Kyl Attacks Women, Older Workers, Baby Seals

Today, when questioning the first panel of witnesses for the Elena Kagan confirmation, Senator Jon Kyl decided not to ask questions, but simply to attack those who had agreed to testify.

Instead of, say, listening to the witnesses, or even ignoring them, he accused three witnesses testifying about sex discrimination, age discrimination, and the devastating impact of the Exxon Valdez spill of demanding a Justice who would rule for them. All they wanted, he claimed, was “results oriented judging.”

He didn’t give them a chance to answer the accusation, so maybe we can answer for them.

No, Senator Kyl, all we want is a Justice who will follow the law.

In Ledbetter, the Court read the law in a cramped and unnatural way in order to limit the right of women to sue for discrimination. In Gross, the Court arbitrarily changed the standard used to determine discrimination on the basis of age. And in Exxon v. Baker, the Court invented a limit on punitive damages out of whole cloth—the ruling was so bad that even the Heritage Foundation thought it was judicial activism.

In the Ledbetter, Gross and Exxon cases, the Court went out of its way to side with corporations and defend them from people who were trying to hold them accountable.

Remind me again, Senator Kyl: what’s the definition of “results oriented judging?”


Fieldtrip to the Heritage Foundation

As a new arrival in DC (I started interning here two weeks ago), I was thrilled to get a chance to visit the Heritage Foundation for the first time on Wednesday. I know everyone here at People For was flattered to learn that the folks on their “Myth of the Conservative Court” panel had been reading our Rise of the Corporate Court report. A lot.

The panelists – Todd Gaziano, Hans von Spakovsky, and Manuel Miranda -- took umbrage at progressive groups like PFAW using the term “judicial activism” because, well, it belongs to them. And they like the decisions being handed down!

Spakovsky argued that progressives have called the Citizens United decision judicial activism merely because we didn’t like the outcome. He’s certainly right that we don’t like it—and neither do 80% of Americans—but we agree that our dislike doesn’t make it judicial activism. What makes it judicial activism is that the Court based its decision on utterly specious Constitutional grounds, overturning over a hundred years of settled law and its own precedent in the process. John Roberts promised to be a baseball umpire, just calling balls and strikes, but as PFAW President Michael B. Keegan pointed out, “in baseball terms, Citizens United was the equivalent of grabbing the bat and using it to beat the pitcher.”

Much to my shock, Gaziano admitted during the panel that the conservatives on the Court had exhibited pro-corporate judicial activism in one case, Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, deciding in Exxon’s favor for subjective rather than purely Constitutional or statutory reasons. So what makes him think that the Conservative judges weren’t influenced by their corporate bias in the other cases outlined in our Corporate Court report?

What was most remarkable about the panel, though, probably wasn’t the contortions that conservatives are willing to go through in order to deny “judicial activism” by conservatives on the Court—it’s that they’re still clearly trying to use it against progressives. That and the lunch they served afterwards. It was delicious.


African American Ministers In Action Participate in Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Hate Crimes

AAMIA Members Revs. Frank Dunn and Joseph Smith attended yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (S.909), where Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) acknowledged the work of AAMIA toward passage of this critical legislation. Witnesses included Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., Author Janet Langhart Cohen, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Mark Achtemeier, US Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Gail Heriot, The Heritage Foundation’s Brian W. Walsh, and the Anti-Defamation League Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman. You can view the webcast of the hearing here.

AAMIA and PFAW have submitted letters in support of the legislation, along with a fact sheet on the legislation, and myths and facts about hate crimes protections. AAMIA and PFAW have been out in front combating the lies from the right wing that this bill will silence pastors who speak out against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

While they were at the hearing AAMIA staff and Rev. Joseph Smith caught up with author, playwright and producer Janet Langhart Cohen, a witness before the committee, and learned more about her Anne & Emmett Project, a play about a beyond-the-grave conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till. The play was scheduled to premiere at the US Holocaust Museum the week of the unfortunate tragedy at the museum where Officer Stephen Johns was killed in the line of duty by an avowed white supremacist.