people for the american way

In an Open Letter, People For Urges ABC to Distance Itself from Breitbart

Right-wing activist and noted smear concocter Andrew Breitbart announced Friday that he would be appearing on ABC News tomorrow as an election night "analyst." Faced with backlash from progressive groups, ABC News has said that Breitbart will appear only as a guest on an online town hall discussion. In an open letter to ABC News President David Westin today, People For's Michael Keegan responds that providing any sort of platform for Breitbart legitimizes his deceitful practices:

Dear Mr. Westin:

We at People For the American Way are deeply concerned to hear of your plans to host activist Andrew Breitbart as an ABC News election night “analyst” on Tuesday, and want to make sure you are aware of the implications of any association between ABC News and Breitbart’s history of deceptive mudslinging. Breitbart has proven time and again that he is willing to make up stories and smear the names of innocent people in order to draw attention to himself and advance his political causes. By associating with Breitbart, ABC News acknowledges the credibility of his dishonest tactics, and draws its own credibility as a news source into question.

We respect ABC News’ commitment to balanced analysis, and expect that any unbiased news source will seek to provide equal platforms to each side of any debate. However, part of the responsibility of providing balanced news is ensuring that those participating in the debate are approaching the issues honestly and dealing in facts.

Andrew Breitbart, far from dealing in facts, has a long history of fabricating smears in order to advance his own agenda:

  • He famously doctored a recording of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod speaking about overcoming racism in order to accuse her of racism. His smear led to Sherrod’s firing, but even more troubling, served to stoke existing racial resentment against the Obama Administration.
  • His pushing of a tape that supposedly showed an ACORN employee helping a pimp and prostitute to establish a brothel helped to drive the smear campaign that eventually brought down the respected community organization. Independent investigations  later found the tapes to be heavily edited and the storyline that Breitbart pushed to be far from the truth. Breitbart’s smear of ACORN helped to propel the right-wing media’s current fixation on the discredited fear of “voter fraud” resulting from minority voting.
  • Breitbart is currently engaged in another fishy media campaign in Alaska, where he has accused a local CBS affiliate of concocting a plot against Senate candidate Joe Miller…but the only evidence he has been able to produce is a fuzzy audio clip that hardly substantiates his claim.

Andrew Breitbart has every right to continue spewing his lies and conspiracy theories on the Internet, but his deceptive “analysis” has no place in an honest debate on an unbiased news program. Even including him in an online feature, as you have now said you will, lends a legitimate platform to his lies. And providing that platform makes ABC News complicit in Breitbart’s deliberate, excuseless smears.

We urge you to reconsider your invitation to Andrew Breitbart before providing a platform to harmful smears and putting your own reputation as a news source at risk.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan.
President, People For the American Way
 

PFAW

Public Continues to Demand Campaign Disclosure and Spending Caps

A new New York Times/CBS News survey confirms the findings of other polls taken after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United: Americans want greater transparency and stronger reforms in the political system. According to the poll, “nearly 8 in 10 Americans say it is important (including 6 in 10 who say “very important”) to limit the amount of money campaigns can spend.” This includes majorities of Democrats, independents, and even Republicans. In addition, “more than 7 in 10 of the public said spending by groups not affiliated with a candidate should be limited by law, and just 2 in 10 said it shouldn’t.”

Support for campaign transparency is so high that one must wonder if the only Americans who oppose disclosure rules are Republicans in Congress and pro-corporate lobbyists. The Times/CBS poll found that a staggering 92% of Americans believe “it is important for campaigns to be required by law to disclose how much money they have raised, where the money came from and how it was used.” Such findings corroborate the results of a Hart Research poll taken on behalf of People For the American Way, which found that 89% of voters favor “legislation that would require greater disclosure by corporations of their spending to influence elections,” and that a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans wants not only disclosure laws but also “limits on how much corporations can spend to influence the outcome of elections.”

The business community is increasingly calling for substantial campaign finance reform as well, as seen in a survey of business leaders conducted by the Committee for Economic Development. The poll found that 77% of business leaders “believe that corporations should disclose all of their direct and indirect political expenditures, including money provided to third party organizations to be spent on campaign ads.”

Despite the vast support of Americans and even business leaders for more openness and transparency in the political process, Republicans and corporate lobbyists continue to oppose commonsense proposals like the DISCLOSE Act. The obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate voted in lockstep to keep the DISCLOSE Act from passing, and recently the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, deceptively denied the very-existence of active political groups that do not disclose their donors.

Steele later said that “if people are that bothered by” the lack of transparency in Congress, “then the Congress needs to change it.” As People For the American Way’s President Michael B. Keegan pointed out:

The glaring problem with Steele's supposed embrace of transparent elections is that just a couple of months ago, people were "bothered by" hidden corporate spending in elections, the majority in Congress did draft a law to make that spending transparent...but Steele's party united to stop the law in its tracks just before the midterm elections.

Steele's bumbling and disingenuous response was infuriating, but it served as a perfect illustration of why Republicans have done everything they can to allow unfettered, undisclosed corporate influence in our elections. With the system as it is, Steele can watch corporate interest groups spend millions of dollars to help elect Republican candidates, and nobody is held accountable to voters.

The post-Citizens United landscape -- where corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to run ads for and against candidates, but aren't required to disclose that spending -- has been a boon to candidates who push a pro-corporate agenda. Michael Steele knows it. And so does every candidate who is benefiting from the influx of secretive spending. They know it, but they don't have to own up to it.

The Republicans in Congress continue to reject the beliefs of nine-in-ten Americans that support disclosure and campaign finance reform, and want to tie the hands of Congress from making even basic changes to increase transparency in the system.

PFAW

Local Chambers Want No Part in US Chamber of Commerce’s Political Games

As the US Chamber of Commerce becomes less of a trade association and more of a pro-GOP political outfit, local chambers have become increasingly disillusioned with the national branch’s partisan turn. According to the Washington Post, the US Chamber of Commerce leads among non-party groups in campaign spending in the election: of the over $31 million so far spent by the Chamber, 93% of that money has benefited Republicans.

Many local chambers seek to distance themselves from the national Chamber and its fervent partisanship and controversial lobbying practices. People For the American Way has documented how Chamber President Thomas Donohue uses hefty contributions from big corporations to fund their massive lobby campaign and political spending. While local chambers tend to work with small businesses, the US Chamber of Commerce concentrates on promoting the interests of large corporations, including foreign-owned businesses. Daniel Denvir of AlterNet reports that local chambers are upset about how the US Chamber of Commerce’s aggressive pro-corporate and pro-GOP political work is damaging their own interests:

According to the Times, though the Chamber claims to represent 3 million businesses and 300,000 members, “nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors.” (According to an article in Mother Jones, the real number of business members is more like 200,000.)

For many local affiliates, the U.S. Chamber trades on their good name, and then besmirches it. Aggressive U.S. Chamber attack ads in Connecticut, Washington and New Hampshire have upset local chambers that rely on working relationships with members of both parties.

“I now have a standard e-mail saying we’re not a chapter of the U.S. Chamber that I have to send out a couple of times a week,” Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce president Timothy Hulbert told Washington Monthly.

Earlier this month, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire disaffiliated from the U.S. Chamber. Executive vice-president Jerry Mayotte told the Nashua Telegraph, “We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates. We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.”



The U.S. Chamber does not seem to mind alienating local chambers of commerce. A major opponent of campaign finance reform, the U.S. Chamber operates much like the post-Citizen’s United political system: one dollar, one vote.

“The truth be told is that the American political system is a pay-to-play system,” says Jaffe. “The only thing we require is disclosure: who’s behind the issues advocated by the U.S. Chamber? Who’s influencing their voice? Is it good for planet earth, good for small business? Or is it only good for one company that’s paying a lot of money to influence it?”
PFAW

Web Videos Show GOP Extremists In Their Own Words

People For the American Way has produced four new videos showing the extreme far-right views of four Republican candidates for US Senate: Ken Buck of Colorado; Rand Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Paul of Kentucky, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. These candidates promise to bring their dangerous agenda into the US Senate, and our videos show the candidates in their own words revealing their radical views on topics such as civil rights, LGBT and gender equality, climate change, the economy, and Social Security. You can find more information about all of the GOP’s extreme candidates for US Senate in People For the American Way’s The Rogues’ Gallery.

Ken Buck

Ron Johnson

Rand Paul

Pat Toomey

PFAW

American Action Network’s False Ad Yanked From Airways

Yesterday, Greg Sargent thoroughly debunked a new ad that is targeting Connecticut Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy from the pro-GOP American Action Network. The ad focuses on the recently passed health care reform law, and employs a number of the same misleading charges that other groups have used as detailed in a new People For the American Way report. But the American Action Network takes it one step further, and says that the reform law will mandate “jail time” for people who do not purchase health care insurance:

The ad claims health reform means "$500 billion in Medicare cuts." But Politifact found that "the law does not take $500 billion out of the current Medicare budget."

The ad claims health reform means "thousands of new IRS agents." But Factcheck.org pronounced that assertion "wildly misleading."

As for the claim of "jail time for anyone without coverage," the original bill passed by the House did provide for possible criminal prosecution of those who evade the tax imposed on those who don't get mandated coverage. But FactCheck.org says the Senate nixed that provision, and the final bill Obama signed said folks will not be subject to criminal prosecution.

Now, at least one Connecticut television station has pulled the ad from the air. This new false allegation even rivals the terribly deceptive claim of another American Action Network ad, which says that taxpayers will subsidize Viagra for sex offenders. Sargent reports:

FoxCT, the local Fox affiliate, informed the Murphy campaign that it would stop running the American Action Network ad after the Murphy camp sent the station a letter detailing the ad's falsehoods, the Murphy campaign confirms. "

We have verified that the ad in question is not accurate and will pull their schedule going forward," a FoxCT executive wrote to the Murphy campaign in an email sent my way. "I hope you have reached out to the other stations and they follow the same course."

I'm told other another Connecticut station may follow suit. If so, I'll update you.

All of which is to confirm -- yet again -- that the untold part of this story is that this national campaign bankrolled by secret cash is flooding airwaves across the country with an untold number of falsehoods and distortions. We'll probably never have a clear picture of this campaign's scope and reach, or the depth and extent of its mendacity.

Update:  The American Action Network's notorious "Viagra ad" has been pulled from the air in Colorado, according to CQ.

 

PFAW

PFAW on the air in Colorado

People For the American Way is on the air in Colorado to inform voters about the corporate special interest money that is being used to elect Ken Buck to the US Senate. Coloradans need to know that corporate-funded groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, and the First Amendment Alliance want Ken Buck in the Senate to push their agenda and block reforms. Corporations want to buy Colorado’s next Senator, and People For the American Way wants to make sure that voters in Colorado know “who’s controlling Ken Buck” and “what are they buying”:

 

PFAW

First Amendment Alliance: Energy Industry Front Group

The First Amendment Alliance is a 527 “Super PAC” that can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals for independent expenditures on the election, and the group is currently smearing Democratic candidates for Senate with negative ads in competitive races. So far, the First Amendment Alliance has spent over $800,000 running attack ads against Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Harry Reid of Nevada. 

On its website, the organization says “we communicate instances of waste, fraud, hypocrisy, and general disregard for standards of civility in society,” and its contact information only lists a mailbox in Alexandria, Virginia. Its President, Anthony Holm, works on the campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry and was tied to a GOP scheme to place a Green Party candidate on the ballot for governor in order to take away votes from Rick Perry’s Democratic opponent. But Holm is also a representative for GOP mega-fundraiser Bob Perry, who contributed $4.45 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and recently donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association.

According to a review of the group's recent FEC filings, it's clear that the First Amendment Alliance is a sham group for the energy industry whose office is a mailbox. Nearly every single donor, including businesses and individuals, has links to the energy industry. Of the 73 contributors, 39 are businesses and 34 are individuals, and 70 of the donors are clearly tied to the oil and gas industry. The group raised close to $1.1 million, and of that amount more than $300,000 came from businesses tied to the energy industry and over $600,000 came from individuals with energy connections.

Here is just a sampling of some of the group’s most generous donors: Oilman Russell Gordy contributed $150,000, Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy and Earl Rodman of Rodman Petroleum both donated $100,000. The Anschutz Corporation donated $50,000, and Melange Associates and Chisos LTD, which are both involved in oil and gas exploration, gave $25,000 each.  And of course, Bob Perry gave the group $50,000 this year.

The First Amendment Alliance has to disclose its donors according to FEC rules for “Super PACs,” but many political organizations that are 501(c) groups, like Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce, never have to disclose the sources of their funding. As a result of such disclosure rules, we now know who is behind the First Amendment Alliance’s attack ads in Senate races across the country.

Using those funds, the group launched an aggressive, and sometimes plainly dishonest, campaign aimed at defeating Democratic candidates for the Senate.

In addition to attacks against Senators Bennet and Reid, the First Amendment Alliance’s ad against Jack Conway was so misleading that one TV station pulled it from the airways. In the ad, the First group used information showing the increased numbers of meth-labs shut down by police officers as evidence that the number of meth-labs increased while Conway was Attorney General. In essence, it used statistics pointing to increased effectiveness by Kentucky law enforcement to deceptively claim that Conway was unsuccessful in fighting drugs. Conway actually presided over the largest drug-bust in state history, and the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police cited Conway’s achievements in cracking down on drugs as one of the reasons the group endorsed him. The Glasgow Daily Times reports that “Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton says law enforcement ‘would be lost’ in the war on drugs if it weren't for federal help, funding assistance opposed by Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.” Paul, Conway’s Republican opponent, also asserted that drug abuse was not “a pressing issue” in the state.

In its Delaware ad, the First Amendment Alliance accuses Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons of “bankrupting New Castle County,” even though the county under Coons’s leadership received a triple-A bond rating, which Moody’s Investors Services said “reflects the county’s strong financial operations bound by conservative policies.” Despite such proof of sound fiscal leadership, the First Amendment Alliance falsely claims that Coons is responsible for an “economic train wreck.”

With enormous backing from the energy industry, it is no wonder why the First Amendment Alliance wants to defeat progressives running for the US Senate.  Find out about the other pro-corporate groups spending tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to influence the election in People For the American Way's report, "After Citizens United: A Look Into the New Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics."

 

PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Ashcroft Appeal

The Supreme Court today agreed to decide if former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be personally sued for alleged abuse of his authority in the days after 9/11 attacks. According to Bloomberg News:

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider reinforcing the legal immunity of top government officials, agreeing to decide whether a man can sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft after being detained without charge for 16 days.

The justices will review a ruling that allowed a suit filed by Abdullah al-Kidd, a Muslim U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2003 and held as a material witness in a terrorism probe. Al- Kidd says the government classified him as a material witness because it lacked enough evidence to hold him as a suspect.

A panel of the Ninth Circuit held that Ashcroft was not immune from being sued personally for the illegal abuse of authority that was the subject of al-Kidd’s claim. Ashcroft, with the support of the Obama Administration, asked the Supreme Court to reverse this decision and not allow the lawsuit to go forward. In his brief urging the Supreme Court not to hear Ashcroft’s appeal, al-Kidd claims that:

The impetus for arresting [him and other] individuals was not to secure their testimony for a criminal proceeding. Rather, these were individuals whom the government viewed as suspects and wished to detain and investigate. But because the government lacked probable cause to arrest these individuals on criminal charges, it had them arrested as material witnesses, thereby circumventing the Fourth Amendment’s traditional probable cause standard and distorting the basic purpose of the material witness statute.

The Court will likely hear arguments in the case next year and issue an opinion by summer. Justice Kagan has recused herself.

This case is a reminder that in the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them. With Bush’s popularity at its height and few willing to oppose him and his administration publicly, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department’s multifaceted threats to liberty.

It will be interesting to see if all of those Tea Partiers who claim to oppose big government encroaching on individual liberties will take a stand against the excesses of the Bush years - and explain why they were silent at the time.

PFAW

Americans Still Oppose Court’s Citizens United Decision

Nearly ten months since the Supreme Court drastically expanded the ability of corporations to influence the political process, the public is still greatly troubled by the Court’s ruling in Citizens United. The majority Americans do not buy the absurd arguments of Congressional Republicans that Citizens United was as significant a step forward as the Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, as most people believe that corporations should not be allowed to spend unlimited sums from their general treasuries to fund political efforts. A Hart Research poll conducted on behalf of People For the American Way found that 77% of Americans want Citizens United to be overturned, and that corporations already have too much political power.

A recent “Constitutional Attitudes Survey” by Harvard and Columbia University professors found that while self-described liberals and conservatives all found Court decisions they agree with, Citizens United stands out as the most unpopular among all respondents:

One notable decision that stuck in respondents' respective craw, however, was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the January 2010 opinion that struck down a federal law prohibiting corporations from airing advertisements endorsing a political candidate.

Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents disagreed with the statement, "Corporations ought to be able to spend their profits on TV advertisements urging voters to vote for or against candidates." Only 40 percent agreed with the statement.

Additionally, an overwhelming 85 percent of respondents answered yes to the question, "Should corporations be required to get approval from their shareholders for expenditures related to political campaigns?" Indeed, Persily told the Spokane, Washington-based Spokesman Review that the Citizens United opinion is "very out of step with public opinion."

The survey's results are consistent with those of a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in February, shortly after the case was decided. A full 80 percent of respondents in that poll disagreed with the court's holding, and 65 percent labeled themselves "strongly" opposed. Surprisingly, that poll found that views of the decision did not split along party lines -- fully 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents, along with 85 percent of Democrats, disagreed with the decision.
PFAW

Survey Shows Obstacles to Justice in U.S. Courts

Dan Froomkin is reporting on a depressing new report that paints a frightening picture of just how difficult it is for ordinary Americans to receive justice in our courts. He discusses:

the finding[s] of a world-wide survey unveiled Thursday morning that ranks the United States lowest among 11 developed nations when it comes to providing access to justice to its citizens -- and lower than some third-world nations in some categories.

The results are from the World Justice Project's new "Rule of Law Index", which assesses how laws are implemented and enforced in practice around the globe. Countries are rated on such factors as whether government officials are accountable, whether legal institutions protect fundamental rights, and how ordinary people fare in the system. ...

But the most striking findings related to access to justice for ordinary people. ...

[The study] found a significant gap between the rich and the poor in terms of their use and satisfaction with the civil courts system.

Froomkin quotes from a World Justice Project news release:

[O]nly 40% of low-income respondents who used the court system in the past three years reported that the process was fair, compared to 71% of wealthy respondents. This 31% gap between poor and rich litigants in the USA is the widest among all developed countries sampled. In France this gap is only 5%, in South Korea it is 4% and in Spain it is nonexistent.

Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the wealthy and powerful are happier with our court system than are the rest of the American people. This is consistent with the analysis contained in a People For the American Way Foundation report released earlier this year. Citing Citizens United and numerous other cases, The Rise of the Corporate Court: How the Supreme Court is Putting Business First exposed the undue deference the Supreme Court has too often paid to corporations at the expense of the legal rights of individuals.

Making it even harder for average Americans victimized by powerful corporations to seek justice, one in eight seats on the federal bench is vacant. In fact, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared judicial emergencies in numerous circuits and districts where the vacancies have reached the crisis point. Yet Senate Republicans refuse to allow floor votes on qualified and unopposed judicial nominees to help relieve the overburdened federal judiciary.

The integrity of the entire judicial branch of the United States government is at risk.

PFAW

Members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network Honored in Time’s “40 Under 40”

Four members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network have been included in Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list of “the rising stars of American politics”.

At 36, Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, is the youngest mayor of a Top 50 American city. He’s been a member of the YEO Network since it’s founding, when he was a city councilman—he was elected mayor last year. In his first year in office, among other accomplishments, he sealed a multimillion dollar deal for alternative energy research in the city. You can read more about Julián in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile from May.

Hannah Pingree, 33, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, was also one of the original members of the YEO Network. Here’s what she had to say to Time about why she’s in politics:

"I love politics. Even in these times, politics is hard, the word 'politics' isn't popular, and politicians aren't the most poplar people. But being able to serve in the stage legislature, where a lot of the work we do is bipartisan, there are decent people on both sides of the aisle. You can make a difference. I've been able to pass a lot of bills or make an impact on the people I grew up with: fishermen in my district, people who need good housing, environmental policy that impacts kids' health. If I hadn't been able to do that in politics, I would have given up a long time ago. All the challenges and, sometimes, meanness and frustration you encounter in politics is worth it, if you can make good things happen."

Bakari Sellers became the youngest member of the South Carolina General Assembly at the age of 22. Now 26, he’s earned a law degree and continues to be a voice in the legislature for the ‘have-nots’ in his community. He told BET last year, "My goals again are relatively simple, representing a very poor and rural district. I want to ensure all South Carolinians access to a first-class education and ensure access to quality health care.”

Kyrsten Sinema, 34, is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Board of Directors as well as the YEO Network. A member of the Arizona House of Representatives, she’s running for a seat in the State Senate this fall. Kyrsten’s been a leader in Arizona on gay rights, responsible immigration policy, and economic development. Here’s her debate with Sherriff Joe Arpaio about Arizona’s draconian immigration law in April:
 

PFAW

Protesting Foreign Corporate Money in Elections

This afternoon, several of us at People For the American Way went to lend our support (and homemade signage) to a protest that MoveOn had organized in front of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber has been in the spotlight this week, after a ThinkProgress investigation found that hundreds of thousands of dollars it gets in membership dues from foreign corporations may be going toward its efforts to influence elections.

The Chamber has vowed to spend $75 million this year to help elect candidates who will prioritize corporate interests. Because of the Citizens United decision, the Chamber’s corporate members have a lot more leeway in how they direct their political spending --but the legality of the group’s funding from foreign corporations is questionable.

The Chamber has been spending its ample electioneering funds to run attack ads against Democrats across the country. This week alone, it is reportedly airing $10 million worth of TV ads in 30 states.

Here are some pictures from the rally today:
 

PFAW

Chamber’s Foreign Funding Demonstrates the Need to Revisit Citizens United

Coming on the heels of a report by ThinkProgress on how the US Chamber of Commerce uses membership dues from foreign corporations to pay for political advertisements in American elections, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is facing new scrutiny for opening up the floodgates of corporate spending. People For the American Way has spoken out against the Chamber’s practices of collecting “hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign owned businesses, including companies owned by foreign governments,” and the editorial board of the New York Times is also sounding the alarm. The Times editors write that the election system is broken as a result of Citizens United and actions by Republicans in Congress and the FEC to weaken the remaining regulations of campaign finances:

Because the United States Chamber is organized as a 501(c)(6) business league under the federal tax code, it does not have to disclose its donors, so the full extent of foreign influence on its political agenda is unknown. But Tuesday’s report sheds light on how it raises money abroad. Its affiliate in Abu Dhabi, for example, the American Chamber of Commerce, says it has more than 450 corporate and individual members in the United Arab Emirates who pay as much as $8,500 a year to join.

Because of a series of court decisions that culminated in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling earlier this year, these and similar 501(c) nonprofits have become huge players in the year’s election, using unlimited money from donors who have no fear of disclosure. (Not surprisingly, the chamber has been a leading opponent of legislation to require disclosure.) One such group, American Crossroads, organized by Karl Rove, announced on Tuesday a $4.2 million ad buy to support Republican candidates, bringing the group’s total spending to about $18 million so far.

The possible commingling of secret foreign money into these groups raises fresh questions about whether they are violating both the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws. The Federal Election Commission, which has been rendered toothless by its Republican members, should be investigating possible outright violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by foreign companies and the chamber.

Now, Minnesota Senator Al Franken is calling on the FEC to look into the Chamber’s finances, the Star Tribune reports:

Franken’s letter says that the Chamber’s mixing of funds under current FEC rules “is not per se illegal.” But he wrote that the company had to demonstrate that its foreign funds were not used for political purposes, and pushed the FEC to launch an investigation.

In addition, Franken’s letter asked the FEC to change its regulations allowing foreign companies to spend on elections — which is legal so long as the company is incorporated in the U.S. and creates a special election committee staffed by Americans.

 

PFAW

Santorum Slamming JFK, Secularism

Fifty years ago, the man who would become America’s first Catholic president delivered a historic speech that helped reduce anti-Catholic prejudice in our public life. Five decades later, a man who would like to be the nation’s second Catholic president celebrated the occasion by slamming Kennedy. It’s a remarkable reversal. 

Former Senator Rick Santorum has been using the anniversary of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s famous address on church-state separation to decry the destructive forces of secularism that he says Kennedy unleashed. (People For the American Way is among Santorum’s targets.)
 
Santorum’s attack deserves attention, especially at a time when religious and political leaders, Santorum among them, are eagerly fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Much of Santorum’s recent speech – delivered in Houston on September 9 and reprised since then at events like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference – is given over to repeated claims that Kennedy emboldened secularists who want a public square “cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths.” He says Kennedy’s speech launched a movement that is “repressing or banishing people of faith from having a say in government.”
 
These inflammatory claims are regularly advanced by Religious Right leaders who portray supporters of church-state separation as hostile to faith and religious liberty. But how can they be taken seriously?
 
Choose any topic that is being debated in the public square, and you’ll find people of faith advancing their values, probably on both sides of the issue – and not just on abortion and gay rights.  Religious Right activists spouted Tea Party arguments about the evils of government while progressive religious leaders worked hard to promote health care reform. The Catholic hierarchy is among the religious organizations working to deny gay couples legal recognition while other religious groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are working for full marriage equality.  At the same time, the two groups are both lobbying for humane immigration reform.
 
It’s a complicated scene, and it’s a noisy one. Who has been silenced? Not Ralph Reed, who is bragging that he’s planning to mobilize conservative evangelical voters to turn Election Day into a historic rout for Democrats.  And certainly not conservative Catholics like Santorum.  At Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference, a panel included leaders of two groups organized to promote conservative Catholic values in the public arena – Catholic Advocate and Faithful Catholic Citizens.
 
There are situations that bring constitutional values into tension. America, via the Supreme Court and civil rights legislation, has decided (Rand Paul notwithstanding) that a business owner’s desire to discriminate against racial minorities does not trump other individuals’ right to equal access to public accommodations, even if the desire to discriminate was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  Courts and legislatures are wrangling with similar situations that consider religious beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception alongside LGBT Americans’ right to legal equality, and all Americans’ access to medical care.
 
But the fact that some court cases have gone against those seeking a religious exemption to a generally applied law is no grounds for claiming that religious people have been silenced, or no longer have the right to make their case in the public square. What Santorum seems to want is a kind of double standard: religious conservatives can take part in public debate but should be shielded from criticism. They can engage in legal and political advocacy, but if they lose they can claim the process has been stacked against them by sinister anti-religious forces.
 
Santorum argues that the secularist forces unleashed by Kennedy threaten peaceful coexistence and even put American civilization at risk. He says the founders believed that “if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths - a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.”
 
But Santorum himself is actively undermining the possibility for a “tolerant, democratic and harmonious” public square. He seeks political gain by branding his opponents as enemies of religious liberty. And he has played a significant role in inflaming an ugly anti-Islamic wave of public opinion that has resulted in fatal violence and could leave communities damaged and divided for years.
 
Santorum portrays himself as heroic, telling audiences, “I have been criticized in the media for daring to speak out on these sensitive moral issues.”  That’s not true.  Santorum is criticized not for “daring to speak out” but for saying things many people disagree with. Santorum has every right to denigrate the loving relationships of same-sex couples by comparing them to man-on-dog sex. But just as surely others have the right to criticize and even ridicule him for those statements.  
 
The First Amendment is a two-way street. But that seems to be one truth that Santorum and his allies refuse to acknowledge.
PFAW

Right Wing Watch In Focus: "Rogues' Gallery"

Today, People For the American Way released our latest Right Wing Watch In Focus report examining the slate of extremist GOP Senate candidates running for office this year.

Entitled "The Rogues' Gallery: Right-Wing Candidates Have A Dangerous Agenda for America and Could Turn the Senate," the report examines the radical agendas and views held by Joe Miller, Carly Fiorina, Ken Buck, Christine O'Donnell, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Roy Blunt, Sharron Angle, Kelly Ayotte, Richard Burr, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and Dino Rossi, plus the role that Sen. Jim DeMint has played in dragging the GOP further and further to the right.

Here is the introduction:

Republicans in the U.S. Senate have already broken all records for unprincipled partisan obstructionism, preventing the administration from putting people into key positions in the executive branch, blocking judicial confirmations, and delaying and preventing Congress from dealing with important issues facing the nation, from financial reform to immigration. Now a bumper crop of far-right GOP candidates threatens to turn the "deliberative body"into a haven for extremists who view much of the federal government as unconstitutional and who are itching to shut it down.

Fueled by the unlimited deep pockets of billionaire anti-government ideologues, various Tea Party and corporate-interest groups have poured money into primary elections this year. They and conservative voters angry about the actions of the Obama administration have replaced even very conservative senators and candidates backed by the national Republican establishment with others who embrace a range of radically right-wing views on the Constitution, the role of government, the protection of individual freedoms, and the separation of church and state.

Recently, Religious Right leaders have been grousing that Republican candidates arent talking enough about abortion and same-sex marriage. But this report indicates that anti-gay and anti-choice activists have little to worry about, as the right-wing candidates profiled here share those anti-freedom positions even if theyre talking more about shutting down federal agencies, privatizing Social Security, and eliminating most of the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans. A number of these candidates oppose legal abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is helping to lead the charge with his Senate Conservatives Fund. DeMint, an absolute favorite of both the Tea Party and Religious Right political movements for his uncompromising extremism on both economic and social issues, is at the far right fringe of the Republican Party and has committed himself to helping elect more like-minded colleagues. Sarah Palin, also popular among both Tea Party and Religious Right activists, has also injected her high-profile name, busy Twitter fingers, and PAC cash into numerous Senate races.

Among the right-wing insurgents who defeated candidates backed by national party leadership are Christine ODonnell of Delaware, Joe Miller of Alaska, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado, and Mike Lee of Utah. Others, like Carly Fiorina of California, came through crowded primaries where right-wing leaders split their endorsements, but have now coalesced around her candidacy.

And thanks to the conservative Supreme Courts ruling in the Citizens United case, which said corporations have the same rights as citizens to make independent expenditures in elections, right-wing candidates across the board will be benefitting from a massive infusion of corporate money designed to elect candidates who will oppose governmental efforts to hold them accountable, for example environmental protections and government regulation of the financial industry practices that led the nation into a deep recession.

This In Focus provides an introduction to a select group of right-wing candidates who hope to ride a wave of toxic Tea Party anger into the U.S. Senate. The potential impact of a Senate with even half of these DeMint-Palin acolytes would be devastating to the Senates ability to function and the federal governments ability to protect the safety and well-being of American citizens.

Be sure to read the whole thing.
 

PFAW

Americans For Prosperity Sends Us an Email

Yesterday, PFAW released “After Citizens United,” documenting the torrents of money that have poured into the political system since the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision allowing corporations the same rights as people to influence elections.

Imagine my glee when I found an e-mail from Americans For Prosperity, one of the organizations profiled in the report, in my Inbox this morning:

People for the American Way,

You recently released a report where you parroted a false attack that has repeatedly been levied against Americans for Prosperity. Neither our operations nor our donors were affected in any way by Citizens United. Please see our release below in response to the President’s repeated misrepresentation of this important Supreme Court decision.

I await your clarification.

James Valvo

Director of Government Affairs

Americans for Prosperity

James helpfully included this press release by way of support.

We’re always happy to hear feedback on our reports, even unsubstantiated criticism, so I figured AFP might appreciate some feedback on some of the work it's been doing.

James –

Thanks so much for your note regarding our report.

We’d be more than happy to address your claims just as soon as you address a few concerns that we have.

As our report notes, AFP spent $750,000 on an ad claiming that “government-run health care” would harm cancer patients, especially women with breast cancer. PolitiFact gave the ad its “Pants on Fire” rating for distorting both new recommendations on mammograms and the Health Care Reform bill, which has a provision to “ensure that mammograms for women aged 40 to 50 would be covered,” and FactCheck called it “very misleading.” AFP should retract these ads.

AFP has also run ads concentrated on the Stimulus Plan, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and Health Care Reform. AFP’s ads push the fictitious claim that Health Care Reform creates “Government Healthcare.” PolitiFact points out that “Obama’s plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured.” AFP should certainly retract these ads.

In addition, your group also misleads viewers by interpreting savings from waste and overpayment in the Medicare program as cuts affecting seniors. Americans for Prosperity also employs false attacks against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and groundlessly blames the Stimulus Plan for increased unemployment, even though studies show that the Stimulus stopped the prolongation of the massive job losses which began under the Bush Administration. These claims should be clarified or retracted.

Also, while I have your attention, I’d be curious to get your take on the unethical and possibly illegal voter caging in Wisconsin in which AFP has been implicated. As you know, federal law prohibits racially targeted caging operations as well as the process of challenging voters based solely on returned mail. It seems appropriate for AFP to make public statements affirming the right of all American citizens to cast a vote and to dissociate itself from any attempts at voter suppression.

Once you’ve taken care of those issues, I’d be happy to arrange a time for our lawyers to go over our report with you.

With best wishes,

Drew

Drew Courtney

Director of Communications

People For the American Way

We’ll see if they write back.

In the mean time, read more about Americans For Prosperity, Club For Growth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations trying to buy the 2010 elections in “After Citizens United.”

PFAW

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

PFAW Sends Letters to GOP Leaders Urging them to Denounce Fischer, Skip Values Voter Summit

People For's President, Michael Keegan, sent the following letter today to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, all of whom are scheduled to appear this weekend at the Values Voter Summit, alongside the virulently anti-Muslim and anti-gay Bryan Fischer.

Dear ________:

I am writing to express my concern about your appearance this weekend at the upcoming Values Voter Summit. Among the participants this weekend will be Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. We urge you to publically denounce Fischer’s record of hate speech and extremism, and reconsider appearing beside him this weekend.

People For’s RightWingWatch.org blog has tracked Fischer’s career over the past several years. His long and prolific record of hate speech and extremism includes the following recent statements. Just in the past year, Fischer has:

I am attaching the names of over 6,500 concerned citizens who have signed the following letter regarding your participation in the summit:

Values Voter Summit Participants:

Reasonable people can, and do, have reasonable differences of opinion. Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, is not a reasonable person.

By sharing a stage with Fischer at this year's Values Voter Summit, public figures acknowledge the credibility of his shameless anti-Muslim and anti-gay propaganda. Any candidate thinking seriously of running for president in 2012 should think twice about standing alongside a man who has called for the deportation of all Muslims in America; insulted Muslim servicemembers; claimed that brave Americans died in vain because Iraq was not converted to Christianity; and called gay people deviants, felons, pedophiles and terrorists. Bryan Fischer is no mainstream conservative. And neither is any person who shares a platform with him while refusing to denounce his hate-filled propaganda.

We urge you to denounce Fischer's extremism and separate yourself from his comments.

For more background on Fischer’s extreme rhetoric, please click here.

Fischer’s appearance with conservative leaders such as yourself lends his extreme hate speech credibility. We urge you to publicly denounce Fischer’s record and to think twice about sharing the stage with him.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan
President, People For the American Way

 

PFAW

Women Are Not WorthLess

With time running short in the 111th Congress, National Women’s Law Center wants the Senate to know that Women Are Not WorthLess.

National Women’s Law Center produced this new video as part of their ongoing efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which People For the American Way supports, along with American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, National Committee on Pay Equity, and hundreds of other organizations and countless advocates nationwide.

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the Supreme Court’s devastating Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – as the first major milestone of the Obama Administration. Still, this new law cannot on its own do the job of eliminating the wage gap. Additional tools are necessary to bring equality to the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. Especially in this unsteady economy, people who are struggling to pay their bills shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are being discriminated against in the workplace. We need the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join National Women’s Law Center and Women Are Not WorthLess in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW