Mitch McConnell

PFAW Takes Fight Against Broken Political System To Kentucky’s Fancy Farm Picnic

Don’t let the name fool you—the event is neither fancy nor a picnic in the park for politicos. “Fancy Farm” is actually the worlds largest BBQ and Kentucky’s biggest political event of the summer. For nearly 100 years, politicians from across the state have been making the pilgrimage to kickoff their campaigns, giving their best stump speeches and trading insults with opposing candidates.

In case you missed it, catch all the fun here.

This year, Kentucky’s got one of the most important Senate races in the country. Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes is trying to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell, the current minority leader, who has been the self-proclaimed “proud guardian of gridlock” for nearly 30 years. Some have estimated that it will cost over $100 million before all is said and done, making it the most expensive Senate race in American history.

That’s not how democracy is supposed to work—our elections shouldn’t go to the highest bidder. That’s why in-state PFAW members drove five hours to help ditch Mitch. Volunteers passed out progressive gear, collected petition signatures, and brought their energy and enthusiasm to the political speeches (check out the pictures below).

PFAW’s petition to get big money out of politics received wide support at the picnic. Even proud supporters of McConnell signed the petition, agreeing that we need to get big money out of politics.

Polls continue to show Grimes and McConnell neck and neck. As November draws closer, conservatives like the Koch brothers will dump millions of outside dollars into this election to save McConnell’s seat and attempt to take over the Senate. But with grassroots support and on-the-ground activism, we’re not going to let them.

Fancy Farm proved that the energy to change our political system is real and will continue to grow. PFAW’s growing in-state membership base will continue to lead the charge.

PFAW

At Grimes’ Fundraiser, Clinton and Kentucky Dems Call Out GOP Obstruction

Weighing into one of the most watched Senate races this election cycle, Bill Clinton spoke at a campaign event in Louisville on Tuesday putting his political weight behind Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Clinton took the opportunity to call out Republican obstruction in government, alluding to the “dumb way” the GOP has tried to run the country:

In the end that’s really what Alison is telling you: ‘Send me to Washington and I’ll do something that makes sense and if there’s a problem with it, I’ll fix it.’ And the other … choice is to just pout if … your party is not in the White House, and make as many problems as you can, stop anything good from happening, and if you can’t stop it at least badmouth it. And then … when there’s a problem do everything you can to make sure the problem is never fixed. … It’s a dumb way to run a country.

Speaking before Clinton, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth held the Minority Leader accountable for his horrible record of big money in politics, putting it pithily:

[He] is the one who says money is speech. If you have money, he’ll listen.

PFAW

Challenges & Opportunities: 2014 Political Landscape PFAW Telebriefing

On a recent national activist teleconference, pollster Geoff Garin of Hart Research Associates told PFAW supporters that 2014 could see challenging mid-year elections for progressives. Garin said 2013’s rollout difficulties with the Affordable Care Act, Tea Party obstructionism, and sliding poll numbers for President Obama stand out in voters’ minds. But he also highlighted opportunities for change, including the push to unseat GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Tea Party Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

Following trends like Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial win in Virginia, Garin observed that Democrat Michelle Nunn is well positioned to win in Georgia. Garin and PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager both noted that as Republicans continue to move further to the right, Democrats who represent a new, positive direction stand to pick up seats in swing areas because of voters’ frustration with obstructionism and division.

You can listen to the audio of the teleconference here:



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PFAW

McConnell to Participate in Recess Appointments Case

The Roberts Court will let the GOP leader participate in oral arguments in a constitutional case that his party's obstruction engendered.
PFAW

Fact Checker Rewrites History of GOP Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

When Democrats have filed cloture on judicial nominations, it has been a response to unprecedented GOP obstruction.
PFAW

Revisiting McConnell’s Obstruction and the 2014 Kentucky Senate Race

The 2014 elections are quickly heating up in Kentucky. Two weeks ago, Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin announced his plans to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary, setting off a round of vicious attack ads from McConnell’s campaign almost instantly.  Even more troublesome for McConnell though than Bevin’s primary challenge is the prospect of a general election fight with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who announced her candidacy in early July and who is expected to coast through the Democratic primary.  According to a poll released on July 31st, Grimes is leading McConnell by 2% in a potential head to head race, and is polling 15% higher amongst those who have heard of both candidates – McConnell, a longstanding incumbent, currently enjoys substantially higher name recognition.

Although Grimes and Bevin are polar opposites on the political spectrum, they both are in agreement on one thing: Senator Mitch McConnell is vulnerable.  Polling data released in April revealed that a full 54% of Kentuckians disapprove of McConnell’s job performance in the Senate, while only 36% approve.

Such numbers should not come as a surprise to any casual observer of the Senate.  McConnell is the king of gridlock, and has become the personification of DC dysfunction.  Kentuckians, like the rest of the country, have grown understandably fed up with his tactics.

Earlier this year, Public Campaign Action Fund explored McConnell’s obstruction in a report entitled, “Cashing in on Obstruction: How Mitch McConnell’s Abuse of the Filibuster and Other Senate Rules Benefits His Big Money Donors.” Among other findings, the report revealed that McConnell’s repeated and unprecedented use of the filibuster has benefitted the interests of his campaign backers.  The report’s case studies were particularly instructive.

In March of 2012, on the very day debate began on a bill that would have repealed Big Oil subsidies, McConnell received an astonishing $131,500 in campaign contributions from Texan oil donors.  Three days later, the bill was blocked by a filibuster.

In April of 2009, the House passed the “Helping Families Save Their Homes Act,” a bill that included a provision that would have granted bankruptcy judges more flexibility to modify mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure, and that would have cost the country’s biggest banks billions of dollars in profits.  That provision failed to receive the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and didn’t make it into the Senate version of the bill.  Over the course of his career, McConnell has received $8.7 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street interests.

In 2010 and 2012, despite overwhelming public support for providing transparency in election spending, McConnell led the charge against the DISCLOSE acts, bills that would have closed current loopholes in federal election law and brought Citizens United-empowered “dark money” groups to light.  Those groups – 501c4 non-profits and 501c6 trade associations – spent at a 5:1 ratio in favor of Republicans like Senator McConnell over Democrats in the 2012 election cycle.

In March of 2010, John J. “Jack” McConnell (no relation) was nominated to the District Court of Rhode Island, after successfully litigating against asbestos, tobacco, and lead paint interests on behalf of consumers.  Jack McConnell faced substantial opposition from trade associations that represent those interests, like the Chamber of Commerce, and from Senator McConnell, who, after filibustering the nomination and delaying the vote so that it took a full 420 days to be confirmed, stated for the record he resented Jack McConnell’s “persistent hostility to American job creators.” Senator McConnell has received, it should be noted, $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry alone.

McConnell’s career campaign contributions by sector
Source: Public Campaign Action Fund

Yet beyond obstructing the governing process to the benefit of his campaign backers, Senator McConnell has also pursued obstruction for the sake of gridlock itself.  As People For the American Way continues to report , McConnell’s treatment of judicial nominees has been particularly abominable.  The obstruction of Jack McConnell, a district court nominee, was not an aberration; it was part of a strategy of judicial obstruction that, under McConnell’s continued abuse of Senate rules, has become standard practice.  During the eight years that President George W. Bush was in office, only one federal district court nomination was filibustered, requiring the majority to file a cloture petition; so far under President Obama, Republicans have forced Democrats into 20 such filings for district court nominees. 

There’s a price to pay for unremittingly representing corporate interests, and for being the leader of an assault on the Senate’s functionality.  And the American public, and the state of Kentucky, are well of aware of who’s to blame.

PFAW

McConnell Bobs and Weaves on Judicial Nominations

McConnell tries & fails to justify filibuster of DC Circuit nominee Srinivasan, and throws a GOP-supported 10th Circuit nominee under the bus in the process.
PFAW

As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, the current debate on the role of guns in society has led to a variety of legislative responses in D.C. and across the nation.
PFAW

GOP Bad Faith on the Pace of Confirmations

Since a bipartisan agreement on judges ended in May, the rate of confirmations that Republicans have consented to has plummeted.
PFAW

On Obstructing Judges, Senate Republicans Get Even Worse

Republicans are seeking the first ever successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support.
PFAW

Filibuster of 10th Circuit Nominee Would Be Unprecedented

On Monday, the Senate will hold a cloture vote to end the filibuster of Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This filibuster is just the latest example of the destructive obstruction of judicial nominees that Republicans have engaged in from the very start of the Obama presidency.

In fact, if this filibuster succeeds, it will be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support.

Bacharach, who hails from Oklahoma, is extraordinarily well qualified to be a circuit court judge. The ABA panel that evaluates judicial nominees unanimously gave him their highest possible rating, "well qualified." He has been a magistrate judge in the Western District of Oklahoma for over a decade, giving him substantial experience with the criminal and civil legal issues he would face as a circuit court judge.

Much of Oklahoma's legal establishment has publicly supported his nomination: the Chief Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma; the Oklahoma Bar Association; the Dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Law; the General Counsel at Oklahoma City University; the Dean Emeritus at Oklahoma City University School of Law; the President of the Oklahoma County Bar Association; fellow members of the Federal Bar Association; and attorneys who worked closely with him while he was in private practice.

Bacharach also has strong bipartisan support. He has the support of President Obama and both of Oklahoma's Republican senators. In addition, he was approved by the Judiciary Committee nearly unanimously, with only Sen. Lee voting no (for reasons unrelated to the nominee). Sen. Coburn has said it would be "stupid" for his party to block a floor vote on Bacharach.

Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that his party would refuse to consent to any further confirmation votes for circuit court nominees, purportedly because it is an election year. He cited the so-called "Thurmond Rule," which he mischaracterized as a practice of not allowing any judicial confirmation votes as we approach a presidential election. In reality, it is not a "rule" at all. Instead, it is the name for the general principle that the party not in the White House will sometimes slow confirmation of controversial judicial nominees at some point in the months leading up to a presidential election. It has nothing to do with consensus nominees like Bacharach.

In fact, as noted above, a successful filibuster of Bacharach would be the first time there has ever been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support. That is hardly consistent with Senate history or practice.

But it would be consistent with Republican efforts to obstruct President Obama's judicial nominees regardless of their qualifications, regardless of their strong bipartisan support, and regardless of the damage the obstruction inflicts on the American people. After years of calling filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees unconstitutional, Senate Republicans turned around and filibustered President Obama's very first judicial nominee (David Hamilton, to the Seventh Circuit). This year, most of the circuit court nominees who have been confirmed have required a cloture vote to break Republican filibusters.

Republican efforts to filibuster Robert Bacharach are completely unjustified, but are also no surprise.

 

PFAW

For DISCLOSE Before They Were Against It

The DISCLOSE 2012 Act is a simple and seemingly-unobjectionable proposal that would require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors and help inform the American people as to who is trying to sway their votes. Yet the proposal faces a slim (read: zero) chance of passage in the Senate this week. It even had partisan support when it was introduced first introduced in 2010 as a response to the Supreme Court’s flawed Citizens United decision, and Republican support for general campaign-related expenditures dates back many years.

Not anymore. The Huffington Post notes that there are 14 Republican senators serving since 2000 who previously voted for disclosure, but today would rather protect the anonymity of wealthy special interests and corporations than shed light on the funders of today’s endless barrage of attack ads.

These Senators have been whipped into line by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who was undoubtedly whipped into line by wealthy special interests and corporations who write big checks to Republicans, and would prefer to continue to do so in secret). Senator McConnell himself has flip-flopped on the issue:

Sen. McConnell in 2000: “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

Sen. McConnell in 2012: “[Disclosure is] a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress.”

The Sunlight Foundation has put together a video “depicting” other Republicans’ contradictory statements on the DISCLOSE Act. Watch it here:

 

PFAW

Obstruction to Election Spending Disclosure: Welcome to 2012 America

Today, Monday July 16th 2012, the U.S. Senate will vote on whether to end the filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act, and more likely than not, the effort to bring the popular bill to a final floor vote will fail. Yet the DISCLOSE Act is a bill so fundamentally logical and conspicuously necessary for the health of our democracy, it is mind boggling that even one U.S. Senator would dare to not support it - let alone label it so extreme that the Senate should not even be allowed to vote on it.

The bill is about transparency, and the American people’s right to know who’s funding the campaign ads that are flooding our airwaves and influencing our opinions.

Here’s a brief history on how we got here:

On January 21st, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, overturning key provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act, creating a new campaign finance system in which corporations and unions could use treasury funds to influence elections.

Three months later, the D.C. Court of appeals struck down federal law limiting contributions to entities engaged in independent expenditures in the case SpeechNOW v. FEC. To reach their decision, the lower court relied upon the rationale put forth in Citizens United, particularly that “independent expenditures … do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The Roberts Court declined to consider an appeal of the lower court’s ruling in SpeechNOW, and thus ushered in the era of the super PAC.

Yet anonymous spending was not supposed to be the result of these rulings.

In the opinion of Justice Kennedy, writing for eight of the nine justices on the Court, it was assumed that disclosure requirements were constitutionally permissible and would serve as a check in this new I.E. spending reality.

Kennedy wrote:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.

… citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.

… disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.


But that transparency has not been codified into law.  At present, there is no law or statute that requires entities that make independent expenditures to disclose to the general public the identities of those who gave money to the entity specifically for political ads and other spending.

Following Citizens United in 2010, Congress came close to mandating disclosure when the House passed the DISCLOSE act. The bill had strong majority support in the Senate, so the Republicans filibustered it. Unfortunately, the effort to end the filibuster failed in the Senate by one vote. It died on the Senate floor with a 59 to 39 split on a cloture motion, presciently extending what historian Robert Caro wrote about the Senate of the late 1950’s to the present day, that “For almost a century, [the Senate] had not merely embodied but had empowered, with an immense power, the forces of conservatism and reaction in America.”

Yet disclosure should not be a conservative issue or a liberal issue. This is a democratic issue, with the fundamentals of our democracy at stake. In 2012 America however, Republican political partisanship and hunger for power at all costs have taken precedent over the need for reform; and Republican Senate leadership is holding firm. Issues vital to the health of our democracy - whether they be voting rights or campaign finance rules - are now warped into partisan issues.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and opponents of the DISCLOSE act are desperate to find ways to discredit it and justify their unjustifiable opposition.

Take for example, McConnell’s piece in the USA Today, "Disclose Act is un-American," where he writes:

The Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. the FEC, correctly ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker. (sic)

The Disclose Act would make this and any future administration's ability to punish and intimidate its political enemies even easier. It is the Democrats' attempt to get around the court by compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same.

While Senator McConnell cries out "un-American" and "unions" to scare his base - like Senator McCarthy once cried out "communists" on the Senate floor - the facts are irrefutable. Under the bill’s provisions, unions are treated equally to for-profit corporations. Case closed.

Furthermore, supporting the DISCLOSE Act is not a political power grab; however to reject it is, since the majority of the undisclosed money is benefiting the Republican party. So it goes for the bill’s opponents. Take reality and turn it on its head.

McConnell then declares:

This bill calls for government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grassroots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents admit.

The Supreme Court addressed this issue in 1958 in NAACP v. Alabama, ruling that forced disclosure of the NAACP's member lists by Alabama would discourage people from freely associating with a cause or group.

Once again, McConnell has to obfuscate the truth to hide the fact that he has no real argument.

The bill requires organizations (corporations, unions, super PACs, non-profits) to report within 24 hours of making an election expenditure of $10,000 or more. Donors that give $10,000 or more to the organization would be made public, unless they specify that their contributions to the organization cannot be used for election spending. The idea that every grassroots group will have to turn in their membership lists to the evil federal government is a scare tactic, and unsubstantiated.

The bill is designed to remove the added layer of anonymity ‘speakers’ are currently hiding behind by donating to nondescript (c)(4) and (c)(6) organizations that – unlike for-profit corporations, advocacy groups, and unions – do not operate in the public sphere, and whose purpose generally is unknown to the public.

One would imagine that halting this egregious process would be a quick fix. But one would also imagine the same for voting on judicial nominations, or extending the debt ceiling, or allowing Americans to cast a vote on Election Day. Unfortunately, that’s not how 2012 America functions.

The most unbelievable part of McConnell’s and Republican obstruction is that this DISCLOSE act is a watered-down version of its original. The 2010 provisions that would have required funders to “Stand By Their Ads” has been removed, as have the prohibition on electoral advocacy participation by corporations that received TARP funds. The bill will not be effective until 2013, so would not even affect this election cycle. But in the end, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and should be a no brainer for any elected official committed to the integrity of our elections.

Yet we are bound to hear the absurd cry of “union carve-out” tonight on the Senate floor when the bill is debated, and all the other diversionary arguments. The obstructionists need straw men, since without them, there could only be silence.

PFAW

Goodwin Liu Gets a Place on the California Supreme Court

Goodwin Liu, the much-admired law professor whose nomination to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was run into the ground by the Senate GOP this year, is now a judge. Liu was confirmed last night to sit on the California Supreme Court, where one of his first cases will determine whether those defending Proposition 8 will have standing to appeal their trial court loss.

When Liu withdrew his appeals court nomination in May, after being the subject of two years of partisan bickering, PFAW’s Marge Baker said in a statement that he “would have made a superb jurist” but “unfortunately, Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP decided to use Goodwin Liu to make a political point – they smeared the reputation of this respected legal mind while ignoring many of their own vows to never filibuster a judicial nominee.”

California is lucky to have Liu on its Supreme Court. But it’s a shame that the Senate GOP put him through two years of partisan smears before he found a place on the bench.
 

PFAW

Justice Ginsburg Mourns Breakdown of Judicial Nominations Process

At a speech yesterday at Southern Methodist University, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg touched upon the depressing state of our nation's judicial nominations process. As reported by the Associated Press:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Monday that the confirmation process has become much more partisan and that she probably never would have made it to the high court under the current climate.

"I wish we could wave a magic wand and go back to the days when the process was bipartisan," Ginsburg told the crowd of about 2,000 as she spoke as part of a lecture series for Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law.

While most of us cannot wave such a magic wand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can. With one word he could stop many of the GOP obstruction tactics against President Obama's judicial nominees. It was just such obstruction that prevented the Senate from voting to confirm twenty pending nominees before it left town several weeks ago, 17 of whom got through committee with no recorded opposition.

As ThinkProgress reported, Justice Ginsburg also noted the hostility felt by some senators toward the ACLU: "Today, my ACLU connection would probably disqualify me."

Unfortunately, she may be right. Late last year, Senator Jeff Sessions – then the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee – railed against judicial nominees who had worked with or been a member of the ACLU, specifically targeting William Martinez, Edward Chen, Goodwin Liu, Jack McConnell, Amy Totenberg, Robert Wilkins, and Michael Simon. He concluded his tirade with the following warning to President Obama:

I do believe the administration needs to understand that this is going to be a more contentious matter if we keep seeing the ACLU chromosome as part of this process.

Republican hostility to the ACLU – and to the constitutional rights it regularly protects – is extremely disturbing. At the same time, the blocking of even unopposed nominees suggests that the GOP's main problems with President Obama's nominees is that they are President Obama's nominees.

PFAW