Maryland

Fairer Elections Through Public Financing: Montgomery County, Maryland, Leads the Way

It’s no secret that our country’s elections have been taken over by out-of-control spending, and this year’s rapidly approaching midterms are no exception. Maybe that’s why it’s so refreshing to read about some recent progress in the fight to reclaim our democracy from corporations and billionaires. Today the Montgomery County Council in Maryland is set to vote on legislation that would create a system of small-donor public financing for local elections — and it’s looking likely to pass.

It’s a system based on a simple premise: swap in lots of small donations from local community members in place of a handful of large donations from powerful interests. Encourage local people to give money to candidates they support by matching those donations with public funds. Not only does this empower regular people to get involved in campaigns, since they see their dollar going further, but it makes it smart for candidates to seek support from, and be accountable to, their own community members rather than wealthy special interests.

The Baltimore Sun explains how it would work in Montgomery County:

Beginning in 2015, candidates for county executive or council would qualify to have their political campaigns publicly funded if they attracted a sufficient number of small contributions of $5 to $150. In the case of a council race, for instance, it would be 125 donations adding up to at least $10,000. After that, campaigns would be largely publicly financed on a matching basis….The system would be voluntary, but participants would not be able to accept donations larger than $150 or from political action committees or labor organizations.

Public financing has worked in other cities across the country. Take New York City as an example. A 2012 Brennan Center analysis of the effects of the city’s public finance model found that the matching system helped “bring participants into the political process who traditionally are less likely to be active.” The study suggested that the model encouraged candidates to reach out to a more diverse group of people to support their campaigns, rather than centering all of their efforts on the wealthiest donors.

And when candidates start getting into office because of the support of their constituents, rather than because a few wealthy special interests have bankrolled their campaigns, the policy agenda can shift from one designed to keep powerful interests happy to one designed to serve the common good.

Legislators across the country should take note of what’s happening in Montgomery County. Polling consistently shows that the overwhelming majority of voters want to see elected officials work to lessen big money’s impact on our elections. In other words, Americans understand the problem but are hungry for solutions. Along with long-term fixes like pushing to amend the Constitution to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing can be a way to put everyday Americans’ voices at the center of our political process, where they belong.

PFAW

PFAW Action Fund Announces Young Elected Progressive Endorsements

People For the American Way Action Fund announced today the endorsements of a slate of dynamic young progressive candidates running for public office across the United States. The endorsees are a diverse mix of candidates 35 and under who are marking a new generation of progressive leadership for the future. These candidates and officials represent a vision that will benefit communities all over the country, as they fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, and equality for all.

The endorsements are part of People For the American Way Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. YEP evaluates and endorses young progressive candidates ages 35 and under in their bids for elected office around the U.S. at all levels.

People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to endorse these YEP candidates for 2014:

James Albis – CT House District 99
James Albis is running for reelection to the Connecticut House of Representatives 99th District, representing East Haven. Albis has advocated consistently on behalf of the families of East Haven for better jobs, better schools, and better opportunities. In his second term as Representative, Albis worked to protect the environment, serving on the Speaker’s Task Force on Shoreline Preservation. Dedicated to supporting children and families, Albis has sponsored and voted for numerous laws that would expand family and medical leave, as well as healthcare, and to protect East Haven’s share of state education funding. Visit James Albis’s campaign website for more details.

John Paul Alvarez – FL House District 100
John Paul Alvarez is running for Florida House of Representatives District 100, representing Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Alvarez, a true Floridian born and raised in South Florida, knows first-hand about the issues facing his community and is dedicated to making Florida prosper. As a teacher, mentor, and community leader, Alvarez is a fierce advocate for public education. By fighting for the issues that matter most to students, working families, retired citizens, taxpayers, and South Florida’s most vulnerable citizens, Alvarez is determined to improve his community by creating more jobs, lowering the cost of living, and promoting equality for all. Visit John Paul Alvarez’s campaign website for more details.

Nelson Araujo – NV Assembly District 3
Nelson Araujo is a candidate for Nevada’s Assembly District 3, representing Clark County and Las Vegas. He is a native Nevadan that was born to struggling immigrant parents. Araujo, a determined leader, fought to help his family out of poverty and became the first in his family to graduate high school. As a community leader and elected official, Araujo is dedicated to stimulating job growth, providing greater healthcare access, and making higher education more accessible to everyone. We believe that with his leadership, Nevada will thrive. Visit Nelson Araujo’s campaign website for more details.

Mandela Barnes – WI Assembly District 11
Mandela Barnes is running for reelection in Wisconsin’s State Assembly District 11, representing central Milwaukee. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Barnes has done important work for Milwaukee as a community organizer and youth and development specialist. His dedication to creating jobs, reforming public education, and modernizing public transportation will serve the people of Milwaukee and strengthen the community. Visit Mandela Barnes’s campaign website for more details.

Jonathan Brostoff – WI Assembly District 19
Jonathan Brostoff, lifelong resident of Milwaukee’s East Side, is running for Wisconsin State Assembly’s 19th District representing central Milwaukee. Brostroff’s dedication to Milwaukee and experience as a legislative aide will help him lead Wisconsin toward a brighter future. Brostoff is determined to promote equal rights for all, to reinvest in public education, and to improve public transit in Wisconsin. Brostoff is a capable leader, devoted to making Wisconsin thrive for generations to come, whose real-world solutions will create progress in the state. Visit Jonathan Brostoff’s campaign website for more details.

Marina Dimitrijevic – WI Assembly District 19
Marina Dimitrijevic is running for the Wisconsin State Assembly District 19. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Dimitrijevic made history in 2004, when she became the youngest woman to be elected to the Milwaukee County Board. During her 10 year tenure, she has championed legislative victories on equal rights for the LGBT community, environmental sustainability, public transit, and workers’ rights. Dimitrijevic’s experience, leadership, and commitment to winning on progressive issues are exactly what the community of Milwaukee needs.  Visit Marina Dimitrijevic’s campaign website for more details.

Justin Chenette – ME House District 134
Justin Chenette is running for reelection to the Maine House of Representatives’ 134th District , representing Saco. Before being elected as state Representative, Chenette served on the Maine State Board of Education, and has carried his passion for education into the state legislature. Chenette sponsored several education-related bills including legislation to promote community service in school and require internship experiences for high school students. Chenette, who was 22 years old upon his election to the House, has already proven himself to be a tireless and dedicated advocate and an important member in the next generation of leaders. Visit Justin Chenette’s campaign website for more details.

Luke Diaz –WI Verona Alder District 3
Luke Diaz is seeking reelection to the Verona City Council’s 3rd District, representing central Verona. Diaz has made it his mission to celebrate the city’s culture by cultivating a thriving downtown in Verona, working to expand jobs, improve transit, and provide important services to the community. An experienced city councilman, Diaz is an accessible leader that is dedicated to listening to the needs of his community. Visit Luke Diaz’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Zachary Dorholt – MN House District 14B
Zach Dorholt is running for reelection the Minnesota House of Representatives’ District 14B, representing St. Cloud City, and Haven and Minden Townships. Previously elected in 2011, Dorholt has been a champion for progressive values during his time in the House. He is an advocate for women’s rights and has sponsored bills to equalize pay in Minnesota and lengthen paid maternity leave. Dorholt has also fought for public education funding and is dedicated to creating a pathway to higher education for young Minnesotans. A proven leader, Dorholt will continue to make Minnesota a better and more prosperous place for the entire community. Visit Zach Dorholt’s campaign website for more details.

Crisanta Duran – CO House District 5

Crisanta Duran is running for reelection in the Colorado House of Representatives’ 5th District, representing Denver. As chairwoman of the joint budget committee, Crisanta guided the passage of a state budget that helped protect the environment, boost investments in education and job training, provide better women’s health services, help survivors of abuse, and create a better state economy for all Coloradoans. In her position as an elected official, she will continue to build a strong progressive foundation for the state’s future. Visit Crisanta Duran’s campaign website for more details.

Daneya Esgar – CO House District 46
Daneya Esgar is a candidate for Colorado State House of Representatives’ District 46, representing Pueblo. A dedicated public servant and product of Pueblo’s public education system, Esgar has dedicated her career as a television news producer and a community organizer to improving this community. Esgar has a clear vision for the future of Pueblo, and will continue to work toward job growth and improved public education as an elected official. Visit Daneya Esgar’s campaign website for more details.

Ryan Fecteau – ME House District 11
Ryan Fecteau is a Biddeford native running for Maine House of Representatives’ District 11, representing his hometown. Fecteau has a fresh and progressive perspective on the issues affecting Maine today. As representative, Fecteau will bring strong support of public education, women’s rights, and equal opportunity for all Americans by championing for middle-class workers, seniors, and college graduates of his district. Visit Ryan Fecteau’s campaign website for more details.

Joe Fitzgibbon – WA House District 34
Joe Fitzgibbon is running for reelection to the Washington House of Representatives’ District 34, representing Burien, West Seattle, White Center, and Vashon and Maury Islands. Fitzgibbon has been a fierce advocate for undocumented students, voting for both the DREAM Act and for in-state tuition for undocumented students. A champion for equality in Washington, Fitzgibbon has le d efforts to legalize gay marriage and expand healthcare and Medicaid to help ensure safe abortion procedures. Fitzgibbon is a true progressive and will continue to work toward equality for all Washingtonians. Visit Joe Fitzgibbon’s campaign website for more details.

Chris Larson – WI Senate District 7
Chris Larson is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Senate’s 7th District, representing Milwaukee County. In Larson’s first term as senator, he served as the Minority Leader and worked tirelessly to end marriage discrimination in Wisconsin, to promote public education, and to protect the environment. Larson has worked to stimulate job growth and to increase access to health care, proving that he is truly in-tune with the needs of his community. “Larson is a true progressive leader,” PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager said. “He is clearly dedicated to his community and determined to help each person and his community as a whole.” Visit Chris Larson’s campaign website for more details.

Eric Luedtke – MD House District 14
Eric Luedtke is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 14, representing Montgomery County. Luedtke, who was first elected in 2010, has already made his mark as a progressive representative for Maryland. Luedtke, a teacher by profession, has advocated for public education reform, especially advocating for equality for students with special needs. Committed to families and children, Luedtke has worked on a variety of issues, from promoting easier access to healthcare to sponsoring bills that provide greater aid and support for survivors of sexual assault. Visit Eric Luedtke’s campaign website for more details.

Stefanie Mach – AZ House District 10
Stefanie Mach is running for reelection to the Arizona House of Representatives’ 10th Distric , representing Tucson. Since she was elected in 2012, Mach has proven herself to be a fighter, both professionally and personally. In her time as representative, Mach has worked to improve public education, to make higher education more affordable, to encourage job growth and the expansion of local businesses. An advocate for women and minorities, Mach has demonstrated she is dedicated to making Arizona a prosperous community for everyone. Visit Stefanie Mach’s campaign website for more details.

Marcus Madison – OH Senate District 13
Marcus Madison is a candidate for the Ohio State Senate’s 13th District, representing Huron and Lorain counties. Madison, currently serving as a city councilman in Elyria, has already proven that he is a dedicated public servant. He is the former student body president of Lorain County Community College, and previously served as deputy field officer for Obama for America, as well as Communications Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County. A determined advocate, Madison is committed to improving public education, protecting workers, and providing sustainable jobs that will strengthen the middle class. Visit Marcus Madison’s campaign website for more details.

Aaron Marquez – AZ Senate District 27
Aaron Marquez is running for Arizona State Senate District 27, representing Maricopa County. Marquez, a captain with the U.S. Army Reserve, has been a courageous public servant both overseas and at home. Marquez is a fearless advocate for women’s rights, strong supporter of veterans, and a fighter for public education. A dedicated leader, Marquez will be a force for good in the Arizona legislature. Visit Aaron Marquez’s campaign website for more details.

Andrew McLean – ME House District 129
Andrew McLean is running for reelection to the 129th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing North Gorham, White Rock, Little Falls, the Village and South Gorham. McLean was previously elected in 2012 and has worked tirelessly to support legislation that would protect the environment, expand healthcare, and reform gun laws in Maine. A resilient advocate, as representative McLean will continue to work on behalf of children and families in his next term and for years to come. Visit Andrew McLean’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Matt Moonen – ME House District 118
Matt Moonen is running for reelection in the 118th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Portland. Moonen has been dedicated to improving healthcare in Maine by sponsoring bills that would prohibit smoking in public places and that would expand Medicaid coverage and eligibility. Additionally, Moonen has been a fierce advocate for raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration reform, and reforming campaign finance. A true progressive candidate, Moonen will continue to make Maine an accepting and thriving place for all. Visit Matt Moonen’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Joe Neguse – CO Secretary of State
Joe Neguse, who is running for Colorado Secretary of State is the right choice for Colorado. Neguse brings with him knowledge and experience as a business attorney, member of the University Of Colorado Board Of Regents, and as a public servant. As secretary of state, Neguse will perform his duties with integrity and transparency, and will work to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote in Colorado. Neguse will advocate for everyone, regardless of wealth, age, or social standing. Visit Joe Neguse’s campaign website for more details.

Kesha Ram – VT House District 6-4
Kesha Ram is running for reelection to the Vermont House of Representatives’ District 6-4, representing Chittenden. Ram has worked to promote green job creation, affordable housing, and expanded access to healthcare. Both personally and in her capacity as a representative, Ram has worked to support survivors of domestic violence and is an active advocate for women’s rights. Ram is forward-thinking and dedicated, and her service will help Vermont flourish. Visit Kesha Ram’s campaign website for more details.

Laurie Anne Sayles – MD House District 17
Laurie Anne Sayles is running for Maryland’s House of Delegates District 17, representing Montgomery County. Sayles is a committed parent who has overcome obstacles to become a dedicated public servant in Maryland. A smart and capable leader, Sayles is a determined advocate for affordable healthcare, stronger public education, and accessible public transportation. As an elected official, Sayles will be a truly progressive leader for years to come. Visit Laurie Anne Sayles’s campaign website for more details.

Katrina Shankland – WI Assembly District 71
Katrina Shankland is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Assembly, representing Stevens Point and its neighboring counties. In her one term as representative, Shankland has become a dedicated advocate for women’s rights and workers’ rights in Wisconsin. Shankland has worked to improve public education opportunities, and has been a fighter for environmental preservation and clean and sustainable energy practices. Visit Katrina Shankland’s campaign website for more details.

Alonzo Washington – MD House District 22
Alonzo Washington is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 22, representing Prince George’s County. Washington, who has served in the House since 2012, already made a name for himself as a fighter for progressive values. He has sponsored and voted for bills that will increase the minimum wage, expand access to higher education, and strengthen public schools. As an important leader for Maryland’s future, Washington has and will continue to support progress in Maryland. Visit Alonzo Washington’s campaign website for more details.

Faith Winter – CO House District 35
Faith Winter, running for the Colorado House of Representatives’ 35th District to represent Westminster, is the right choice for Colorado. Winter has dedicated her life to public service, previously serving as a city councilwoman, mayor pro tem, and as the Emerge Colorado’s Executive Director, supporting women running for public office. In these capacities, Winter worked to create long-term jobs, expand affordable housing, and increase usage of sustainable energy in Colorado. Visit Faith Winter’s campaign website for more details.

PFAW

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and can express their views on a level playing field.
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

When Government Officials Encourage Voting

In Maryland, the governor extends early voting.
PFAW Foundation

Disturbing Campaign Literature in Maryland

A candidate's campaign material seems to imply there are too many Jews in the U.S. Senate.
PFAW Foundation

Ben Cardin Urges a Vote on a Maryland Judicial Nominee

Among the 19 judicial nominees who Republicans are blocking from a floor vote is an experienced Maryland state judge with bipartisan support.
PFAW

Marriage Equality Advances in Maryland

Last night the Maryland State Senate approved legislation ending the prohibition against marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Governor Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the bill into law.
PFAW

4th Circuit Upholds Rule of Law in Healthcare Case

In a badly-needed boost to the rule of law and the nation's much-abused new health reform, a three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit today rejected two attacks on "Obamacare." In one case, Virginia v. Sebelius, the appeals court found that the Commonwealth of Virginia lacked standing to challenge the individual mandate provision and in the other, Liberty University v. Geithner, it ruled that a challenge to the plan's financial penalty for not purchasing individual health insurance coverage was not ready to be heard since the penalty constitutes a tax and taxes may not be challenged until after they have gone into effect and been paid. Both decisions by Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz are a breath of fresh air in a legal and political environment now polluted by partisan and ideological attacks on the health plan.

The decision in the Virginia case, brought by the state's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, was an emphatic victory for basic rules of federalism and judicial restraint. Judge Motz found that the court could not hear the case because Virginia lacked standing under long-established jurisdictional principles. As a state, Virginia suffered no "injury in fact" because of the individual insurance mandate it was challenging; the state itself is not "burdened" by it, state officials are not "commandeered" by it, and state sovereignty is not impaired in any way by it. Virginia asserted that it had standing because of a conflict between the new law and a state statute, the "Virginia Health Care Freedom Act," a statute which was transparently cooked up by the legislature for the sole purpose of creating a conflict with the federal health reform law. This state law simply declared that no resident of Virginia "shall be required to obtain or maintain a policy of individual insurance coverage." It had no enforcement mechanism and existed solely for purposes of organizing litigation against the national government. Judge Motz correctly found that, if this kind of metaphysical declaration were enough to create standing, a state could concoct jurisdiction to challenge any federal law just by writing a "not-X" statute. I recall that opponents of the health reform introduced the same meaningless legislation in Maryland and I took great pleasure in pointing out that it had no content. At any rate, Judge Andre Davis dissented from the decision, arguing that the standing problem was no big deal; he would have simply ruled that the individual mandate provision did not exceed Congressional power under the Constitution—and, on this point, he is clearly right.

The other decision, in the Liberty University case, was based on the significant new ruling that the individual insurance mandate is actually a form of federal taxation and the federal Anti-Injunction Act prevents the court from entertaining challenges to taxes until they actually go into effect and have been paid by the litigants. "A taxpayer can always pay an assessment, seek a refund directly from the IRS, and then bring a refund action in federal court," Judge Motz wrote, but the Anti-Injunction Act bars pre-enforcement actions. It is definitely of note that Judge Motz found that, under the Act, financial penalties and exactions are to be treated like a "tax." Both supporters and critics of the decision are noting that this may mark an effort to define and defend the individual insurance mandate as a legitimate exercise of the congressional Taxing power, but this may be over-reading into the court's interpretation of the Anti-Injunction Act, which does have its own body of rules and precedents.

It's not clear yet whether the disappointed litigants will try to take the case en banc to the full right-leaning Fourth Circuit or petition for appeal directly to the Supreme Court. All roads lead to the Supremes in this case since there is currently a split between the Sixth Circuit, which upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate, and the Eleventh Circuit, which struck it down. In addition, the DC Circuit will be hearing oral arguments in a healthcare challenge in two weeks, so it, too, may add its voice to the discussion by the end of the year. At some point next year, the justices will have to grab the bull by the horns and decide whether they want to fully revive the class-driven judicial activism of the Lochner period by knocking down laws promoting public health and welfare.

PFAW

The Slow Pace of Diversity in the Courts

NPR reports today on President Obama’s unprecedented efforts to bring diversity to the federal bench:

The White House says almost half of the 97 candidates who have won confirmation during Obama's presidency are women; about a quarter are black. And Obama has nominated four openly gay people, more than any other president. He's also doubled the number of Asian-American judges on the bench.

Obama continued that pattern earlier this week when he nominated Adalberto Jose Jordan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and Miranda Du, an Asian American who lived in a refugee camp in Malaysia for almost a year as a child before coming to the U.S., for the district court in Nevada.

But that strategy may have a cost, says Caroline Fredrickson, who leads the American Constitution Society and has been following the judge nominees closely.

"Obama is nominating many more diverse nominees than his predecessors ... strikingly so," Fredrickson says. "But the nominees are not getting confirmed with the same kind of success."

Some of the longest waiting nominees, Louis Butler of Wisconsin, Charles Bernard Day of Maryland and Edward Dumont of Washington happen to be black or openly gay.

"For women and minorities, it's just been a bigger hill to climb before they actually get a vote," Fredrickson says. "And so for whatever the reasons, the facts speak for themselves."

Yes, the facts do speak for themselves. PFAW, in a memo released Tuesday, calculated that so far, the president’s women and minority nominees have waited on average 22 percent longer for a Senate confirmation vote than white men.

But the Senate’s slow pace confirming women and minority nominees has fed into a larger, equal opportunity obstruction agenda. As of Tuesday, there were 89 open seats on the federal judiciary, 37 of which had been designated as “judicial emergencies.” Pending on the Senate floor were 24 nominees who the Senate could easily have voted on, 21 of whom had no recorded opposition whatsoever in committee. Yet Republicans allowed a vote on only four of them. Twenty are still waiting for votes allowing them to take their posts.
 

PFAW

The Tea Party Constitution and the Debt Ceiling

Last year, we released a report on the myriad ways that the Tea Party movement – supposedly obsessed with the Constitution – twists the United States’ founding documents beyond recognition.

This month, in the debate over the normally routine process of raising the nation’s debt ceiling to prevent a default and the resulting massive setback to the recovering economy, we get another example.

Republicans in the House have introduced a plan that would, among other demands, require the passage of a constitutional “balanced budget” amendment before they will consider taking a simple step to avert economic disaster. In Slate on Friday, Dahlia Lithwick and Doug Kendall explained why a balanced budget amendment -- championed by Utah senator and Tea Party favorite Mike Lee -- would not just be bad policy…it would be a big departure from the original text and intent of the Constitution:

It's fairly certain that George Washington and the other Founders gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 would be appalled by the Lee amendment. It is not an accident that the first two enumerated powers the Constitution vests in Congress are the power "to lay and collect Taxes … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States" and "to borrow money on the credit of the United States." The Constitution's broad textual grant of power was a direct response to the Articles of Confederation, which had imposed crippling restrictions on Congress's power to borrow and tax. These restrictions plagued the Revolutionary War effort and made a deep and lasting impression on Washington and other war veterans. Lee and the other proponents of shrinking the federal government to restore freedom misapprehend that the Constitution recognized there would be no freedom without a strong federal government to promote it.

Finally, in a Constitution filled with broad principles of governance, the amendment's arbitrary spending limit of 18 percent of GDP—an awkward and unworkable figure—would stick out like a sore thumb. Contrary to Chief Justice John Marshall's warning in the landmark decision of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Lee's arbitrary spending limit "partake[s] of the prolixity of a legal code," and would be out of place in a document that is designed to "to endure for ages to come … to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."

We face a high duty when amending the Constitution: to match the Framers' maturity and foresight. By every measure that would have mattered to the Founders, Lee's proposed amendment easily flunks this test. Sen. Lee fancies himself a friend to the Constitution and an originalist. So why is he pushing for the ratification of an amendment that would take us back to the days before the Constitution was even ratified? The framers trusted in the wisdom of future legislators. The Balanced Budget Amendment represents a betrayal not only of our future but of our past as well.

Of course, the most pressing issue here is that House Republicans are playing chicken with the world economy in order to uphold massive tax breaks for the rich. But that they’re using such a misguided constitutional amendment as a bargaining chip speaks volumes about the Tea Party’s priorities.
 

PFAW

Indictments in Maryland Voter Suppression Case

On Election Day last year, while the polls were still open, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). It was soon discovered that the calls were generated by an operative working for the campaign of O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Governor Bob Ehrlich. Yesterday, criminal indictments were handed down against a close Ehrlich aide and a political operative for their efforts to suppress the African American vote. According to the Washington Post:

One of former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s most trusted aides and a campaign consultant were accused Thursday of orchestrating tens of thousands of anonymous election-night robo-calls last year that prosecutors said were part of a larger attempt to suppress the black vote.

Paul E. Schurick, 54, Ehrlich's de facto campaign manager, and Julius Henson, 62, a paid consultant, were indicted on multiple counts of election law violations stemming from an automated call that was placed to more than 110,000 Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County, according to prosecutors.

...

The indictments might be the first in the country involving Election Day attempts to suppress voting using robo-calls, experts said. The case also appears to be a rarity nationwide, one in which prosecutors might have the physical evidence necessary to prove intent to commit voter suppression, experts said.

...

"There is a long history in urban areas of people passing out fliers that say Republicans vote on Tuesday and Democrats vote on Wednesday, and specifically in Maryland of ploys telling people if you owe tickets or back child support that you can't vote," [Gilda Daniels, an elections law expert at the University of Baltimore Law School] said. "But this isn't someone printing off fliers that can't be easily tracked. These are phone calls, and there are records of them."

The Baltimore Sun provides some more details:

The indictment describes a document titled "The Schurick Doctrine" and says that it was "designed to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats."

The indictment quotes from the document: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression."

While the criminal case progresses, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is pursuing a civil suit in federal court:

Gansler alleges that the robocalls were made with the intent to suppress and intimidate voters in predominately African-American Democratic neighborhoods. The attorney general says 112,000 such calls were made on election night, and if found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

A Religious Exemption From the Rule of Law

As originally written and introduced, the marriage bill that recently failed to pass in Maryland was very straightforward, simply removing the restriction that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. Other laws in the state would have remained unchanged. However, a number of equality opponents expressed concern that some people would have to recognize the civil marriages of same-sex couples in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Therefore, they introduced a variety of "conscience clause" amendments.

These amendments tell us a great deal about their supporters' real agenda, and it has nothing to do with a principled stand for religious liberty. The amendments did things like provide:

  • that a public school teacher not be required to teach materials that promote same-sex marriage if the content of the materials violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • that a religious entity (or any nonprofit organization operated or controlled by one) need not provide adoption, foster care, or social services if providing the services would violate the entity's religious beliefs.
  • that a government employee (like a clerk or judge) not be required to perform a civil marriage ceremony if performance of the ceremony would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The common phrasing – violating someone's religious beliefs, as opposed to violating their First Amendment rights – is extremely important. It makes it sound like people's constitutional Free Exercise rights are being protected. But in Maryland and elsewhere, that is not the case: Provisions like these do not codify existing First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

Neutral laws of general applicability that infringe on a person's religious beliefs have been upheld as not violating a person's First Amendment rights. For instance, in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case, the Supreme Court upheld Oregon's right to deny unemployment benefits to a person who had been fired for violating the state's anti-drugs laws (specifically, smoking peyote), even though the person smoked peyote as part of his religion.

In that case, with Justice Scalia writing for the majority, the Court ruled that the First Amendment does not allow a person to cite their own religious beliefs as a reason not to obey generally applicable laws. "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

Anti-discrimination laws have long required people to do things that may not be consistent with their religious faith. For instance, an election worker who believes God commanded the sexes to remain separate in public cannot force men and women to vote in different rooms. A white innkeeper who believes that God commands segregation must nevertheless open his inn to all races. An employer who believes God commanded women to defer to men cannot refuse to make women supervisors.

So opponents of marriage equality certainly aren't acting to protect anyone's constitutional right to religious liberty. What they are demanding is a religious exemption from laws they don't like.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it's only those who share their particular religious beliefs who they deem worthy of this special right.

Since the marriage equality bill in Maryland failed to pass, have these self-styled stalwarts of religious liberty insisted that the amendments they proposed be made into law anyway, as general religious liberty protections not targeting gay people as a class?

They have not.

Perhaps what drives them is animus toward gays and lesbians. Or perhaps it's an arrogant certainty that their religious beliefs and no one else's should be protected by law.

Whatever it is, it certainly is not a principled fidelity to religious liberty.

We faced a similar issue more than forty years ago, when people with religious opposition to interracial marriages found themselves in a society that no longer prohibited such marriages. Indeed, as the Virginia trial court judge wrote when convicting Richard and Mildred Loving of violating the state's prohibition of interracial marriage:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

After Loving v. Virginia, our nation did not empower that judge or any other public official to opt out of performing his duty to marry eligible couples simply because he personally opposed interracial marriages on religious grounds. Nor did we empower public school teachers to "opt out" of teaching students that such couples exist. No different standard should be applied with respect to gay couples.

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The Strategy Behind the Maryland Marriage Bill Withdrawal

Advocates of equality were disappointed Friday when Maryland's pending marriage bill failed to pass the House of Delegates. It had already passed the Senate, in part because the vitriol of equality opponents had prompted one legislator to switch from opposing to supporting the bill. Unfortunately, advocates were unable to garner a majority of the House.

However, the bill was not defeated in a floor vote, but instead was "recommitted to committee." This is a critical distinction, one that allows advocates to introduce the bill again next year with a greater chance of success. Equality Maryland board member David Lublin explains the strategy on Maryland Politics Watch:

The House of Delegates agreed on a unanimous voice vote to recommit the bill to the House Judiciary Committee. This decision effectively kills the bill for the year. Many people naturally wonder why no vote was taken after all of the hard work that was done to advance the bill by so many people inside and outside of the legislature. Proponents agreed to this because they fell a few votes short of those needed to pass the bill on the floor of the House.

The argument for a vote is clear. People have a right to know where their legislators stand on such an important issue. Regardless of the outcome, it would have been the democratic process in action with delegates reflecting the will of their constituents and acting as our representatives.

On the other hand, proponents would have lost by a greater number than the closeness of the unofficial count because some "yes" votes would have become "no" votes. Legislators in marginal districts who might have been willing to stick their necks out to pass a meaningful piece of legislation would not do so if the legislation was going to fail.

Additionally, going forward, it is a lot harder to convert the votes of people who have cast a vote on the floor against marriage than it is to gain the votes of the undecided or who have said they oppose it but have yet to cast an actual vote on the topic. The thought behind not holding a vote is that it makes it easier to bring it up again next year and also does not demoralize opponents in other states. That was the thinking behind the decision to recommit.

Had the bill been defeated in a floor vote, then it would have been hard to reintroduce it successfully until after the next legislative elections, which are not until November 2014. But with the bill recommitted, advocates are freer to introduce it next year. In the meantime, they can spend the intervening months reaching out to legislators and the general population.

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Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: As Sotomayor Comes Out Strong Against Pro-Corporate Judicial Activism, Scalia May Have Met His Match

There is something wearily predictable about Justice Scalia’s straitjacket reinterpretation of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (NCVIA) to eliminate the possibility of injured families suing manufacturers for design defects in vaccines. Justice Scalia brings his trademark sleight-of-hand to the task of explaining why the law does not provide for citizens what it obviously does provide and offers his well-developed rhetorical polish and high-minded sarcasm as a way to assure everyone that there is no reasonable alternative to his vigorous rewrite of the law in the interest of corporate immunity. Ah, another federal law, another judicial gloss for the corporations: business-as-usual on the Roberts Court.

What is startling and refreshing about this decision is that Justice Scalia has finally met his match in Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who comes out swinging hard in her powerful dissenting opinion against this aggressive pro-corporate judicial activism and impressionistic rewrite of the statute at hand. It seems that Justice Sotomayor is finding her voice defending popular legislation and democratic rights against the finger-painting and cut-and-paste rewrites of legislation that have become the specialty of free-wheeling conservative Justices.

Consider the numerous hard and effective punches Justice Sotomayor’s throws back at Justice Scalia here, quoting Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the “plain text and structure” of the statute, and the essential canons of statutory construction, to show who the real “judicial activists” are:

She starts off by blowing the whistle on Justice Scalia’s substitution of his political views for those of Congress: “In holding that the . . . Act pre-empts all design defect claims for injuries stemming from vaccines covered under the Act, the Court imposes its bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress.”

After a masterful explanation of the Act and why it permits causes of action related to design defects, Justice Sotomayor writes: “In contrast to the interpretation . . . set forth above, the majority’s interpretation does considerable violence to the statutory text, misconstrues the legislative history, and draws the wrong conclusions from the structure of the Vaccine Act . . .”

And, to leave no doubt about what has just taken place to rob the Bruesewitz family--whose daughter suffered more than 100 seizures after being vaccinated with the DTP vaccine made by Lederle Laboratories--of its fair day in court, she concludes that “whatever the merits of the majority’s policy preference, the decision to bar all design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers is one that Congress must make, not this Court.”

It’s good to know that Justice Sotomayor at least has woken up to the fact that we are headed at a high speed right back into a Lochner-era jurisprudence where conservative Justices work overtime to undo progressive legislation and substitute their own authoritarian judgments for democratic decision-making. The combination of this judicial assault on popularly enacted statutes with the decision in the Citizens United case to arm private corporations with political campaign spending rights under the First Amendment makes for a pretty scary polity and economy. We need more judges and Justices like Justice Sotomayor to stand up for democracy and the rule of law.

Jamie Raskin is a Maryland state senator, constitutional law professor at American University's Washington College of Law, and Senior Fellow at People For the American Way.

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Anti-Equality Testimony May Have Backfired in Maryland

Yesterday in Maryland, both equality advocates and far right groups testified before a state senate panel considering a marriage equality bill. Opponents of the bill offered their standard arguments against marriage equality. And those arguments did succeed in giving at least one legislator second thoughts.

But not in the way the far right hoped.

State Sen. James Brochin had earlier this week announced that he would vote against the bill. Yet he was so moved by the vitriol of the bill's opponents that he is now considering changing his position and voting in favor of marriage equality. As the Baltimore Sun's Maryland Politics blog reports:

Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin found the testimony Tuesday by opponents of gay marriage "troubling," and said this morning that he may support the bill. The Baltimore County Democrat had previously said he was against same-sex marriage.

"The demonization of gay families really bothered me," Brochin said. "Are these families going to continue to be treated by the law as second class citizens?"

The Washington Post adds:

Brochin said in [a] news release that he was moved by testimony at the hearing, particularly that of the bill's opponents, which he called "appalling."

"Witness after witness demonized homosexuals, vilified the gay community and described gays and lesbians as pedophiles," Brochin said.

The testimony of the far right – their own opinions in their own words – has pushed a legislator from the “no” column into the “maybe” column. It's too early to say for sure how Senator Brochin will vote on the issue, but his reaction to the ugliness of the arguments against equality speaks volumes.

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One Year After Citizens United, Right-Wing Demands Even More Corporate Money and Less Transparency in Politics

As Americans remember the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United with calls for action to limit corporate influence in politics and reverse the Court’s reckless decision, pro-corporate activists and their Republican allies in Congress seek to further erode corporate accountability and transparency. As American University Constitutional law professor, Maryland State Senator, and People For Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin writes, Citizens United not only ushered an avalanche of corporate and secret money in elections but also paved the way for more attacks on restrictions on corporate power. Raskin asks:

Do you want to wipe out the ban on federal corporate contributions that has been in place since 1907? This should be a piece of cake. If a corporation is like any other group of citizens organized to participate in politics for the purpose of expenditures, why not contributions too?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.”  While the majority decision in Citizens United said that corporations can use money from their general treasuries to finance outside groups, the ban on direct donations from corporations to candidates was left intact. But as profiled in People For’s report “Citizens Blindsided,” corporations have a number of mouthpieces, front groups, and political allies who want to create even more ways for Big Business to influence American politics.

NPR’s Peter Overby reports that pro-corporate activists from groups like Citizens United and the Center for Competitive Politics now want Republicans in Congress to further weaken already-diluted laws on transparency and fairness in elections:

Citizens United has helped to upend the debate over political money — so much so that when the American Future Fund ran a radio ad targeting Sen. Kent Conrad earlier this month for the 2012 Senate race, it was treated as just part of the political game. Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said this week that he won't seek re-election.



Michael Franz, a political scientist with the Wesleyan Media Project, tracks political ads.

"The effect of Citizens United in 2010 may not have been as huge, because what was going on had been set in motion earlier," he said. "But what the court did in Citizens United could suggest huge effects for other campaign finance laws down the road."

First of all, disclosure is under attack.

"Just because it may be constitutional to impose these disclosure rules, doesn't mean it makes for sound policy," said Michael Boos, counsel to the group Citizens United.

The federal ban on foreign donors faces a court challenge. House Republicans plan to vote next week to kill off public financing in presidential elections.

And the Center for Competitive Politics, an anti-regulation group, wants to undo the century-old ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates.

That was one of the first campaign finance laws on the books. The center says the corporate world now is far different from what it was in 1907, when Congress imposed the ban.
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