Ohio

Attorney General Disappoints on Faith-Based Issue

Question: When does a law saying "do not discriminate" really mean "discrimination is allowed"? Answer: Now, since Attorney General Holder yesterday refused to repudiate the Bush Administration’s seemingly deliberate misreading of federal law in the context of grants to faith-based organizations.

One of the gravest flaws of the Faith-Based Initiative that President Obama inherited and has since made his own is that it permits federally funded employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Numerous federal statutes creating grant programs specifically prohibit those receiving funds from engaging in employment discrimination. However, the Bush Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) adopted a policy memo turning those provisions on their head.

According to the memo, requiring compliance with anti-discrimination laws as a condition of receiving federal funds can impose a substantial burden on the religious beliefs of faith-based grant recipients. Therefore, it reasoned, such a requirement may be impermissible under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religious exercise unless that burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. According to this harshly criticized legal memorandum, RFRA can be interpreted to let religious grantees ignore very specific nondiscrimination provisions within a federal grant program.

At a hearing before the House Oversight Committee yesterday, upon questioning by Rep. Bobby Scott, Attorney General Holder testified that the OLC memo is not being reconsidered. Even worse, when asked the Obama Administration has adopted that interpretation as its policy, Holder gave a meaningless and evasive answer. According to Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

SCOTT: So if you're running a Head Start Program, they're running the Head Start Program they can discriminate, even though there's a statutory provision prohibiting discrimination? They can discriminate anyway?

HOLDER: What I'm saying is that in terms of -- with regard to that specific OLC opinion, we are not in the process of reconsidering it. That is not something that, as I understand ...

SCOTT: Well I'm not talking about the memo. I'm talking about the policy. Can they discriminate notwithstanding a specific statutory prohibition against discrimination; they can discriminate anyway based on that interpretation?

HOLDER: Obviously discrimination cannot occur, that is, that contravenes federal law.

Since whether an act of employment discrimination violates federal law is the focus of the debate, Holder’s response is not enlightening.

It is hard to believe that less than three years ago, candidate Barack Obama told an audience in Zanesville, Ohio that "if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them—or against the people you hire—on the basis of their religion."

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ALEC to Hold Summit in Cincinnati

ALEC, a little known but enormously influential shadow right-wing policy organization, will be holding a summit in Cincinnati, Ohio today. Don’t be surprised that you didn’t know about it—unless you’re a top representative of a deep-pocketed corporation, you probably weren’t invited.

ALEC’s primary function is to ghostwrite bills for state legislators. Corporations pay a pretty penny for the access ALEC provides to elected officials, making this organization the epitome of pay-to-pay backroom politics.

It’s no wonder that Ohio policymakers are pursuing such an extreme pro-corporate agenda. If it requires millions of dollars to buy a ticket to the smoke-filled backroom, there’s just no way the middle class can compete.

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GOP Attempt To “Defund The Left” Paying Dividends

The Republican drive to eliminate workers’ rights and bust unions has always been a partisan campaign to “defund the left” cloaked in language of ‘fiscal responsibility.’ Wisconsin State Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald, one of the champions of his state’s anti-union law, even admitted that the plan to dismantle unions for public employees was to undercut progressive political activities and weaken Obama’s state reelection campaign, saying: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

Now, the International Association of Fire Fighters has decided that it can’t afford to contribute to pro-union candidates on a federal scale because it needs to use its resources to fight back against the mushrooming threats to worker’s rights in GOP-controlled states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Alabama. Politico reports:

As newly elected Republican state legislatures aggressively push a slew of anti-union measures, the International Association of Fire Fighters is freezing its federal political spending and shifting all resources toward its beleaguered state and local colleagues.

“With the survival of our union and the ability to preserve and protect the rights, wages, and benefits our members deserve in jeopardy in the states, we have re-evaluated how to get the best results from our political dollars,” IAFF President Harold A. Schaitberger said Tuesday in an email blast to members that was obtained by POLITICO.



The move by the union is just the latest – and most dramatic – adjustment labor leaders are scrambling to make after Republicans across the nation in January tried to quickly push through new laws that would weaken the movement and its political influence.

In Wisconsin and Ohio, new laws would undermine the collective bargaining rights of most or all public employees. In Missouri, bills have been introduced to loosen wage and child labor laws. In Indiana, lawmakers sought to essentially ban public employee unions by becoming a right-to-work state. In Alabama, lawmakers have eliminated automatic union dues deductions from workers’ paychecks.
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Ohio Governor Signs Union-Busting Bill But The Fight Isn't Over

Welcome to Ohio 2011, the state that has become the new laboratory for various right wing bills aimed at destroying Ohio’s middle class, and communities of color. And it just got worse for Ohio workers. Last week, Governor John Kasich, ignoring the overwhelming majority of Ohioans, signed into law a bill that all but eliminates collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers across Ohio. This law, couched as a way to close the state’s budget gap, is nothing more than an outright attack on working families. Kasich even predicted this day in March 2009 when telling a Republican audience on the campaign trail, “we need to break the back of organized labor in the schools."

Ohio’s new law, SB 5, will:

  • Limit collective bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters.
  • Give elected officials the authority to resolve contract disputes with public employees.
  • Eliminate binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes.
  • Prohibit strikes by public employees.

Also, in a burst of equal-opportunity gay-bashing to accompanying its union bashing, the bill also includes provisions prohibiting the state from passing marriage equality legislation, including, apparently, the recognition of marriages in other states and possibly even the enactment of domestic partnership laws.

This politically driven law is very unpopular in Ohio. According to a poll released by Public Policy Polling on March 15, 2011, 63% of registered Ohio voters believe that public employees in Ohio should have the right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working environment rules.

However, Ohio voters will have the last word in protecting the state’s working families. Ohioans from all corners of the state are already gearing up for our upcoming ballot battle. We will gather approximately 231,000 Ohio voter signatures for a November 8th referendum to overturn this legislation. And we will be victorious!

We must move quickly. Stay tuned for weekly updates on how you can become involved in helping to overturn this law!

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Update from the Frontlines in Ohio: Voter ID Bill Could Affect Poor and Minority Populations

Poor and minority populations are again under attack in Ohio. With Ohioans putting all of our efforts into stopping Governor Kasich and Republican leaders from destroying workers’ rights, we’re being blindsided by a very troubling bill aimed at limiting access to the ballot box. Ohio’s new Voter ID bill, HB 159, which requires every voter to present a valid government issued photo ID in order to vote, sailed through the Ohio House of Representatives last week. This bill would put up unnecessary road blocks to the voting process and almost certainly cause mass confusion during next year’s presidential election.

Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, was Skyped in last week to testify to the Ohio House in favor of Voter ID restrictions. When asked by an Ohio legislator how many cases of voter fraud in Georgia led to the state’s Voter ID bill, he said “I don’t have a number in front of me,” adding, “It’s hard to put a number on it because you didn’t know that fraud was happening.” We then heard in-person testimony from the Deputy Secretary of State of Indiana (the same state where the current Secretary of State has been recently indicted on voter fraud). His answer to the same question was, “I can’t give you a number, however there were 2 people arrested in Indiana for voter fraud and no evidence of dead people voting.”

It costs between $21.75 and $25.75 to obtain an Ohio driver’s license. Should you need to purchase a birth certificate in order to get a drivers license, there’s an additional cost of $21.50. Paying somewhere between $40 and $50 is an unnecessary burden for many Ohioans in this uncertain economy. Imagine having to choose between paying for a state identification in order to vote and paying an overdue utility bill before disconnection. That’s not the kind of choice Americans should have to make.

In addition, racial minorities, the working poor, students and people with disabilities are twice as likely to lack a non-expired government photo ID.

In 2005, Ohio passed a law that imposed stricter ID requirements than federal law. Now, Ohio may become the most restrictive voting state in the country since this bill does not even permit voters to produce other forms of identification found to be acceptable in states that require identification. This bill would have national implications, considering Ohio’s historical position as “the” deciding state when determining the outcome of Presidential elections.

Shouldn’t we be making voting more accessible instead of making it restrictive and exclusive to a select group of people? The Republican Secretary of State doesn’t even support this bill, so why is the legislature pushing it through? The answer one Republican House member gave is, “Because we can.” As Ohio Representative Mike Foley put it, "There were 3,956,245 votes cast in the 2010 general election and there was one instance of voter fraud out of all of these votes cast. So we’re looking to spend somewhere in the $10-20 million range to deal with a .00000025 percent problem." With an $8 billion budget shortfall, we should be seeking ways to spend less money, particularly on a problem that doesn’t exist.

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Does Holding Banks Accountable Count as “Terrorism”? Glenn Beck Thinks it Does.

This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.

I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:

Like a lot of people, he feels the financial system got off too easy in the crisis. They created the mess, but unlike the millions of foreclosed homeowners and newly unemployed workers, they’ve come out mostly unscathed. It’s still very, very good to be a banker in this country. It’s not good at all to be underwater on your house. And he’s got a plan for changing that.

Union types are always looking for “leverage.” Leverage is what I have that gives me power over you. And Lerner thinks he’s identified the point of leverage that workers and homeowners and students have over the financial system. “What does the other side fear most?” Lerner asked. “They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich.” To do so, he wants to see a campaign of disruption and strategic default led by community-activist groups and aimed at J.P. Morgan Chase.

As Lerner sees it, once there’s leverage, once the banks are scared, there can be a settlement. What sort of settlement? Lerner gives a couple of examples in his talk. “You” — meaning banks in general, and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular — “reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We could make them do that.”

You may or may not agree with the wisdom of Lerner’s idea. But would you call it “terrorism”? Glenn Beck would, and has now chosen Lerner to be the newest anchor point in his vast liberal conspiracy theory, saying that the labor leader is plotting to commit “economic terrorism" by “collaps[ing] the system.”

People For’s legal department looked into what our laws actually say about domestic terrorism and, needless to say, it's not even a close question. There’s no danger to human life involved here. And there’s certainly no effort to intimidate the civilian population or the government.

In fact, under Beck’s definition of terrorism as advocating for peaceful economic disruption, he himself should be investigated. As Media Matters has pointed out, Beck himself has more than once advocated “taking down” or “resetting” our entire financial system—a much more sweeping economic action than the targeted protests Lerner is advocating.

The corporate-funded right wing has made it clear in the last few months that they will not tolerate working people who want to take on big corporations. In Wisconsin and Ohio, teachers and police officers and other public workers have been demonized for fighting to their right to organize, while corporations continue to get massive tax breaks and hold a huge amount of sway over elections.

In their world, the millions of Americans who suffered from the financial crisis—people like Charlie Engle—are the criminals, and the people who try to organize working Americans are “terrorists.” That topsy-turvy view of justice and power is unsettling, to say the least.
 

UPDATE: Lerner responds to Beck in The Nation:

So that was it: Beck, right-wingers and Wall Street sympathizers went ballistic because they knew the ideas I talked about are far from being a secret leftist conspiracy; in fact, they’re in sync with the thinking of most Americans. In my talk, I raised a very simple yet powerful idea: that homeowners, students, citizens and workers should make the same practical decisions Wall Street and corporate CEOs make every day—they should reject bad financial deals.


PFAW

Boehner Takes a Hit from the Right on DC Vouchers

House Speaker John Boehner took a hit yesterday in, of all places, the conservative Washington Examiner, a newspaper owned by the same folks who own the conservative Weekly Standard. Columnist Harry Jaffee slammed the Speaker for his plans to impose a reinvigorated private school voucher program on the District of Columbia. Jaffe states he is neutral on the issue of private school vouchers in general, but "with one caveat: The scholarships should not be used for parochial school tuition. And that is exactly where they have been going."

The Founding Fathers must be frowning on House Speaker John Boehner; you can almost envision the furrow on Thomas Jefferson's brow.

How could this fine conservative lawmaker from Ohio, who often cloaks himself in the Constitution, go on a crusade to give federal funds to D.C.'s Catholic schools? What happened to the separation of church and state?

Why is this a church-state issue? Because the vouchers are overwhelmingly used for religious education. In fact, the Department of Education reports that about 80% of the participating students have used the voucher to attend religious schools. Although the program may not expressly favor religious schools over others, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief to think that that's not one of the goals of the program's proponents.

Jaffe ties the program directly to Boehner's upbringing.

So let's not let Boehner kid anyone. He's a good Catholic, attended Catholic schools in Cincinnati, has raised funds for D.C.'s Catholic schools, reads to their students, invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl to the State of the Union. His bill is a subsidy, plain and simple.

Catholic schools provide a strong education, build character and give poor kids a way out. No doubt. In Chicago and other cities, Catholic congregations support vibrant school systems. The truth is that D.C.'s Catholic community can no longer finance more than a few schools, which is why Wuerl turned seven into charter schools.

When John Boehner attended Archbishop Moeller High in Cincinnati, his parents split the cost with the local parish. When his brothers attended, Boehner helped.

That's the American way, where congregations and families helped their own get religious education. That's the way Thomas Jefferson saw it, at least.

Indeed, that is the American Way. But apparently it's not John Boehner's way.

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School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

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Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS Blasts Unions in Misleading Ad

A shadowy political organization founded by Karl Rove is spending $750,000 to run a nationwide ad blasting workers and their collective bargaining rights. Crossroads GPS is a pro-corporate group with a history of using misleading if not outright false claims to attack Democrats and progressive causes. The organization does not disclose its donors but NBC News found that “a substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls.”

Now, the group is out with an ad trashing organized labor on cable news in light of attempts to cut the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Idaho. Crossroads GPS asserts that public employees are overpaid, however, a study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio actually “earn lower wages than comparable private sector employees.”

Crossroads GPS isn’t the only shadowy pro-corporate group to support the GOP’s war on organized labor.

Americans for Prosperity, an organization closely tied to the Koch Brothers, is vigorously supporting Republican union-busting and unfairly blames public workers for the country’s budget problems. Like Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity doesn’t disclose its donors and advocates for the agenda of corporate special interests.

As People For president Michael Keegan writes, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United has empowered groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity to secretly use corporate money to fund pro-corporate causes:

What is perhaps most troubling about the post-Citizens United flood of corporate money in politics is the free rein it has given for corporations to hide behind front groups to run misleading ads without ever being held accountable for their content. Americans for Prosperity is now employing the same tactics it used to smear health care reform in key House districts in its ad campaign against Wisconsin unions. Like in its ads falsely claiming that health care reform hurt Medicare recipients, the group's ads in Wisconsin pretend to champion populist values while pushing a decidedly anti-populist agenda. The ads seek not only to misinform voters, but to blame ordinary Americans for problems they did not cause.
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As Unions Are Demonized, Corporate Power Continues To Be Left Unchecked

On The Morning Joe, Richard Haass offered his proposal to resolve the conflicts in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, where Republican governors are attempting to dismantle organized labor by stripping workers’ rights to bargain collectively for the purported reason of balancing the budget. Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations, agreed that collective bargaining is a right of workers that shouldn’t be rescinded, and went on to say that elected officials should “make a deal” with unions who represent public employees: “You can’t expect people to collectively bargain fairly with the people they are contributing to, why not make a deal with the public-sector unions,” said Haas, “going forward you can collectively bargain, but in exchange, you can’t contribute to the people you’re bargaining with. Essentially have a no political contribution to state officials, and that’s the deal.” According to Haass, this would prevent unions from “tilt[ing] the political playing field.”

If Haass believes that the unions which represent nurses, teachers, and police officers should be barred from influencing elections, will Haass and his likeminded commentators formulate a similar proposal for corporations?

As a result of Citizens United, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money from their general treasuries to fund political groups to bolster or attack candidates for office. And in states like Wisconsin, corporations can make direct contributions to the candidates, just as Koch Industries gave the maximum $43,000 to Scott Walker’s campaign.

Corporations helped finance the Republican campaign apparatus, and now their influence in lawmaking is mushrooming. “Citizens United alone did not win the 2010 elections for Republicans,” writes People For president Michael Keegan, “But the money it let loose helped ensure that those swept to power by widespread voter dissatisfaction would be eager to pander to the interests of corporations and the wealthy, and to demonize those who oppose them,” like labor unions.

Haass may claim that it’s unfair for labor unions to negotiate with officials they backed in the election, but the far more significant and serious question is: should corporations be allowed to finance the campaigns of the politicians who write their taxes, implement their regulations, and in many cases subsidize their coffers?

Just today, the “free-market” Republicans voted unanimously to maintain the tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that go to big oil companies.

As the Republican majority in the House of Representatives time and again confirms, corporate-backed politicians almost always side with corporate interests in government.

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GOP’s Corporate Backers Intent on Busting Unions, Not Solving Budget Problems

In both Wisconsin and Ohio, Republican governors are attempting to rush through legislation that would devastate workers’ rights that would in reality do little to help close their states’ budget shortfalls. Behind their proposals to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights is actually a political power play to diminish the voice of organized labor in American politics, a move sponsored by corporate interest groups.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s desire to eliminate collective bargaining has more to do with political baiting than sound fiscal policy.

For example, Walker specifically exempts the four public employee unions that endorsed his gubernatorial bid in his plan to eliminate collective bargaining. Labor law professor Paul Secunda of Marquette University called it “the worst type of favoritism there could be.” And despite his claim to be a fiscal hawk, the Governor pushed through costly corporate giveaways that jeopardized the state’s balanced budget and rejected a Republican’s compromise bill that would permit only a temporary curb on collective bargaining while preserve unions’ financial concessions.

History shows that states that stripped their public employees’ collective bargaining rights did nothing to solve their fiscal problems. Policy Matters Ohio notes that while Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri recently eliminated public workers’ bargaining rights, “the budget shortfalls of these states in 2010 ranged from 10.6 percent of general revenue fund (Indiana) to 14.5 percent (Kentucky) to 22.7 percent (Missouri), mirroring the fiscal crisis of states across the nation.”

Rather than solve the budget problems, doing away with a key right of workers only advances the agenda of the corporate interests funding Republican campaigns.

Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg looked into the ties between virulently anti-labor corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart and the radical GOP proposals in Wisconsin and Ohio:

Koch, a closely held energy and chemical company based in Wichita, Kansas, is controlled by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. Along with other corporations, Koch Industries has often opposed organized labor on regulation and free trade, Holman said. Now they see a chance to cripple unions in the name of balancing budgets, he said.

The $1.2 million in Koch support for Republican governors includes $1.1 million given to the Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $3.4 million in support of Walker, according to Common Cause, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes the governor’s proposal.

In addition, Koch gave $43,000 directly to Walker, his single largest corporate source; $11,000 to the Wisconsin Republican party; $22,000 to Kasich; and $34,000 to the Ohio Republicans.

Koch also supported the 2008 campaign of Indiana’s Daniels, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The Republican Governors Association, which received $25,000 from Koch, was the biggest source of campaign cash for Daniels, institute records show.

In addition, Americans for Prosperity spent $1.2 million in support of Republican candidates for Congress last year, Federal Election Commission records show. Koch Industries’ federal political action committee contributed $1.3 million to candidates for the 2010 elections, 90 percent of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Bentonville, Arkansas, subject of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, also contributed to the campaigns of Walker and Daniels, and donated more than $340,000 to the Republican Governors Association for the 2010 elections, according to the Internal Revenue Service and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
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Thomas and Scalia, the Commerce Clause, and the Healthcare Law

Justices Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, issued an interesting dissent yesterday to the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a challenge to a federal law making it a federal crime for a convicted felon to buy, own, or possess body armor (such as a bullet-proof vest) that had ever been sold in interstate or international commerce, even if the felon himself did not obtain it through interstate or international commerce. Congress passed the law as an exercise of the power granted it by the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

The rejected challenge in Alderman v. U.S. asserted that Congress had gone beyond the power granted to it by the Commerce Clause - the same argument that opponents of the landmark healthcare reform legislation have made. Since the constitutionality of the healthcare law under the Commerce Clause will likely be decided by the Supreme Court, Thomas and Scalia's dissent in this case may be a window into how they will rule in that case.

The Los Angeles Times gives one interpretation of the Court's decision:

The Supreme Court may not be so anxious to rein in Congress' broad power to pass regulatory laws under the Constitution's commerce clause, the key point of dispute in the pending court battles over President Obama's health insurance law. ...

The majority's decision, rendered without comment, could make it more difficult for those challenging health insurance reform to win court orders overturning parts of the new law. ...

Thomas referred to a pair of decisions, beginning in 1995, in which the court's conservatives, led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, sought to put clearer limits on Congress' power. ...

But since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. arrived in 2005, the court has not moved to restrain federal power.

A Justice can have any number of reasons for not wanting to hear a case — perhaps the Justice agrees with the lower court, or the issue is not important enough, or the facts of the case make it an inconvenient vehicle to discuss the legal issue, or there has not yet been enough debate among the circuit courts. As in this case, the public rarely knows why the Court voted not to grant cert.

For any of the Justices to voice their disagreement when cert is denied is unusual, and it suggests that they feel strongly about the issue at stake. In the body armor case, Justices Thomas and Scalia wrote:

Today the Court tacitly accepts the nullification of our recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence. Joining other Circuits, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [uses reasoning that] threatens the proper limits on Congress' commerce power and may allow Congress to exercise police powers that our Constitution reserves to the States. ...

[The lower courts’ interpretation of the Commerce Clause] seems to permit Congress to regulate or ban possession of any item that has ever been offered for sale or crossed state lines. Congress arguably could outlaw the theft of a Hershey kiss from a corner store in Youngstown, Ohio, by a neighborhood juvenile on the basis that the candy once traveled to the store from Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Such an expansion of federal authority would trespass on traditional state police powers. We always have rejected readings of the Commerce Clause and the scope of federal power that would permit Congress to exercise a police power.

While the dissent addresses this case alone, the fact that they issued it may reflect a strong desire to limit the scope of the Commerce Clause across the board. That would likely have an impact on the healthcare case when it reaches the Supreme Court. It may also signal their willingness to strike down acts of Congress that would unquestionably have been found constitutional in the past.

Historically, the Commerce Clause has been one of the most powerful tools that the American people have to impose reasonable regulations on giant corporations — and to hold them accountable when they do wrong. Justices Thomas and Scalia have been reliable supporters of Big Business on the Corporate Court. Any narrowing of the scope of the Commerce Clause needs to be viewed with caution.

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Imminent attack on the DC Delegate's vote in the Committee of the Whole House

Today, the DC Delegate has a vote in the Committee of the Whole House.

Tomorrow, this partial right to vote – the only direct representation DC has had on the House floor in its entire history – will likely be revoked by House Republicans as they approve the House Rules of the 112th Congress. Speaker-designate Boehner needs to hear from you that this is unacceptable. From DC Vote:

On January 5, in the first hours of the 112th Congress, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will likely silence the DC Delegate's voice in the Committee of the Whole House.

Call the incoming Speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner (R-OH) TODAY at 202.225.6205 and ask him to retain this important piece of DC's participation in the House.

Sample Call Script:

My name is ______ and I'm calling to ask Congressman Boehner [BAY-ner] to retain the DC Delegate vote in the Committee of the Whole.

DC residents pay full federal taxes, fight in wars and serve on juries, but have no voting representative.

It's taxation without representation. The Committee of the Whole is the only voice DC has when all the members of the House meet.

Please tell Congressman Boehner to retain the DC Delegate vote.

Once you've called, please ask friends and family (especially in Ohio) to call also.

For a historical timeline of the District Delegate position, click here.

As Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) noted following last November’s elections:

The opportunity to vote in committees, now including the Committee of the Whole, is significant to the American citizens who live in the nation's capital and pay full federal taxes annually to support our federal government.

Maintaining the DC Delegate’s vote in the Committee of the Whole House is an important part of long-standing efforts to fully enfranchise our nation’s capital. Call now. 202-225-6205

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Breaking news: House passes DADT repeal, sends bill to Senate

On a 250-175 vote, the House just passed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action issued the following statements:

 

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

“The House has once again stood with the American people, the leaders of our military, and our men and women in uniform in voting to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The minority of Republican senators who are fighting to save this discriminatory and failed policy have resorted to far-fetched arguments and procedural excuses in their efforts to stall the process of repeal. Secretary of Defense Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen have spoken clearly and eloquently about the need for immediate repeal, and more than 60 senators have said they will listen to their advice. It’s now time for the Senate to put aside excuses, and do what’s right for the military and the country.”

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Ministers in Action, added:

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell forces men and women serving this country to make compromises with the values of honor, integrity, faithfulness and service. Until the policy is repealed, gay and lesbian service members will continue to be forced to lie about their identities in order to serve their country. Gay and lesbian individuals are ready and willing to step up, and have stood up to the challenge of military service. They share in the sacrifices made by their family, friends, and neighbors. During this season of giving, give what they deserve - to serve honestly and openly with dignity.”

Repeal now goes to the Senate, where we need your help to make sure that the bill is taken up, passed, and sent to the President’s desk. Call now! (202) 224-3121

PFAW and AAMIA have already sent letters to the Senate urging the same.

From the PFAW letter:

Nationwide polls and the Pentagon’s own working group have shown strong support for the right of servicemembers to serve their country openly and honestly. We ask you to make open service a priority by casting your vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

From the AAMIA letter:

There is a time and a season for every activity, every purpose. Now is the time, this is the season to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I know there’s been a lot of confusing procedural wrangling lately, but the time is now. The Senate must take up the House bill. It must be sent to the President’s desk. Call (202) 224-3121.

On a personal note, one of the newspapers in my alma mater’s hometown recently published an editorial on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act. Please click here to read Terry Smith’s piece in the Athens News.

PFAW

GOP Leaders Get Back to Basics: Art Censorship!

In case you were thinking it’s been too long since we’ve had some good, old fashioned censorship from Republican leaders, worry no longer.

House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday called for the dismantling of an exhibit in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery after they learned that it contains video of a Jesus statue with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with strongly sexual themes.

Titled "Hide/Seek," the exhibit is slated to run from Oct. 30 to Feb. 13. The conservative website CNS News.com first alerted the two Republican leaders to its content.

Yes, instead of getting the economy back on track or trying to make sure families have access to quality health care, GOP leaders have decided to go after an 11 second clip in a 30 minute video in an exhibit not paid for with tax dollars.

But hey, maybe it was disruptive, designed purely to shock and offend. Maybe there were riots in the street of appalled arts patrons who were disgusted by what they saw.

Sullivan says the museum has heard from people all over the country, but no visitors who have seen the piece inside the exhibit have complained.

Or maybe the GOP isn’t just trying to inflame passions to score political points. Maybe they’re so convinced that taxpayer money shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near expressive content, because someone could be offended by the content. If that’s that case, they’ll probably be lining up to oppose this project.

Operators of the popular Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky are seeking state tax incentives to build a creationism theme park at a nearby site — a project that Gov. Steve Beshear officially will announce Wednesday.

Mike Zovath, senior vice president of the non-profit group Answers in Genesis, one of the partners in developing the park, said Kentucky officials have told him the proposal for state tourism-development incentives “looks good.”

Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?

So I guess it’s just a ploy to score political points by inflaming division and ignorance. Great. Glad we cleared that up.

PFAW

Still more on the voter "fraud" / voter intimidation front

Some more on the voter "fraud" / voter intimidation front:

  • Alabama’s Republican Secretary of State has offered a $5000 bounty for "information reported to her office that leads to a felony conviction of voter fraud."
  • A federal district judge has ruled that conservatives in Minnesota rallying against voter fraud cannot wear their "Please I.D. Me" buttons or their Tea Party tee-shirts in or around the polling locations, since the areas where people vote are supposed to be free of political messages.
  • Media Matters has put together a video compiling right-wing media covering questionable GOP allegations of voter fraud. Despite the little evidence that exists to support these claims, Fox News has declared that the network will continue cover voter fraud allegations "in every show."
  • Media Matters also takes a look at the voter intimidation stories that Fox News either ignores or totally distorts while playing up phony voter fraud stories.
  • Noting that “voter intimidation is a form of voter fraud,” Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is investigating the McDonald’s franchise owner who sent his employees a letter with their paychecks saying they should vote for Republican candidates if they wanted raises.
PFAW

Big Macs, and Mexicans, and Zombies! Oh my!

Reports continue to pour in of the Right Wing’s voter-fraud fraud and voter suppression related to next Tuesday’s election. Today, instead of lions, and tigers, and bears, they want you to worry about Big Macs, and Mexicans, and zombies. Oh my!

Here’s the latest.

Big Macs. Alan Schulman of Schulman Zimmerman & Associates in Canton has contacted local prosecutors regarding a disturbing handbill sent to employees at a McDonald’s franchise in Ohio. The handbill, enclosed with recent paychecks, reportedly tells employees that they must vote for a slate of Republican candidates, or else. “[If] the right people are elected, we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not.”

Mexicans. We’ve long heard about the vast numbers of undocumented immigrants who apparently think it’s worth risking deportation to appear at a polling place and try to vote. Now, apparently, the claim is that Mexicans are being bused across the southern border to sway the election in favor of Democrats, in exchange for short trip and a free meal. At least that’s what Jesse Kelly (R) wants you to believe (scroll down for audio). Kelly is challenging US Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford (D) for Arizona’s 8th District.

Zombies. This might just be the best yet. Did you know that zombies are voting? The Tea Party Paranormal Society – you heard me right, the Tea Party Paranormal Society – is dedicated to stopping zombies from voting.



They even have instructions on how to perform a Zombie Voter exorcism.

Basic Instructions to find, identify, and exorcise Zombie Voters:
    1. Go to your local municipal court house
    2. Find Clerk of Court Office
    3. Obtain a copy of the death rolls
    4. Copy names of the deceased potential voters going back at least 2 election cycles
    5. Upon completion of this project notify media that you are in possession of the names of all deceased potential voters in the area
    6. Provide a copy list to appropriate conservative representative and/or poll watchers, and instruct them of the legal process in your jurisdiction on how to challenge a fraudulent vote (information obtained from commissioner of elections, registrar, or other appropriate authority from your state)
    7. Document everything and get video if possible

Happy Halloween!

In other news:

      • AZ secretary of state debunks right wing voter-fraud conspiracy theory
      • Elderly Black Voters Allegedly Intimidated At Their Homes In Texas
      • True The Vote Documents Show Hidden Donations, Republican Ties
      • New Mexico voter registration forms are fraudulently altered - by Republicans

 

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud

"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.

When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:

Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."

Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.

First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has

analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.

Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that

[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.

Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:

  • In Illinois, Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk inadvertently disclosed his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to two predominately African-American neighborhoods of Chicago and two other urban areas of Illinois with significant minority populations "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
  • In Houston, Texas, Tea Party poll watchers claiming to be preventing voter fraud have been accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway. The most aggressive poll watching has been at African American and Latino precincts. The Department of Justice is investigating.
  • In Wisconsin, Tea Party groups, the pro-corporate Americans for Prosperity, and the state GOP have been involved in a vote caging operation that seeks to challenge the eligibility of minority and student voters. In addition, dozens of billboards are being put up showing people behind bars with an ominous warning that voter fraud is a felony.
  • The West Virginia Republican Party plans to send "ballot security teams" to all of the state's fifty-five counties in search of "illegal activity" at the polls.
  • In Minnesota, a coalition of Tea Party and other right wing groups is offering a $500 reward for information leading to voter fraud convictions, an inducement that may encourage voter harassment.
  • In Indiana and elsewhere, Republicans and allies are photographing voters at early voting locations.
  • Michelle Malkin went on Fox News to discuss what the far right media outlet described as "reports of voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office." Malkin poured oil on the fire by claiming that "We are all voter fraud police now," accusing progressives of trying to win elections "by any means necessary."

This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.

These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.

Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.

Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.

Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.

In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.

PFAW

When Even Disclosure Rules Fail

527 “Super PACs” are permitted to explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate running for office, but are required to disclose their contributors. In the case of Citizens for a Working America PAC, which can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals, the “Citizens” represent just one group: an organization called “New Models.”

According to its FEC filing, New Models is the PAC’s single donor. Citizens for a Working America’s lone expenditure was $250,000 for ads opposing South Carolina Democrat John Spratt, and the PAC raised $255,000 from New Models, a 501(c)4 that does not disclose its donors. Therefore, Citizens for a Working America’s only “Citizen” is not a citizen at all, but a 501(c)4 firm that claims to specialize in political communication.

The Sunlight Foundation profiles the connection between a top Republican consultant, pro-GOP political groups (including Sarah Palin’s leadership PAC), and Citizens for a Working America:

According to records kept by the Virginia Secretary of State, the president and treasurer of New Models is Tim Crawford. According to reports published earlier this year, Crawford was also involved in a shadowy political advertising campaign in Ohio. His firm was the sole funder of a $1.5 million anti-slot machine campaign. People involved in the case in Ohio charged that New Models was a front organization bankrolling the political agendas of certain powerful players.

Crawford is also listed as the treasurer of Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee, SarahPAC. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, SarahPAC made a $3,500 contribution to Republican candidate Mick Mulvaney--who's running against Spratt in South Carolina.

Including Citizens for a Working America PAC, Spratt has been targeted by seven outside groups. Club for Growth, an organization that's supported Tea Party candidates, has spent $209,000 opposing the South Carolinian Democrat. According to TransparencyData.com, the group has also contributed $1,000.00 to Mulvaney.

Mulvaney is also a recipient of $2,000 from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has supported Tea Party-backed candidates.

Sen. DeMint has not only contributed to help Mulvaney win along with Club for Growth and SarahPAC, but has received money for his own campaign from those groups as well. Club for Growth is DeMint’s top contributor giving him almost $150,000 since 2005. He's received $2,500 from SarahPAC.

To date, $1.6 million has been spent to oppose Spratt’s bid for re-election. Citizens for a Working America has spent $250,000.
PFAW

Naming Rights for Republican Candidates

In the world of sports, corporate sponsorship has increasingly become associated with naming rights. That's why we now have the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Discover Orange Bowl, and the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.

But why limit this to the world of sports? Perhaps it's time for Americans to recognize the corporate sponsorship of Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail by using corporate sponsorship names.

The only catch, of course, is that the megacorporations that are spending unprecedented amounts of campaign cash are hiding their identities in the shadows. Fortunately, though, we know the organizations who are laundering the money for them.

So if the elections go as the Republicans and their corporate sponsors hope, we may well soon be talking about Sen. Club For Growth Buck of Colorado and Sen. Club For Growth Johnson of Wisconsin.

For those who appreciate a little foreign influence in their elections – and on their elected officials – perhaps the people of Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois corporations will see their interests represented by a Sen. Chamber of Commerce Blunt, Sen. Chamber of Commerce Coates, and Sen. Chamber of Commerce Kirk.

Of course, we shouldn't forget the hard work that Karl Rove has been doing to hide the unprecedented deluge of corporate campaign cash from the American public. So we may soon be welcoming Sen. American Crossroads Fiorina of California, Sen. American Crossroads Paul of Kentucky, Sen. American Crossroads Portman of Ohio, and Sen. American Crossroads Ayotte of New Hampshire.

As any sports fan knows, the fights over naming rights can be quite expensive. So should Harry Reid lose his race for reelection, there may well be a bidding war over whether Nevada will be represented by Sen. American Crossroads Angle, Sen. Club For Growth Angle, or Sen. Americans For New Leadership & Liberty Angle.

Alternatively, Americans can show up to the polls to fulfill the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

PFAW