Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

LGBT Community Speaks Out Against Gold’s Gym

Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads has received millions of dollars in funding from TRT Holdings and its owner, Robert Rowling. TRT Holdings under Rowling’s leadership owns the companies Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym. TRT Holdings donated $2,341,000 to American Crossroads, and Rowling himself gave the pro-GOP group $2.5 million. As reported in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS plan to spend well-over $50 million to elect Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Now, activist Michael Jones, through the online community Change.org, is calling on consumers to hold Gold’s Gym accountable for the company’s substantial donations to the pro-corporate, right-wing political organization.

After criticizing Target and Best Buy for contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Minnesota political organization that supports a staunchly anti-gay candidate for Governor, supporters of LGBT equality are now attacking Gold’s Gym and its parent company, TRT Holdings. Most of the candidates American Crossroads supports also have astoundingly anti-gay and anti-equality opinions and records.

Jones has launched a petition that calls out Gold’s Gym, which “markets and caters to LGBT customers,” for using money from their corporate accounts to effectively support candidates “who want to take away civil rights for LGBT Americans.” Jones writes:

Who would have thought that giving money to Gold's Gym could have such ugly consequences for the LGBT community?

Among the candidates that the owner of Gold's Gym is working to elect include Nevada GOP senate candidate Sharron Angle, who is challenging Sen. Harry Reid. Angle, you might recall, has previously said that women who are raped should turn their lemons into lemonade, and that LGBT people should be barred from adopting children. And that's only the tip of iceberg. In years past, Sharron Angle put her blessing behind an insert that went out to voters that said homosexuality would lead to the destruction of the United States, and called gay people "sodomites" and "perverts." She even endorsed a statement that said there was no evidence to suggest homosexuality was biological, and that scientists who argue otherwise are flawed.

Thanks, Gold's Gym!

But Sharron Angle isn't the only candidate that American Crossroads is supporting. There's also Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri, who is currently running for an open U.S. Senate seat in the state. Blunt has a whopping 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to legislation focused on the LGBT community, and has voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and in favor of banning gay adoptions in Washington, D.C. And in his current campaign for U.S. Senate, he's made the preservation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a hot issue, suggesting that if he loses his race, DOMA will die and gay people will be allowed to get married all over the country. Ah, the horror!

Once again, thank you, Gold's Gym.

American Crossroads also supports Colorado’s Ken Buck, who said that homosexuality was a “choice…like alcoholism,” and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who believes that gay and lesbian couples should not have the right to adopt children, among other anti-equality Republicans.

Now, four Gold’s Gyms in the San Francisco Bay Area just released a statement saying that they will leave the Gold’s Gym brand as a response to TRT Holding’s political donations.

In the end, corporations should not just face petitions from consumers to stop financing political groups, but should be restricted from spending money in elections in general. Nine in ten Americans want “clear limits on how much money corporations can spend to influence the outcome of an election,” and Gold’s Gym and other companies should know that the public does not want them using their money from their general treasuries to influence elections.

 

PFAW

Americans Still Oppose Court’s Citizens United Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extremely Extreme Extremism Update

With Election Day fast approaching, tens of millions of dollars from corporations flooding the airwaves each week and seemingly endless news stories about apathy in the Democratic base, right-wing candidates are getting more brazen -- advancing ever more extreme positions and spreading outright lies.

Sharron Angle, the Republican running to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, told a crowd that Dearborn, Michigan and a town named Frankford, Texas are under Islamic Sharia Law. Utter nonsense. The statement earned her a strong rebuke from the Mayor of Dearborn and it turns out that Frankford, TX doesn't even exist!

Rand Paul, running for Senate in Kentucky, now supports ending the income tax in favor of a more regressive national sales tax that would hit the poor and middle class far more harshly than the income tax. After saying a few months back that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and making controversial statements about mining and the BP oil spill, Paul's handlers have tried hard to keep his extremism under wraps. But for someone as "out there" as Rand Paul, that's hard to do for very long.

In a debate on Wednesday night, Tea Party favorite and Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, perpetuating an attack that has been thoroughly discredited, accused her Democratic opponent Chris Coons of being a Marxist, based on Coons' tongue-in-cheek comment in an article he wrote as a student. On a roll, O'Donnell launched into a rant that included attacks on Coons for things he never said and completely fabricated declarations about the "tenets" of Marxism.

These are just some of this week's salvos from the right-wing Rogue's Gallery of Senate candidates -- let's not forget some of the past gems from Tea Party candidates. Sen. Russ Feingold's opponent in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, is such an extreme pro-corporate ideologue that he tries to push the notion that global warming is caused by sunspots in order to cover for corporate polluters... he also wants to drill for oil in the Great Lakes and even fought against protections for victims of child abuse on the grounds that it would be bad for business.

But the worst of the bunch has to be Colorado's GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck. When he was a county D.A., he refused to prosecute a rape that the accused essentially admitted he had committed. Instead, Buck chose to blame the victim, calling her charges a case of "buyer's remorse." Perhaps most disturbingly, it appears his statement and inaction might have been retribution for what some claimed was an abortion the victim had a year before (despite the victim's claim that she had a miscarriage). Keep in mind this is a man who is against legal abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and apparently agrees with Sharron Angle that rape victims who become pregnant as a result of their assault should make "lemonade" out of "what was really a lemon situation."

If this weren't enough, this week an interview from March reemerged in which the "get rid of government no matter what the cost" Buck actually came out in favor of privatizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Imagine the CDC privatized -- the profit motive being the sole determination for whether the Center might act to save millions of lives... or let millions suffer or even die.

This is what extremism looks like. These could be the new people making our laws.

But it's not too late. We can Stamp Out Extremism. Please, this election, dig deep, speak out and get involved.

The latest poll numbers have progressive Democrat Joe Sestak ahead of pro-corporate extremist Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race for the first time... Colorado is a very tight race and our endorsed candidate Michael Bennet is in position to defeat Buck with enough of our help... the progressive Senate candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, is running very close and could actually beat Republican Rand Paul because of his extremism... and we are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate and stop the radically right-wing Ron Johnson. We are in the process right now of producing ads for all of these states and more, and finalizing our field plan to get out the vote.

Please stay tuned for more on those products and activities, and, in the meantime, help spread around our resources, like our "Rogues Gallery" report, which calls out the GOP's extremist Senate candidates, and our "After Citizens United" report, which exposes the corporate front groups that are trying to buy this election for the Republicans.

UPDATE: Jed Lewison at Kos highlights right-wing candidates attacks on the miminum wage:

As Joan McCarter (here, here, and here) and DemFromCT (here) have documented, in the past few weeks leading Republican candidates have come out against the minimum wage, either calling for it to be lowered or for eliminating it altogether because they think it's unconstitutional. And now West Virginia GOP Senate nominee Joe Raese is once again vowing to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act which established the minimum wage.

The key thing about the GOP position is that it's not just the minimum wage that they want to get rid of. They want to nuke virtually every law and regulation that protects workers. And that includes another provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act: overtime pay.

UPDATE 2: Tea Party House candidate in California's 11th Congressional District, David Harmer, wants to abolish public schools. Sharron Angle and others want to do away with the Department of Education, but Harmer's position could be an even more extreme attack on public education. Harmer is leading progressive incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in the polls...

PFAW

National Bullies

Today, Kyle at Right Wing Watch reported on the unsurprisingly hate-filled reaction of the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer to a rash of suicides by young people have been bullied for being gay. Fischer puts the blame for these deaths not on hate-mongers like himself who spend their lives stirring up anti-gay sentiments, but on support groups like GLSEN that try to make life easier for gay teens:

If we want to see fewer students commit suicide, we want fewer homosexual students. What all truly caring adults will want to do for a student struggling with his sexual identity is to help him resist dangerous sexual impulses, accept his biological identity as either male or female, and help him learn to adjust his psychological identity to his God-given biological one.

Along that path lies psychological, spiritual, mental and emotional wholeness. Along the path of sexual depravity lies loneliness, self-torment, disease, and even death. It is a cruel thing to help a sexually confused student walk down a path that leads to darkness rather than urge him to choose a path that leads to light.

Fischer, as we’ve noted, is an unapologetic extremist on issues from gay rights to whale-stoning, but his response to this issue is essentially the same as that of much more prominent right-wing leaders. Fischer boils their “solution” to anti-gay bullying down to its head-in-the-sand conclusion: gay kids wouldn’t be bullied if there weren’t any gay kids. This is essentially what Family Research Council president and occassional Fischer buddy Tony Perkins said in a largely fact-free (not to mention compassion-free) op-ed in the Washington Post’s On Faith section yesterday:

However, homosexual activist groups like GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) are exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda of demanding not only tolerance of homosexual individuals, but active affirmation of homosexual conduct and their efforts to redefine the family.

There is an abundance of evidence that homosexuals experience higher rates of mental health problems in general, including depression. However, there is no empirical evidence to link this with society's general disapproval of homosexual conduct. In fact, evidence from the Netherlands would seem to suggest the opposite, because even in that most "gay-friendly" country on earth, research has shown homosexuals to have much higher mental health problems.

Within the homosexual population, such mental health problems are higher among those who "come out of the closet" at an earlier age. Yet GLSEN's approach is to encourage teens to "come out" when younger and younger--thus likely exacerbating the very problem they claim they want to solve.

Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal--yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are "born gay" and can never change. This--and not society's disapproval--may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.

Glenn Beck University “professor” David Barton also embraced this causality-reversed view of these tragic suicides when he offered up the higher rate of suicides among gays and lesbians as proof that homosexuality is inherently unhealthy—and should therefore be eliminated.

These illogical public health pronouncements would be laughable if they weren’t contributing to a very real tragedies. The mother of a boy who committed suicide after falling victim to anti-gay bullying, wrote a response to Perkins in the Washington Post today:

If schools perceive addressing anti-gay bullying as a controversial issue, then they'll continue the status quo of putting their heads in the sand and hoping the issue takes care of itself.

It won't. And we need to be clear on one thing - addressing anti-gay bullying is not a controversial issue. If you move through the smoke screen organizations like Family Research Council try to create, you realize addressing anti-gay bullying is simply the right thing to do if we care about all of our young people.

Fischer may be an extremist’s extremist, but right-wing leaders echoing his harmful message are no less dangerous. And when future presidential candidates gather with people like Fischer and Perkins, they ensure that their messages of hate will keep on trickling down to vulnerable, ostracized kids. If what Fischer, Perkins, and Barton are doing isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is.
 

PFAW

American Future Fund’s Ethanol Industry Ties

In PFAW’s report “After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics,” we looked into the Iowa-based American Future Fund which is spending millions of dollars attacking Democrats across the country. The AFF was founded by former GOP staffer Nick Ryan, whose lobbyist firm has ties to Big Agriculture, especially Iowa’s large ethanol industry. The group’s director, Katherine Polking, also works for Ryan’s lobby firm, the Concordia Group, and the AFF paid Ryan’s firm $300,000 for consulting fees.

Now, the New York Times reports that while Ryan’s Concordia Group lobbies on behalf of the ethanol industry, Ryan’s American Future Fund received its seed money from Bruce Rastetter, the “chief executive of one of the nation’s larger ethanol companies, Hawkeye Energy Holdings.” As a 501c4 organization, the AFF does not have to disclose the sources of its funding, and in this case Rastetter’s lawyer confirmed his connections to the group. Now Ryan, a “lobbyist for four Rastetter businesses,” receives money to attack Democrats with ties to agriculture policy: “Of the 14 ‘liberal’ politicians singled out in a list [the AFF] released last month, nearly every incumbent sits on a panel with a say over energy or agriculture policy. Five sit on the Agriculture Committee; four others are on related committees with say. One candidate was a staff member on a related panel.”

When Bruce Braley, a Congressman in the crosshairs of AFF attacks, tried to visit the AFF, he “found only a rented mailbox.” The proliferation of shadowy, pro-corporate groups like the American Future Fund is a result of the substantial weakening of campaign finance laws:

The American Future Fund, organized under a tax code provision that lets donors remain anonymous, is one of dozens of groups awash in money from hidden sources and spending it at an unprecedented rate, largely on behalf of Republicans. The breadth and impact of these privately financed groups have made them, and the mystery of their backers, a campaign issue in their own right.

Through interviews with top Republican contributors and strategists, as well as a review of public records, some contours of this financing effort — including how donors are lured with the promise of anonymity — are starting to come into view.



The surge of anonymous money is the latest development in corporate America’s efforts to influence the agenda in Washington, following rules enacted several years ago banning large, unregulated gifts to political parties. Democrats first established so-called third-party groups that could legally accept unlimited money from business and unions, though most had to disclose donors. Now, as new laws and a major Supreme Court decision have removed barriers to corporate giving, Republican operatives have embraced the use of nonprofit issue groups that can keep donors’ identities secret.
PFAW

Record Spending in September by Outside Groups

The Center for Responsive Politics has tabulated the spending totals of outside groups from September to the beginning of October, revealing such enormous spending levels that third-party organizations are even spending more than the candidates themselves. Of the top ten biggest spenders in September, nine are pro-corporate groups and eight of them uniformly back Republican candidates. Spencer MacColl of CRP reports that “since September 1, identifiably conservative groups have spent $25.8 million, liberal groups $5.6 million,” and Ben Smith of Politico notes that pro-GOP groups have spent $43.6 million since August. In fact, pro-GOP organizations have spent more than the campaigns of four Republican candidates for Senate on their own races, outspending the campaign committees of Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Dino Rossi in Washington. To learn more about the increasingly powerful outside organizations, read PFAW’s new report: “After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics.”

 

PFAW

Kudlow to Corporate-Backed Groups: Disclose Your Funding

Yesterday, Think Progress dropped a campaign finance bombshell when it reported that the US Chamber of Commerce, which is spending tens of millions of dollars this year to run ads supporting GOP candidates in federal elections, is collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign owned businesses, including companies owned by foreign governments.

Reliable clean elections proponents, like Minnesota senator Al Franken, spoke out immediately for the FEC to investigate the Chamber’s finances. But the voices in support of campaign finance disclosure haven’t been coming only from the left.

CNBC host Larry Kudlow, a columnist for the conservative National Review, said today that groups like the Chamber and Karl Rove’s shadowy group Crossroads GPS should put their funding and spending records out in the open. According to fact sheet from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, Kudlow said:

“Why not have the media posting of the contribution information on the Internet? That's all. And let everybody decide… Who, what, when, how, where, who got it? Put it up on the net and let free speech and free politics take its work… American Crossroads and Karl Rove and all them should post also.” [10/6/10]

We reported last week on several groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, that are spending buckets of money to back pro-corporate candidates in this year’s elections, while under no obligation to disclose where their money is coming from. This spending is no small change—the Associated Press reported last week that right-wing, pro-corporate groups have outspent progressive groups 6-1 on television ads this year.

Kudlow’s call for disclosure from these big-spending groups should come as no surprise. Disclosure of campaign spending is a principle embraced by many prominent conservatives, including Justice Antonin Scalia. And when the Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled in Citizens United v. FEC to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, they did so with an important side note: they were in favor of “prompt disclosure” of the campaign spending.

Up against the reality of corporate-backed groups that will spend enormous amounts of money for their electoral benefit, however, congressional Republicans have been significantly less eager to embrace the idea of full disclosure than that of free spending.

The Chamber of Commerce, for one, seems to be solidly in the congressional Republican camp on the disclosure issue. Asked by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent about Think Progress’s allegations, a spokeswoman for the Chamber responded with a tirade against the blog, denying that the Chamber spends foreign money on electioneering—but refusing to answer any questions on just how that money is kept separate.


 

PFAW

The Crossroads Juggernaut Reaches New Heights and Receives More Scrutiny

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the sister conservative organizations that hope to raise $52 million in order to defeat Democratic candidates in 2010, is already close to spending a combined $20 million in ads. After spending an initial $14 million in ads to boost the GOP’s chances at taking control of the Senate, Crossroads is ready to spend an additional $4.2 million for ads in Senate races in Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida. Now, Mike Allen of Politico reports that the two groups will begin running ads in competitive House races shortly.

Crossroads GPS, the leading outside group airing ads in Senate races, does not have to disclose its donors since it is a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization. But as a 501(c)4, it is supposed to focus on “issue advocacy” rather than deliberately urge voters to support or oppose specific candidates for office. Now, the heads of Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center have asked the IRS to look into the group’s status, maintaining that Crossroads GPS “was organized to participate and intervene in the 2010 congressional races while providing donors to the organization with a safe haven for hiding their role.” J. Gerald Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center explains:

While the abuses of 501(c)(4) tax designation for no-fingerprint political attack ads seems rampant in this election cycle, the most blatant certainly appears to be Crossroads GPS. The group makes almost no effort at all to hide the fact that it was created principally to impact the 2010 elections, and to take money from those interested in contributing to their efforts but doing so anonymously. The IRS has a duty to ensure that groups are not violating their tax status in this election cycle, and Crossroads GPS certainly seems like a logical place to start.
PFAW

Chamber of Commerce uses Foreign Funding for Political Ads

In January President Obama in his Statue of the Union address warned Americans of the deleterious impact the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United would have on our political process:

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities.

While Justice Alito and others criticized Obama’s assertion that “foreign corporations” will be allowed to spend money in elections, ThinkProgress looked into how the Chamber utilizes its foreign branches to raise money for the $75 million it plans to spend on the 2010 election:

A ThinkProgress investigation has found that the Chamber funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding. And while the chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campign. According to legal experts consulted by ThinkProgress, the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.


In recent years, the Chamber has become very aggressive with its fundraising, opening offices abroad and helping to found foreign chapters (known as Business Councils or “AmChams”). While many of these foreign operations include American businesses with interests overseas, the Chamber has also spearheaded an effort to raise money from foreign corporations, including ones controlled by foreign governments. These foreign members of the Chamber send money either directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or the foreign members fund their local Chamber, which in turn, transfers dues payments back to the Chamber’s H Street office in Washington DC. These funds are commingled to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) account which is the vehicle for the attack ads.
PFAW

Senate Dysfunction Continues as Two Republicans Block Women's Museum

Republican obstructionism found another victim today in the senate: a bipartisan bill to sell unused land for the construction of the National Women’s History Museum has been held up in the Senate. Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have both placed holds on the bill that would sell land near the Smithsonian to the private group planning the Women’s Museum. Unless the holds are withdrawn, the Senate must go through the protracted process of holding a cloture vote, which requires the support of 60 Senators.

Even though all the preparations and finances for the museum would be privately funded, the two Republican Senators found their personal problems with the Museum to be so egregious that they are delaying the Senate’s ability to vote on the land deal. Senator DeMint, who is the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund and driving the GOP even farther to the right, believes that the Museum will be used to advance abortion-rights. Despite claims from the Museum organizers that the Museum does not intend to discuss the abortion issue, the far-right group Concerned Women for America is baselessly charging that the Museum will be biased towards the choice-activists. Of course, no one should have expected any less from DeMint, who most recently claimed that “this idea that government has to do something is not a good idea” and promised to “block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days.”

Oklahoma’s Senator Coburn’s reasons are more personal: he just doesn’t like the idea.

Gail Collins in the New York Times writes:

Coburn’s office said the senator was concerned that taxpayers might be asked to chip in later and also felt that the museum was unnecessary since “it duplicates more than 100 existing entities that have a similar mission.”

The office sent me a list of the entities in question. They include the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas and the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Washington.

There also were a number of homes of famous women and some fine small collections of exhibits about a particular locality or subject. But, really, Senator Coburn’s list pretty much proved the point that this country really needs one great museum that can chart the whole, big amazing story.

Neither Senator has a sound record on women’s issues to begin with: both support a sweeping criminalization of abortion, and Coburn even said: “I favor the death penalty for abortionists.” DeMint wants unmarried pregnant women to be banned from teaching in public schools.

But due to the combination of unprecedented Republican obstructionism with opposition to women’s rights, the National Women’s History Museum may have to wait for quite some time for the bill to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

 

PFAW

Conservative Groups Saturating the Airways

The Associated Press and the Washington Post described today what many predicated after the Supreme Court in Citizens United knocked down most restrictions on corporate spending in elections: political groups with a pro-corporate agenda and little transparency have flooded the airways.  Jim Kuhnhenn and Liz Sidoti of the AP write that “groups allied with the Republican Party and financed in part by corporations and millionaires have amassed a crushing 6-1 advantage in television spending, and now are dominating the airwaves in closely contested districts and states across the country.”   Many of these organizations, like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Job Security, can take unlimited amounts of money from both individual and corporate donors without having to disclose the sources of their funding.

In the Washington Post, Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam describe the rapid growth of so-called “super PACs.”  Such super PACs have “spent $4 million in the last week alone and are registering at the rate of nearly one per day.” The foremost super PAC today is the right-wing group American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS’ sister organization.  Although such committees must disclose their donors, “unlike regular political action committees, there are no limits on how much money can be raised or spent.  And unlike some other types of committees, super PACs can explicitly urge voters to oppose or support a candidate in an election.”

American Crossroads, which was founded by Repulican patriarchs Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, has received huge contributions from a handful of wealthy individuals and corporations.   Although they cannot coordinate with campaigns, “In two days last week, American Crossroads' super PAC reported spending $2.8 million on ads attacking Democratic candidates, including Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.), Jack Conway (Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).”   With more and more money poured into politics as a result of the Citizens United ruling, the burst in television advertising in the 2010 midterm election is just the beginning, as many of these outside groups prepare for the presidential election in 2012.

PFAW

The DISCLOSE Act's Second Chance

As Congress returns to work this month, the Senate will likely have another chance to vote on the DISCLOSE Act, legislation meant to mitigate the damage of Citizens United by requiring full disclosure of corporate spending in elections.

The House passed the DISCLOSE Act in June. In July, it sank in the Senate, when not a single Republican was willing to break a filibuster on the bill. Moderate Republicans Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, despite previous support for clean election legislation, all sided with their party to kill the bill.

In the Washington Post today, E. J. Dionne writes that the support of those three senators is key to the passage of the DISCLOSE Act—though the pressure they face to oppose it is greater than ever:

As moderate Republicans, Snowe and Collins are undoubtedly looking over their right shoulders, fearful that they may go the way of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Bob Bennett. This helps explain why they went south during negotiations over the health-care bill.

But repairing Citizens United is not an ideological question, although some cast it that way. Fiscal conservatives should be as worried as anyone about corporations using their newfound power to extract expensive special benefits from the government. Even conservatives who opposed campaign reform in the past have always insisted that they favor disclosure of campaign contributions. Disclosure is now more important than ever.

Snowe, Collins and Brown have made their careers by touting their independence. But that claim doesn't come cheap. This is the issue on which their promissory note is due.

This election cycle has already produced plenty of examples of corporations funneling money through front groups to support or smear candidates. In an ideal world, every member of Congress would stand up to corporate lobbyists and support a bill that would throw light on that murky political strategy. But at the very least, a disclosure bill should have the active support of those who profess to be independent campaign reformers.
 

PFAW

Focus on the Family Brings Sex-Ed Fight to China

While consistently pushing to marginalize and prohibit comprehensive sex-education in schools throughout the United States, Focus on the Family is now hoping to introduce flawed abstinence-only programs in China. William Wan writes in the Washington Post that Focus on the Family is gaining a significant foothold in the country:

In Yunnan schools this year, teachers are being trained with a sex education curriculum created by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The agreement with the Yunnan ministry of education is a milestone for Focus on the Family, which has struggled for four years to make inroads on abstinence in China.

But China isn’t the only country that has been the subject of Focus on the Family’s efforts:

In the past decade, Focus on the Family has found relative success with its abstinence program in other countries - notably majority Muslim nations such as Egypt and Malaysia, where its Christian brand of abstinence coincides with the teachings of Islam.

Worldwide, the group says it has reached nearly 3 million teens. Despite Focus on the Family’s new push to bring abstinence-only until marriage programs into schools across the world, abstinence-only education in the US has been an abysmal failure. A congressional report from Representative Henry Waxman found that abstinence-only programs frequently employ misleading and erroneous information about human health and contraceptives. Moreover, studies show that signers of the virginity pledge, “the hallmark of the Christian group's abstinence program,” tend to engage in sex before marriage at the same rate of those who do not sign a virginity pledge, while pledge-takers are less likely to use contraceptives or seek testing for sexually transmitted diseases. “No abstinence-only program has yet been proven through rigorous evaluation to help youth delay sex for a significant period of time, help youth decrease their number of sex partners, or reduce STI or pregnancy rates among teens,” writes Advocates for Youth. With Focus pushing unsuccessful abstinence-only curriculums abroad, Americans should be wondering why our federal government still provides $50 million to promote the fundamentally flawed and ineffective programs.

PFAW

Tom Toles is Right On

Check out this excellent Tom Toles cartoon from the Washington Post, which captures perfectly points made in PFAW President Michael B. Keegan's recent Huffington Post op-ed.

PFAW

The Tea Party and the Religious Right at "Restoring Honor"

Many political commentators suggested that the emergence of the Tea Party would diminish the foothold and clout of the Religious Right in American politics, especially within the Republican Party. Politico’s Ben Smith said that social conservative leaders mistrust and fear the rising influence of the Tea Party. David Waters, the Religion editor of the Washington Post, expressed skepticism of any alliance between “Tea Partying fiscal conservatives” and the “Christian Right,” claiming: “this is an anti-government movement, not a pro-God movement.” “So far,” Waters said, “it seems the Tea Partiers are mostly interested in reclaiming America for the Chamber of Commerce.”

But the Religious Right’s free-market ideology is tremendously consistent with the Tea Party’s pro-corporate agenda. Sharron Angle, Nevada’s Tea Party-backed Republican nominee for US Senate, believes that government programs such as Social Security and Medicare violate the Ten Commandments: “We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We're supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, a favorite of the Tea Party, expressed his fight against “big government” in religious terms: “Do you believe in the primacy of unrestrained federal government? Or do you worship the God of the universe, placing our trust in him?” Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, founder of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, is a prominent Religious Right activist, and led a prayer ceremony calling for the defeat of health care reform. Michele Goldberg notes that along with Christian Right superstar Sarah Palin, the Tea Party National Convention featured leaders such as “Rick Scarborough, Roy Moore, and Joseph Farah, men who are radical even by religious-right standards.”

The ever-present religious rhetoric of the Restoring Honor rally and the Divine Destiny reception demonstrated the use of religion to legitimize the Tea Party and justify its political goals. One speaker at Restoring Honor claimed that “we are Americans and we stand together: Black, White, Jew, Gentile, together in unity as one strong group of people of Americans, today in the name of Christ.” Rev. C. L. Jackson said that supporters should follow the “servant of God, son of God, Glenn Beck,” and another speaker called for attendees to become “covenant warriors in Christ.”

At “Divine Destiny,” Beck introduced David Barton, a frequent guest on his show, as “a true American hero.” Barton and his organization, WallBuilders, were extremely influential in the Far-Right’s rewriting of history and science curriculum in the Texas textbook controversy, and is a leading opponent of the separation of Church and State. Barton and WallBuilders promote a discredited and religious interpretation of American history that claims that the Founding Fathers meant to build a Christian nation ruled according to the Bible. Now Beck and Barton want to export the Texas textbook battle to the rest of the country in their efforts to modify American history and distort the Constitution.

One lesson from this weekend is that the political leaders of the Tea Party and Religious Right movements believe they have a shared interest in convincing Americans that their agendas represent the supposedly “original vision” of the Founding Fathers.

PFAW

Claiming the Dream: Notes from Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" Event

I wasn't able to stay for all of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally today (I missed Sarah Palin) but I was able to stop by for a significant chunk of the event.  And what an event it was.

There were a lot of people there.  Walking down from the mall, people were streaming in steadily for some time.  Once I got to the base of the Washington monument and looked down to the Lincoln Memorial, it really hit home.  There were thousands of people, filling up the area surrounding the Reflecting Pool up to the World War II Memorial, with more people camped out on the slope running up to where I was.



From my view, it was a slightly sickening distortion of the 1963 March on Washington: thousands of people praising diversity and freedom, unconcerned about their vitriol against our first African American president or about the vanishingly small number of people of color in the crowd.

But if I thought the rally was an affront to Dr. King's vision, the crowd was convinced that they represented its fulfillment.  King's name was invoked over and over again, and Beck and the other speakers repeatedly portrayed themselves as following in his footsteps.  I'm firmly convinced that few, if any, members of the crowd saw anything questionable about claiming King's legacy.

Beck's request that no one bring signs to the event was mostly followed, but I did find one gentleman walking towards the event with a Christian Flag.



Another couple had a sign calling for "One Nation Back to God."



And this person was displaying a flag of his own design, available for sale at FreedomFlag2012.com.



One of the most interesting things I saw were stickers that read "I Can See November From My House, Too!" sponsored by GOPride.org.  After seeing several people wearing the stickers, I asked where they came from.  They were being handed out at the Metro, and no one seemed to be aware they were sponsored by a conservative gay group.

PFAW

Glenn Beck: Educator? Prophet??

God is speaking through Glenn Beck... or so he and many other Religious Right figures would have us believe. Despite an historical animosity towards Mormons like Beck from the evangelicals who control the Religious Right, his efforts to become the leader of a "spiritual awakening" are being aided by Religious Right figures like David Barton, Jim Garlow and Ralph Reed.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph taken this morning by PFAW Foundation at the Kennedy Center. This is a tee shirt worn by a crowd member who showed up for tickets to the "Divine Destiny" event.

Beck's "Restoring Honor" event tomorrow will be preceded by a warm-up event at the Kennedy Center tonight called Divine Destiny. At tonight's event, Beck and others will present some good old fashioned revisionist history on "the role faith played in the founding of America." Tickets were to be distributed at 10am this morning, but so many people were already in line by 8:30pm on Thursday that tickets were gone far ahead of schedule -- talk about a "hot ticket!"

We need to seriously examine how Glenn Beck is perceived by the Right. According to a recent Democracy Corps study, among the Tea Party crowd, Beck is one of the most revered and highly regarded figures. According to the same study, Beck is more than a trusted commentator: he's an "educator." That's a chilling reminder that the hate-drenched right-wing propaganda Beck passes off as "history" is being swallowed whole by his millions of viewers and radio listeners. In Beck, the Right has added an atomic bomb to its arsenal in its war on science, history and reason. Beck insists that "progressives" -- whom he calls a "cancer" on our country -- "control the textbooks." He's an avid climate change denier. And with his attempt to "reclaim the civil rights movement" this weekend by holding a rally in the same spot as and on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, he is twisting our nation's history to serve a scary agenda.  

Just the other night Glenn Beck aggressively attacked President Obama's Christianity -- fanning the flames of bigotry at a time when a whopping 18% of Americans think the president is a Muslim and some on the Right are trying to start a new "Birther-style" movement demanding proof of Obama's baptism. Is this the spirit of Dr. King's movement Beck is talking about reclaiming? 

One would think that as someone whose own faith has come under attack, Beck would be more careful about attacking others' religion. But in the messianic light in which he sees himself, he can do no wrong and commit no hypocrisy.  

Stay tuned. People For will be covering Beck's self-aggrandizing events in Washington, DC this weekend as well as Sunday's "early 9/12" Tea Party event. 

 

PFAW

When Will it Stop Being Cool to Be an Anti-Gay Republican?

Last night, Ken Mehlman, the man who orchestrated George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign--including, we can presume, its electorally popular anti-gay positions--came out as gay himself. Mehlman says he’s now working with American Foundation for Equal Rights to advocate for marriage equality.

The National Organization for Marriage immediately attacked Mehlman for “abdicating core Republican values.” But mainstream Republicans, whose bread and butter in recent years has relied on stoking anti-gay resentments, have been for the most part supportive of Mehlman personally and silent on his new advocacy work.

That’s not surprising. Earlier this week, People For’s president, Michael B. Keegan, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post on how anti-gay politics are increasingly confined to the Republican party’s extreme-right fringe…and the fringe is beginning to see the writing on the wall:

For years, the Right has watched its anti-gay agenda lose credibility as public acceptance of gays and lesbians has steadily grown and intolerance has declined. And that trend is going strong, as young people of all political stripes are more likely to know gay people and more willing to grant them equal rights and opportunities, including the right to marriage. A CNN poll this month found that a majority of Americans think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry--the first time gay marriage dissenters had slipped solidly into the minority in a national poll. Even in California, where Proposition 8 passed on the ballot in 2008, a poll earlier this year found a majority now support same sex marriage rights. Indeed, this change is even visible on the Right, where the fight against equality is being waged by an increasingly marginalized movement. Who would have ever thought that Ann Coulter would be booted from a right-wing conference for being "too gay friendly"?

Pam Spaulding points to a piece in the Frum Forum outlining the Far Right’s panic that gay-hating is rapidly becoming passé among mainstream political conservatives:

These swift changes in the GOP from gay bashing a la Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech towards tolerance and even support of gay equality is both astonishing and alarming to elements of the far right. Several prominent social conservatives have decried these changes. WorldNetDaily Editor David Kupelian recently wrote “Much of conservatism has now morphed into libertarianism…even high profile conservative warriors seem to be abandoning the gay issue” and went on to list recent examples of gay rights making progress within the GOP such as Glenn Beck’s announcement that gay marriage presents no threat to America, Ann Coulter addressing the gay conservative group GOProud, and CPAC’s refusal to ban GOProud. Social conservative Robert Knight bemoaned the fact that Republicans are increasingly supportive of gay equality in his column “Smarter than God”; and the American Family Association’s radio host Bryan Fischer also blasted Republicans for failing to sufficiently support the anti-gay cause.

This past week the Washington Blade even published an article titled “Conservatives take the lead in marriage fight” arguing that libertarian-leaning conservatives are advancing gay rights, perhaps more so than Democrats. Who would have thought in 1992 we would one day see Republicans lauded by the gay press?

This shift toward acceptance—and away from the divisive anti-gay politics exemplified by Bush’s campaign strategy—is clearly taking place. But it’s far from over. Even if mainstream conservatives are starting to shy away from anti-gay politics, the mess that the homophobic politics of the past decades has left is still here, and still harmful. If members of the party that exploited homophobia for years to create our strongly anti-gay status quo remain silent on gay rights, they condone discrimination.

The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy still keeps gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Hundreds of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are committed each year—but all but 18 Republicans in the House and five in the Senate opposed the bill last year that expanded hate crimes laws to prevent these. 30 states have passed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage—11 of these were put on the ballot in an effort to draw voters for Bush and his fellow Republicans in 2004.

Asked by the Advocate about his role in crafting the strategy that led to those 11 constitutional amendments, Mehlman said, “I can’t change that – it is something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the future.”

Mehlman, whatever you think of his past actions, is right—there is a lot of positive work that needs to be done to undo the damaging anti-gay crusades of the past. It’s great that at least some in the Republican Party are beginning to accept gay people, or at least are refraining from being virulently homophobic. But they won’t be off the hook until they start working to actively undo the destructive policies of the past.

And, as Gabriel Arana points out, though Mehlman’s political change of heart was tied up with his own personal struggle, “you don’t have to be gay to do the right thing.”
 

PFAW