Wisconsin

Future of Public Education at Risk in Florida

Even though Florida’s initial experiment with school vouchers was ridden with cases of fraud and profiteering, Governor-Elect Rick Scott plans to drastically expand the voucher program and put the state’s public schools in his crosshairs. While a recent state-commissioned study found that “students using vouchers to attend private schools in Florida are doing no better and no worse than similar students in public schools,” the new Governor wants to expand the voucher program to include all Florida students.

Scott called for the diversion of funds from the public education system to “education savings accounts,” which families can use to pay for public, charter, private, or virtual schools. While such a plan appears innocuous on its face, the devil is in the details.

Valerie Strauss who writes on education issues for the Washington Post suggested that by encouraging students to leave public schools for private institutions, Scott’s plan would badly undercut efforts to make schools more accountable since most private schools are not subject to the same measures of public accountability, like tests and grading. Strauss maintains that “the notion that private schools would inherently be any better than a system of public schools overlooks all the key factors -- poverty being the first but not the only one -- that affect our most troubled public schools right now.”

Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones adds that “Scott’s education ‘reform’ plan seems be less about actually making Florida’s schools better and more about paying private companies to run bad ones.” Under Scott’s proposal, oversight would be seriously weakened, while private and virtual schools stand to profit immensely and at the expense of the public education system. Mencimer profiles cases of fraud and underperformance among the programs that would be given the greatest advantages under Scott’s plan, which she described as “a formula for disaster.”

The St. Petersburg Times questions how Scott would clear basic Constitutional and financial requirements. Firstly, Florida’s Supreme Court has found similar voucher programs unconstitutional before for violating the state constitution’s provision for a “uniform system of free public schools.”

Moreover, the numbers just don’t add up. Scott wants to severely reduce school property taxes and abolish corporate taxes, cutting significant revenue sources. The Times adds that since his plan entails “taking a portion of the per student funding for public schools and allowing families to spend that amount as they wish,” Scott “would not leave enough money for public education. And presumably, the hundreds of thousands of students already in private schools would receive public money as well.”

Rick Scott’s radical experiment with the Florida education system is the latest example of attacks on public schools that are taking place throughout the country. Just as Florida’s vouchers have so far proven largely ineffective, studies about voucher programs in Wisconsin and Washington D.C. also found that the programs did not come close to producing the promised benefits. In essence, Scott’s voucher plan drains money away from public schools in favor of an untested, unaccountable, and financially-questionable voucher program without any evidence that it will improve results.

PFAW

White House: Judicial Nominations are a Priority for Lame Duck

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday that pushing through stalled judicial nominations would be one of the president’s priorities in the last days of the lame duck session of Congress.

People For released a memo last week detailing why it’s important for the Senate to confirm all 38 stalled nominees immediately:

As the end of the 111th Congress approaches, 38 judicial nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee are waiting for a vote on the Senate floor. Many of the nominees have been waiting for months, while a few have been waiting for almost a year.

Of these nominees:

  • 21 (55%) have been nominated to fill emergency slots.
  • 29(76%) are women or people of color.
  • 29 (76%) came out of committee without opposition and an additional 3 came out of committee with significant bipartisan support.

There’s no question that a majority of senators will vote to confirm every one of these nominees, and it’s unlikely that any of them would fail to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles that the GOP has deployed on virtually every function the Senate has performed since President Obama took office. (This is doubly true considering that many members of the GOP have publicly asserted that filibusters of judicial nominees aren’t just wrong, but actually unconstitutional.)

Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be offering Democrats a devil’s bargain: confirm a number of the nominees that don’t have any opposition at all, but send the rest back to the White House at the end of the Congress. The group being sent back to the White House will almost certainly include four of the eminently qualified – and mainstream -- nominees who have had the misfortune of being tagged as “controversial” by Republicans:

  • Rhode Island nominee John McConnell, who has been opposed by the US Chamber of Commerce for his willingness to represent victims of lead paint poisoning.
  • Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, whose work as a judge irked business interests so much, they spent $1 million to prevent his reelection.
  • U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen, who has been attacked for his work fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • And then, of course, Ninth Circuit Appeals Court nominee Goodwin Liu. As the New York Times editorial page has pointed out, the GOP’s resistance to Liu centers mainly around the fear that he’s so qualified, he might end up on the Supreme Court.

Senator Reid and his colleagues should call Senator McConnell’s bluff and start holding cloture votes on these nominees. The process will take time, but adding time to the calendar is entirely within the Democratic leadership’s purview. By confirming McConnell, Butler, Chen, and Liu, Senators can make clear that they will fight the unprecedented and enormously damaging obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees. Walking away from these nominees delivers the confirmation process to the GOP: they’ll effectively block confirmable jurists without even having to go on record with their obstruction.

President Bush worked hard to pack the courts with far-right, Federalist Society judges. Confirming Obama’s picks will not only fill vacancies causing judicial emergencies and add much-needed diversity to the federal bench, it will prevent the federal bench from continuing to be dominated by Bush’s far-right appointments.

 

PFAW

Johnson Picks Corporate Lobbyist as Chief of Staff

The first major decision any newly-elected member of Congress makes is who will serve as his or her chief of staff. The personnel choice says a lot about the member’s personality and priorities. Off-the-charts extremist Congressman-Elect Allen West, for instance, chose off-the-charts extremist radio host Joyce Kauffman (before the “liberal left” raised some concerns about her role inciting a school shooting plot). It should come as no surprise, then, that Wisconsin Senator-Elect Ron Johnson, whose pro-corporate policies earned him plenty of corporate cash on the campaign trail, has picked a corporate lobbyist to lead his team in Washington.

Johnson’s pick, reports Express Milwaukee, is Don Kent, who after a gig at the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush Administration, “became a lobbyist at Navigators Global, where he ‘heads up the Homeland Security practice.’”:

Johnson’s choice of Kent shows that he’s trying to ingratiate himself with big defense contractors, Big Pharma and anti-worker groups.

Navigator Global’s clients include AgustaWestland North America, the world’s largest helicopter manufacturer; the Coalition of California Growers, which was fighting a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize; the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which was fighting an effort that would allow some taxpayers to file their state tax returns for free; the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, when then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was investigating the industry; Pfizer; and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which wanted to block the reimportation of Canadian drugs to bring down costs for consumers.

Plenty of people—including members of Congress—go in and out of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street. But Johnson’s choice makes a clear statement about the difference between him and his predecessor, Russ Feingold. Feingold has been one of the Senate’s strongest champions of clean elections and transparent government, and wrote the campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. In the first election after Citizens United, Johnson benefitted from a flood of outside money, some from pro-corporate groups, to unseat Feingold.

It’s one of the first signs that the corporate interests that funded Tea Party candidates across the country are going to get what they paid for.

Via The Awl
 

PFAW

Former Bush Lawyer: Stop Partisan Bickering and Confirm Liu

The Blog of the Legal Times is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to call Senate Republicans on their obstruction of judicial nominees and break the gridlock that has kept four of these nominees pending, in some cases for over a year. Reid will attempt to stop the Republican filibuster of Ninth Circuit nominees Goodwin Liu and Edward Chen, Rhode Island District Court nominee John McConnell, and Wisconsin District nominee Louis Butler. 

This is a critical moment for these nominees, who despite support from their home-state senators and endorsements across the ideological spectrum, have for various reasons been branded as “too extreme” by obstructionist Republicans in the Senate. McConnell has been up against an expensive lobbying campaign from the Chamber of Commerce, which objects to his work as a public interest lawyer representing victims of lead paint poisoning. Butler has been up against business interests who don’t think he was friendly enough to them when he was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Chen was accused by Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee of having an apparently disqualifying “ACLU chromosome.”

Liu’s nomination has been the subject of the most partisan squabbling. Liu’s main obstacle, it seems, has been his own brilliance: some on the Right worry that if he makes it on to the bench, he could eventually become a Supreme Court nominee. But Liu’s nomination is backed by legal luminaries from across the ideological spectrum, including former Bush White House lawyer Richard Painter, who today wrote another plea for the Senate GOP to break the judicial gridlock and at least take a vote on Liu’s nomination:

In any event, nominees who should not be controversial, including Goodwin Liu (I have made previous posts here on his nomination), are described as radical activists, the same tactic that advocacy groups deployed to mischaracterize many of President Bush’s nominees.

Public opinion of Members of Congress (both parties) these days is lower, far lower, than it was in the days when Senator Henry Cabot Lodge used just the right term to describe what he saw going on when Senators filibustered legislation. Those of us who care about the future of the judiciary should make it clear that the delay must stop.

This does not mean the Senators should vote "yes". They can vote "no". But they should vote.

Specific nominations aside, the federal judicial system in general has taken a drubbing under the Senate GOP’s refusal to confirm nominees. A new report from the Alliance for Justice has found that the number of vacancies in the federal judiciary has nearly doubled since President Obama took office, and that the number of open seats designated as “judicial emergencies” has risen from 20 to 50, affecting 30 states.

Confirmation votes will become much more difficult next year, with Democrats hanging on to a much slimmer majority in the Senate. Now’s the time to push through the nominees whom the GOP has been the most eager to obstruct.
 

PFAW

Known Money, Secret Money

OpenSecrets.org reported yesterday that on the whole, millionaire and billionaire self-financed candidates pretty much flopped in Tuesday’s elections. Four out of every five of the 58 federal-level candidates who spent more than $500,000 of their own money on their campaigns ended up losing in the primary or general election. Among those who lost their expensive gambles were former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, who spent more than $46 million on her Senate campaign in Connecticut and Carly Fiorina, who spent more than $5.5 million of her own money in her California Senate race.

And OpenSecret’s data doesn’t even count the most prominent big-spending loss this year, California’s Meg Whitman, who spent a whopping $141 million on her gubernatorial bid.

Self-financed candidates generally have a fairly dismal track record of winning elections—partly because some lack the political experience to pull off a successful campaign, partly because voters reject the idea of a person buying themselves political office. (The Washington Post and the American Prospect both looked into the self-funding paradox earlier this year).

So, you might conclude from this, money can’t buy you electoral love. But the data from other kinds of campaign spending tells a very different story.

Public Citizen reported Wednesday that spending by outside groups—like those we profiled in our After Citizens United report—had a huge impact on the outcome of elections throughout the country. In 58 of the 74 races in which power changed hands yesterday, the candidate who benefitted from the most outside spending also won their election, Public Citizen’s analysis found. Of course, the cause and effect can go both ways—special interests often back shoe-in candidates just to be in their good graces once they’re in office—but it’s undeniable that spending by outside groups really did make a difference in many close races.

The Chamber of Commerce alone promised to spend $75 million to influence this year’s elections…more than 90% of which had, as of the last reporting deadline, gone to support Republican candidates. The Chamber, like many of the pro-GOP power players in this election, spent millions of dollars of money from undisclosed sources to buy ads that often had very little to do with its real goals.

Polling shows that the vast majority of Americans really don’t like the idea of corporations and interest groups pouring money into elections…and also really don’t like it that outside groups don’t have to reveal the major sources of their money.

But not liking the idea of wealthy people or corporations or powerful special interest groups trying to buy elections isn’t much help when you’re seeing a convincing ad on TV from a group with a name like the “Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity”—and have no way of finding out what the money and motivations behind the ad are.

When a candidate is bankrolling her own campaign, voters know what’s going on, and can go into the polling place knowing full well who’s most invested in that candidate’s success. When a candidate is backed by millions of dollars from shadowy interest groups, the equation gets more difficult. The money’s there, but it’s impossible to tell what that money is meant to buy. As PFAW’s Michael Keegan wrote in the Huffington Post last week, that system works great for candidates who back the interests of corporate America and the wealthiest citizens…but isn’t so great for those who don’t have fat bank accounts ready to help them out.

Interestingly, one candidate who invested heavily in his own campaign did notably well on Tuesday—Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who beat incumbent senator Russ Feingold. Johnson invested more than $8 million in his campaign (almost twice as much as he received from individual contributors). But Johnson was also propped up by over a million dollars worth of ads paid for by out-of-state pro-corporate groups.
 

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

Web Videos Show GOP Extremists In Their Own Words

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

Ken Buck

Ron Johnson

Rand Paul

Pat Toomey

PFAW

Right-Wing Group to Nevada Latinos: “Don’t Vote”

Republican-affiliated groups have been getting less and less subtle in their attempts to prevent those likely to be Democrats from voting. There was the voter-caging operation in Wisconsin that sought to scare young and minority voters away from the polls in the name of preventing the proven non-problem of “voter fraud.” There was Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk suggesting that poll watchers be sent to predominantly black districts, “where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers.” But enough of the dog whistle. A Republican-affiliated group called “Latinos For Reform” has made an ad simply telling Latinos in Nevada: “Don’t Vote." Here's the English transalation:

 The organization’s president, conservative Unavision pundit Robert Desposada, has acknowledged that Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle would do nothing to advance immigration reform. "I can't ask people to support a Republican candidate who has taken a completely irresponsible and bordering on racist position on immigration," he told Politico.

For someone who thinks Angle’s positions are “irresponsible” and “bordering on racist,” he seems awfully interested in getting her elected.

Update: Univision has refused to air the ad.

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

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

Americans For Prosperity Sends Us an Email

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

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

People for the American Way,

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

I await your clarification.

James Valvo

Director of Government Affairs

Americans for Prosperity

James helpfully included this press release by way of support.

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

James –

Thanks so much for your note regarding our report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With best wishes,

Drew

Drew Courtney

Director of Communications

People For the American Way

We’ll see if they write back.

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

PFAW

Johnson: Protecting Victims of Child Abuse Will Hurt Business

A devotion to business interests over the needs of ordinary people is a theme that unites ultra-right-wing Tea Party candidates throughout the country. But how far does that devotion go?

Today, a video emerged of Wisconsin Senate candidate Ron Johnson testifying in January against a bill that would have lifted the state’s statute of limitations on filing child abuse lawsuits. The reason Johnson opposed expanding the ability of those who had been abused as children to seek justice? It might have a negative impact on businesses held accountable for crimes committed under their watch. Or, as Johnson so sensitively put it, the bill’s “other victims.”

Johnson’s testimony, via Think Progress:

JOHNSON: I think it is extremely important to consider the economic havor and the other victims [the Wisconsin Child Victims Act] would likely create. [...] I believe it is a valid question to ask whether the employer of a perpetrator should also be severely damaged, or possibly destroyed, in our legitimate desire for justice. [...] It would also send a chilling signal to avoid this civic minded activity in the future. [...] I have no doubt trial lawyers would benefit, I’m not so sure the actual victims would.

PFAW

Surprise, Surprise: Wisconsin Voter Caging Stems Back to Koch Brothers' Corporate Agenda

Last week, we wrote about a voter suppression plan concocted by GOP and Tea Party-affiliated groups in Wisconsin meant to keep young and minority voters from the polls this November.

Think Progress dug further into the issue, and traced much of the plan—both the sinking of a proposed Wisconsin law that would have prevented voter caging efforts like this, and the coordinated caging effort itself—back to the network of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have provided the money behind much of the Tea Party movement. (The Kochs are also the main funder of Americans For Prosperity, one of the groups cited in the voter caging plan):

[I] appears that a network of Koch-backed groups killed a proposed Wisconsin law to protect voters, which then cleared the way for an overlapping set of Koch-backed groups to move with an alleged voter suppression plan. What’s more, Koch-funded AFP is currently attempting to further influence the outcome of the election by airing millions of dollars in attack ads targeting Democratic U.S. House and Senate members in Wisconsin and other states.

Laurence Lewis at Daily Kos reminds us of the motivation behind the Kochs’ generous political spending:

The Koch machine also is a leading financier of climate denialism, which must make sense to oil industry billionaires who clearly don't care about the science of climate change. Of course, ending regulation, taxes, and campaign finance laws would make the brothers effective royalty, with no possible means for those interested in the public good to check their dangerous and rapacious greed. And as Mayer points out, the 1980 Libertarian platform on which David Koch ran for vice president called for the abolition of Social Security and the minimum wage. After all, who cares about the tens of millions of people that rely on one or both when you're a billionaire who doesn't have such a need and apparently doesn't care about the needs of others?

Koch Industries has essentially declared war on the Obama administration. In Wisconsin, Koch-affiliated groups have essentially declared war on democracy. And all Wisconsin voters should know about it. And they should consider why a couple of oil billionaires who are not from Wisconsin seem to want to use any possible means to control Wisconsin's election. And Wisconsin voters should consider why organizations affiliated with these brothers are so determined to defeat Wisconsin Democrats, this November. After all, there is no evidence that these oil billionaires care about the general well-being of the general public, and there is particularly no evidence that they care about the well-being of the people of Wisconsin.

Well-funded corporate interests like the Kochs, who want to avoid government regulation, resist funding essential social services, and pretend that climate change doesn’t exist, have a lot at stake in keeping progressives like Russ Feingold out of the Senate. So much so, apparently, that they’ll do what it takes to drive progressive voters away from the polls.
 

PFAW

The GOP Displays Effective Use of Taxpayer Dollars

The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning voted to approve seven federal judicial nominees. Four of these nominees are Judiciary Committee pros by now—they’ve already been approved by the committee, but were blocked by Senate Republicans, and had to start the nomination process all over again. Two are going through the process for the third time.

So what high ground is the GOP standing on in their months long blocking of these four nominees and insistence on holding the same debate multiple times?

Well, there are the objections to Rhode Island nominee John McConnell, who had the gall to represent victims of lead paint poisoning, and be proud of it.

Not to mention the record of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, whose work as a judge irked business interests so much, they spent $1 million to stop his reelection.

Then there’s the outrage against U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen for his work fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union.

And then, of course, there’s the all-out battle against Ninth Circuit Appeals Court nominee Goodwin Liu. As the New York Times editorial page points out today, the GOP’s resistance to Liu centers mainly around the fear that he’s so qualified, he might end up on the Supreme Court.

And these are just the nominees to which the GOP has been able to articulate some sort of objection. There are now 23 nominees waiting for votes on the Senate floor--17 of them made it through the Judiciary Committee without the objection of a single Republican.

Witness the trademark efficiency of the Party of No.
 

PFAW

Voter Suppression Plan Uncovered in Wisconsin

In 2008, Republican operatives tried to create a narrative of widespread voter fraud being perpetrated across the country by young and minority voters and the people trying to register them. There was hardly a widespread conspiracy—the non-partisan Brennan Center of Justice reported, “It’s more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls”—but the allegations provided useful cover for attempts to suppress turnout of new and infrequent voters.

And this year, it seems, voter suppression is back in full force—all in the name of stopping the mythical epidemic of voter fraud. The progressive group One Wisconsin Now reported today a plan by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, various Tea Party groups, and the conservative campaign cash-funneling machine Americans for Prosperity, to use “voter caging” to weed out registered voters in minority and student communities.

One Wisconsin quotes the Brennan Center’s description of voter caging:

Voter caging is the practice of sending mail to addresses on the voter rolls, compiling a list of the mail that is returned undelivered, and using that list to purge or challenge voters registrations on the grounds that the voters on the list do not legally reside at their registered addresses. Supporters of voter caging defend the practice as a means of preventing votes cast by ineligible voters. Voter caging, however, is notoriously unreliable. If it is treated (unjustifiably) as the sole basis for determining that a voter is ineligible or does not live at the address at which he or she registered, it can lead to the unwarranted purge or challenge of eligible voters. ...Moreover, the practice has often been targeted at minority voters, making the effects even more pernicious.

…which is pretty much what the Wisconsin groups are trying to do, according to One Wisconsin’s report. One Wisconsin boils down the GOP/AFP/Tea Party plan:

• The Republican Party of Wisconsin will use its "Voter Vault" state-wide voter file to compile a list of minority and student voters in targeted Wisconsin communities.

• Americans for Prosperity will use this list to send mail to these voters indicating the voter must call and confirm their registration information, and telling them if they do not call the number provided they could be removed from the voter lists.

• The Tea Party organizations will recruit and place individuals as official poll workers in selected municipalities in order to be able to make the challenges as official poll workers.

• On Election Day, these organizations will then "make use" of any postcards that are returned as undeliverable to challenge voters at the polls, utilizing law enforcement, as well as attorneys trained and provided by the RPW, to support their challenges.

The allegations are backed up by documents and audio recordings of meetings. You can peruse it all at http://www.SaveWisconsinsVote2010.org.

One Wisconsin thinks that some of these groups’ activities might be illegal. But legal or illegal, operations like this are downright cynical. Trying to win an election by getting fewer people to vote is a desperate move, and far from the spirit of democracy.

 


 

PFAW

WI-Senate, Ron Johnson's extremism takes aim at cultural center

Ron Johnson, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin running to unseat Sen. Russ Feingold, has been on a tear lately, apparently trying to out-crazy himself at every turn.

Yesterday I read that he was pushing an absurd theory of global warming being caused by sun spots -- part of his personal war on climate science. See, Johnson is a pro-corporate extremist who wants no regulation on polluters or protections for the environment that might get in the way of short-term profits for his corporate buddies. So, naturally, he has taken the view, "I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. It's not proven by any stretch of the imagination."

In the same TPM post by Eric Kleefeld, Johnson is quoted downplaying global warming by saying, "There's a reason Greenland was called Greenland, it was actually green at one point in time. And it's been, since, it's a whole lot whiter now." Ugh... *smacks forehead*

Now, Johnson's jumping into the Cordoba House/Park51 fracas.

From Steve Singiser at DailyKos:

"Those folks are trying to poke a stick in our eye," Johnson said. "I just hope the zoning officials and the city, the state revisit that, rezone that piece of property."

The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate continued: "If they don't do it I hope the construction workers in New York show their outrage and say we are not going to do that."

Pretty cheeky of a multi-millionaire to demand that an industry where unemployment is as high as 20 percent should voluntarily refuse work in order to buttress a right-wing talking point.

 

Right now the polls have Johnson running neck and neck with Sen. Feingold... One more example of just how real the threat is of right-wing extremism on the march in this year's elections.

PFAW

The Price of Justice

The Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a startling report today on the skyrocketing cost of state Supreme Court elections. The amount of money spent on state judicial races in the 38 states that have them has more than doubled in the 2000-2009 decade compared to the decade before, the report finds—and most of it has come from big spenders with big agendas, such as the Chamber of Commerce and trial lawyers’ groups.

The sway of big money over judicial elections, the report argues, is only likely to intensify in the post-Citizens United world, where big spenders will be able to pour more money into judicial races while “using shell organizations to keep their role out of the public eye.”

Take the case of Louis Butler, a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who was nominated to fill a vacancy in the court in 2004, and four years later ran for a full term. Shortly after losing the election in 2008, Butler described his experience in a panel discussion at Georgetown. NPR reports:

"Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce decided at that point that: 'OK, we've had this court for all these years, we never had to worry about how the court voted. We get this new guy on the court, and all of a sudden we lose these three cases,' " Butler said. " 'He's gotta go.' "

And go he did, with the help of ads that tried to portray Butler, a former public defender, as soft on crime. One ad sponsored by the manufacturers and commerce group, the state's largest business lobby, began this way: "When our children go to school, they need to be safe. In our homes and neighborhoods, we need to be safe. Our sheriffs and district attorneys are on the front lines, protecting us. And you know what? Our judges need to know they also must protect us."

Executives at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business advocacy group, say they were only protecting themselves when they spent $1 million on television ads against Butler. James Buchen, an executive at Wisconsin Manufacturers, said the court under Butler had ruled to expand punitive damage awards and malpractice claims under a fragile 4 to 3 majority.

President Obama has since twice nominated Butler to a federal judgeship—and Senate Republicans have twice sent his nomination back.

Corporate courts—whether elected or appointed—don’t happen by accident. And after Citizens United, the fight to keep courts from having pro-corporate biases has become even harder.
 

PFAW

Citizens United and State Laws

The Citizens United decision didn’t merely overturn nearly a century of federal laws and precedents; it also threw state campaign finance laws into turmoil. Before Citizens United, 24 states restricted corporate spending in elections. After the Supreme Court invalidated the federal laws governing corporate influence in political campaigns, states started scrambling to prepare for their own campaign finance laws to be struck down. And none too soon: as we’ve mentioned before, legal challenges have already started to bring down some of these state-level laws.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s attorney general formally announced that the state’s campaign finance laws would have to be repealed. A local news station reported that lifting these restrictions could lead to an increase in campaign spending from $30 million last year to $90 million this year. It remains to be seen whether Wisconson, like many of the other states affected by the Supreme Court decision, will enact disclosure laws to lessen the impact of corporate money on elections.

The conservative majority on the Roberts court didn’t just invalidate the anti-corruption measures enacted by our democratically elected Congress. It also limited the ability of state governments to decide for themselves how to regulate their own elections. Wisconsin’s election laws are just the latest casualty. To keep track of what’s happening in other states, go here.

PFAW

Star of the Kagan Hearings is the Corporate Court

Democratic Senators used the opportunity of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings today focus attention on nine people who were not in the room. The Senators called the Roberts Court out for some of its more outrageous decisions as they began to reframe the debate on the role of the Court and the Constitution. Central to the discussion was the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, in which it overturned a century of settled law to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, was one of the chief designers of the campaign finance rules that the Supreme Court knocked down in Citizens United. He said:

[W]hen a decision like the one handed down earlier this year by a 5-4 vote in the Citizens United case uproots longstanding precedent and undermines our democratic system, the public’s confidence in the Court can’t help but be shaken. I was very disappointed in that decision, and in the Court for reaching out to change the landscape of election law in a drastic and wholly unnecessary way. By acting in such an extreme and unjustified manner, the Court badly damaged its own integrity. By elevating the rights of corporations over the rights of people, the Court damaged our democracy.

Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island took on the Court’s pro-corporate leanings by brilliantly co-opting Chief Justice Roberts’ famous baseball metaphor:

Only last week, the Rent-A-Center decision concluded that an employee who challenges as unconscionable an arbitration demand must have that challenge decided by the arbitrator. And the Citizens United decision -- yet another 5-4 decision -- created a constitutional right for corporations to spend unlimited money in American elections, opening our democratic system to a massive new threat of corruption and corporate control.
There is an unmistakable pattern. For all the talk of umpires and balls and strikes at the Supreme Court, the strike zone for corporations gets better every day.

Ted Kaufman of Delaware told Kagan, “I plan to spend the bulk of my time asking you about the Court’s business cases, based on my concern about its apparent bias.”

The Court’s decision last fall in the Citizens United case, which several of my colleagues have mentioned, is the latest example of the Court’s pro-corporate bent. The majority opinion in that case should put the nail in the coffin of claims that “judicial activism” is a sin committed by judges of only one political ideology.

What makes the Citizens United decision particularly troubling is that it is at odds with what some of the Court’s most recently confirmed members said during their confirmation hearings. We heard a great deal then about their deep respect for existing precedent. Now, however, that respect seems to vanish whenever it interferes with a desired pro-business outcome.

Al Franken of Minnesota explained the real impact of campaign finance laws:

Now, you’ve heard a lot about this decision already today, but I want to come at it from a slightly different angle.
There is no doubt: the Roberts Court’s disregard for a century of federal law—and decades of the Supreme Court’s own rulings—is wrong. It’s shocking. And it’s torn a gaping hole in our election laws.

So of course I’m worried about how Citizens United is going to change our elections.

But I am more worried about how this decision is going to affect our communities—and our ability to run those communities without a permission slip from big business.

Citizens United isn’t just about election law. It isn’t just about campaign finance.

It’s about seat belts. It’s about clean air and clean water. It’s about energy policy and the rights of workers and investors. It’s about health care. It’s about our ability to pass laws that protect the American people even if it hurts the corporate bottom line.

As Justice Stevens said, it’s about our “need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government.

And finally, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois summed up the retort to any GOP Senator complaining about “judicial activism”:

We've heard from those across the aisle about their support for traditionalism, and their opposition to judicial activism. I have two words for them: Citizens United.

We’re looking forward to hearing a lot more about Citizens United and the Corporate Court as the hearings progress
 

PFAW

Dawn Johnsen and the GOP Obstruction Game

As you may have seen reported, in a perfect exclamation point to the obstruction we've seen all year, when the Senate adjourned last week, the Republicans objected to what is ordinarily a routine request to waive Senate rules and permit pending nominations to remain in the Senate confirmation pipeline. Without what's called "unanimous consent," under Senate rules, pending nominations must be returned to the President, who then has to re-nominate in the next session. In what has become a far too typical exercise by the "Just Say No" party, Republicans objected to three DOJ nominees who have been on the Senate’s calendar awaiting consideration for months: Dawn Johnsen, for the Office of Legal Counsel; Chris Schroeder for the Office of Legal Policy; and Mary Smith, for the Tax Division. They also objected to two pending federal District Court nominees (Edward Chen, for a seat on the Northern District of California and Louis B. Butler for a seat on the Western District of Wisconsin) and to Craig Becker for reappointment as a member of the National Labor Relations Board. 

This is just more of the same unconscionable obstruction by the Republicans that is interfering with the President's ability to assemble the team he needs to serve the American public. And the obstruction is pointless. All the Republicans are doing is slowing down the inevitable -- but as we've seen with any number of issues, anything they can do to gum up the works they treat as a victory. So much for the Republicans' past claims about how elections matter and about the deference owed to the President in filling out his cabinet.

Right now, three of eleven Assistant Attorney General slots in the Justice Department -- more than one quarter of the key leadership slots at DOJ -- are filled by individuals in interim "acting" capacities because the Republicans are playing politics and tying up the nominees. It's nearly one year since Dawn Johnsen's nomination was announced; her nomination has been pending on the Senate calendar for nine months.

We fully expect the President and the Senate to work through this latest round of irresponsible Republican obstruction. The nominees will be sent back to the Senate; the Judiciary Committee will consider them promptly; they'll go back on the Senate Calendar; and, unless cooler and more responsible heads prevail, Senator Reid, unfortunately, will have to file cloture on each and every one of them to put an end to the obstruction. These are exceptionally talented nominees -- and the American people will be well-served when they are finally confirmed. 

PFAW