American Way

School Voucher Hypocrisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Anti-Immigration Groups Push Green Wedge Strategy

PFAW’s Right Wing Watch in Focus report, “Previewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform,” identified nine strategies employed by right-wing pundits and politicians to demonize immigrants and derail comprehensive reform.  Among those strategies were to portray immigrants as criminals, invaders, and disease-carriers.   It’s time to add a new category: blaming immigrants for environmental degradation. 

At last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) distributed a beautifully photographed report decrying the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay, blaming the failure of clean-up efforts on immigration, and slamming environmental groups for not joining FAIR’s anti-immigrant crusade.

If you find it confusing that FAIR, whose political allies are among the most far-right members of Congress, is professing deep concern for the environment, there’s a simple explanation. FAIR and its anti-immigration allies believe that appealing to environmentalists concerned about the impact of sprawl and other growth-related issues can be an effective wedge issue to divide progressives.

For more about the blame-immigrants-for-environmental problems strategy, and a progressive response, see this article by People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery on Alternet

PFAW

Stepping Between Women and Their Doctors

From the Des Moines Register comes a heartbreaking story about a Nebraska couple who were prevented from making the deeply personal decision to end a late-term pregnancy after they found out their child “had virtually no chance of survival.” Nebraska bans abortions after the 20th week of gestation, leaving Danielle Deaver no choice but to carry her pregnancy through to its end:

At 3:15 p.m. Dec. 8, 1-pound, 10-ounce Elizabeth Deaver - named in memory of Robb's grandmother - made one final attempt to breathe.

Her life struggle, 15 minutes outside the womb after 23 weeks and five days of gestation, was over.

"Our hands were tied," Danielle Deaver said. "The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God. I feel like how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should have been mine, and it wasn't because of a law."

Nebraska is one of 38 states [pdf] that ban abortions after a certain point in a pregnancy, except to save the life of the woman.

States across the country are working to further roll back reproductive choice rights and to come between women and their doctors. A new report from People For the American Way examines some of those state-level efforts to legislate away access to reproductive choice.

 

PFAW

The Corporate Discount: Who the Republican Spending Cuts Really Benefit

In the Huffington Post today, People For the American Way's President Michael Keegan connects the extreme pro-corporate policies being pushed by federal and state GOP officials with the new liberty that corporations have to buy influence in elections:

One year after Citizens United v. FEC, when the Supreme Court opened American elections to a corporate spending free-for-all, elected officials in Washington and in statehouses around the country are pushing a stunning set of financial policies that, if passed, will provide a windfall for giant corporations at the expense of already-hurting individual taxpayers. Largely proposed under the guise of financial responsibility, these proposals threaten job creation and essential government services while ensuring the coffers of corporations remain untouched.

American taxpayers are beginning to fight back against some of the most egregious proposals, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to bust public employee unions and the House GOP's slashing of funding for women's health care. But as long as corporations can buy unlimited political influence, these battles will only escalate and they will continue to be just as lopsided.

In the coming weeks, we will see the interests of corporate funders and the interests of individual taxpayers go head-to-head as Congress and the president attempt to hammer out a continuing spending resolution that will keep the government running for the rest of the year. The Republican House wants to block funds to reproductive health services, gut the Affordable Care Act, and even prevent the Environmental Protection Bureau from regulating pollution -- all while costing an estimated 700,000 American jobs. The winners in the House's proposal? Large corporations and the wealthy, who under the proposal astoundingly would not even be asked to give up a single tax loophole.

Read the whole thing here.

PFAW

Updates from the Front Lines of Wisconsin

Below you will see live Facebook updates from State Rep. Kelda Roys of Wisconsin, a member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network. She has been repeatedly denied entry to the state Capitol as a result of the protests against Gov. Walker's attempt to obliterate Wisconsin's public employee unions under the guise of fiscal reform.

UPDATE:

Check out Rep. Roys' coverage of the protests: 

PFAW

Report from Madison: Standing Up (in the Snow) for Wisconsin's Workers

By Dave Kreisman

Over the last 13 days, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor cold has been able to stop the tens of thousands of public employees, their families and allies in Wisconsin’s fight to protect the rights of the middle class and working families.

Democracy, while flourishing in the halls of the Capitol and outside in the streets, was crushed in the Assembly chambers Friday morning at 1am, when after over 60 hours of debate, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) opened the roll and closed it within 15 seconds, allowing only 13 of the 38 Democratic Assembly Representatives the opportunity to cast their vote. The floor immediately erupted with Democratic members rushing the line of Republicans filing out of the chamber chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

As Republicans filed out of the building, Democratic members greeted the hundreds of supporters in the rotunda who have been camping out in solidarity for over a week.

On Saturday over 75,000 people filled the lawn of the Capitol here in Madison, listening as Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, Bradley Whitford along with fellow actors Gabrielle Carteris and Robert Newman and U.S. Airways Pilot Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot who helped safely “land” a passenger plane on the Hudson River in 2009 spoke about their own unions and encouraged the masses to carry on “one more day” with Peter Yarrow assuring the crowd that “the eyes of the world are upon you.”

As has been the case at the end of each day of protests, nothing (not even snow and 14 degree weather) can stop the will of those standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in labor.

Dave Kreisman is coordinating People For the American Way's support for workers' rights in Wisconsin.

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Judge's Children Respond to GOP Congressman Who Wanted to Put Their Father "On the Endangered Species List"

In an address to the Montana State Legislature, Republican Congressman and Senate-candidate Denny Rehberg blasted a federal judge who ruled that the grey wolf had to remain on the Endangered Species list, saying: “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: how can we put some of these judicial activists on the Endangered Species list?”

Despite the call for greater civility in politics after the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left a federal judge and five others dead, Rehberg continued to employ violent rhetoric to score political points against a judge who was simply doing his job.

In the wake of the Tucson shooting, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan said that all people have a “duty to consider the impact of our words and to approach political discourse with honesty and responsibility,” and the politicians “who denounce violence should also denounce the rhetoric that can incite it.”

Now, the children of the vilified judge are speaking out against the Congressman’s ferocious language targeting their dad in a letter to the Helena Independent Record. The judge’s children ask Rehberg “to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame,” and point out that their father was simply following his role as a judge to “interpret and apply the laws” no matter how unpopular. The judge’s children remind Rehberg and all politicians that such vicious rhetoric has no place in the political and legal debate:

We are writing to express our disappointment and voice our concerns over the comments that Congressman Rehberg recently made at a joint session of the Montana Legislature. Although Congressman Rehberg didn’t identify by name U.S. District Judge Don Molloy — our dad — it was clear to whom he referred.

For the benefit of those not there, here is what was said: When referring to a recent federal court decision about wolves and the Endangered Species Act, Rehberg stated, “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: ‘How can we put some of these judicial activists on the endangered species list.’ I am still working on that!”

We, too, are still trying to figure out exactly how he thought it appropriate or responsible to make these comments, especially in light of recent events in Tucson.

We fully recognize that the wolf issue has become a polarizing, politicized issue. Through the years, we have come to understand that the press and public will often critique court decisions without a full understanding of the law or facts. Many cases, like the one involving wolf delisting, are complicated. Politicians like Congressman Rehberg have every right to comment, and like the rest of the public, they have the right to do so on an uninformed basis. But a line is crossed when language such as that used by Congressman Rehberg is spoken. It is not acceptable or appropriate to make veiled or outright threats of harm toward anyone, including a judge who is performing a constitutional responsibility to interpret and apply the laws that Congress enacts, based on the facts and law presented in the court room, and not on public opinion.

This is a personal issue for us, and not only because of these comments about Judge Molloy. We are proud Montanans. In fact, we are fourth-generation Montanans and our parents raised us to respect other people, even people with whom we may disagree. We grew up in a Montana where threats and jeers were unwelcome on a school playground and unheard of in political discourse.

It is our firm belief that we must hold our elected officials to a standard of conduct that is representative of Montanans and how we wish to be known. The respect and civility that we call upon Congressman Rehberg to demonstrate are qualities that we see every day in our fellow Montanans. Each of us can and should rise above the divisive and shallow rhetoric that is becoming so common in public discourse. Each of us can commit to showing through our own words and actions how we can debate the issues with respect, thoughtfulness and vigor.

It is our hope that the image of Montana and its citizens that we have grown up holding tightly to remains — that we are strong in our willingness to stand up and behave responsibly and respectfully to all. For all Montanans, and on behalf of our family, we ask Congressman Rehberg to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame.

Molly, Brynn, Jennifer and Daniel TC Molloy are the children of U.S. District Judge Don Molloy of Missoula.
PFAW

Progressive Coalition Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

A diverse coalition of twenty six progressive groups, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action, signed on to a letter to Congress standing up for Planned Parenthood against right-wing attacks originating from the radical anti-choice group Live Action. Politico reports:

Liberal groups are banding together to come to the defense of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the recent controversy over videos taped inside the clinics. Conservative groups say that the films provide more than enough evidence for Congress to immediately de-fund the women’s health centers.



“We realized very quickly we needed to get together and stand up against the right wing smear machine and make a strong statement in solidarity with an important organization,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for People for the American Way, another progressive group that signed onto the letter. “The bigger picture is too important- that’s why you see such a range of organizations on this letter.”

Read the letter below:

Dear Members of Congress,

Right-wing groups are once again attempting to destroy an organization dedicated to providing crucial primary care services to Americans that need them most. Armed with heavily edited videos, countless lies, and a shameless echo chamber that repeats unfounded accusations ad nauseam, they’ve now turned their sights to Planned Parenthood, which offers a range of important health and reproductive services that help both women and men prevent unintended pregnancies and provide screenings for cervical and other cancers.

We are writing to inform you that our organizations stand united in opposition to any effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

These attacks are not about the issue of choice. Instead they are designed to systematically vilify and destroy institutions dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable citizens with "evidence" that does not support their claims. They're about disempowering those who don’t share their world view. And they're about intimidating those in desperate need of help.

Your constituents sent you to Washington to be a strong advocate for their interests and stand up for the quintessential American values of justice and fairness -- and this latest digital witch hunt is neither just nor fair.

Sincerely,

Julian Bond, Board Chairman Emeritus, NAACP

Accountable America

African American Ministers in Action

Alliance for Justice

Center for Community Change

Center for Media & Democracy

Common Cause

Courage Campaign

CREDO Action

Demos

EMILY's List

Feminist Majority Foundation

Friends of the Earth

Keystone Progress

Media Matters Action Network

Midwest Academy

MoveOn.org Political Action

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National People's Action

People For the American Way

ProgressNow

Project Vote

Public Campaign

Service Employees International Union

Sierra Club

USAction

Voices for Progress
PFAW

Hundreds in California Protest Corporate Influence in Elections

In the year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, there has been new scrutiny on the increasingly cozy relationship between corporate funders of elections and national policy makers. Exemplifying that relationship have been the Koch brothers, billionaires whose dollars have helped to fund right-wing organizations and campaigns for years, and who were behind one of the most powerful outside groups in the 2010 elections, Americans For Prosperity. The brothers also hold twice-yearly meetings of influential donors, pundits, and politicians—past guests have included Glenn Beck, Sens. Jim Demint and Tom Coburn, and even Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (both of whom were in the Citizens United majority).

The Kochs held their most recent strategy meeting at a spa in Palm Springs this weekend. Attending the secretive event was House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, among other undisclosed guests. Outside were 800-1,000 protestors, 25 of whom were arrested for trespassing. The LA Times reports:

Protest organizers said they hoped to raise awareness about the Koch brothers and what activists portray as their shadowy attempts to weaken environmental protection laws and undercut campaign contribution limits.

The brothers control Koch Industries, the nation's second-largest privately held company. They have funded groups pushing a limited-government, libertarian agenda, helped organize "tea party" groups and contributed $1 million to a failed ballot initiative to suspend California's law to curb greenhouse gases.

"We cannot have democracy unless everyone has a voice," said Cathy Riddle, a Temecula website developer who held a sign reading "Corporations are not people." Donors like the Koch brothers are "drowning us out," she said. "Their voices are louder."

The protest, organized by Common Cause, included some members of People For the American Way. It came one week after activists, in events around the country, marked the first anniversary of Citizens United and called for a constitutional amendment to reverse it. Watch PFAW’s video explaining the decision and its impact:
 

PFAW

PFAW Calls On Smithsonian Secretary to Step Down

People For the American Way has called on Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to resign following his handling of a censorship controversy that resulted in a work of art being removed from one of the Smithsonian’s museums. In the Huffington Post today, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, writes:

The controversy around "Hide/Seek" will not be an isolated incident. Instead, with the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP takeover of the House, the far right has found new and stronger voices in its effort to rewrite American history, redefine American values and narrow the range of the American experience. House Speaker John Boehner has already promised "tough scrutiny" of the Smithsonian's budget--and, presumably, its collections and research. Like with the right-wing campaigns against climate science and American Muslims, the campaign against the Smithsonian is likely to be loud and sensationalized. The institution, one of our greatest national resources, deserves a leader who will stand up for its integrity and fight for its future, not one who will so easily cave to the political pressures of the moment.

The Smithsonian’s board will be meeting in Washington on Monday. We’ll be joining ART+ there in a demonstration calling for Clough’s ouster. If you’re interested in joining the demonstration, details are here.

People For has also joined with a dozen other anti-censorship organizations to recommend [pdf] that the Smithsonian’s board adopt a set of policies to protect free expression when similar issues arise:

We urge you to adopt explicit policies that uphold First Amendment principles, as well as a procedure for responding to complaints, whether coming from the general public or from elected politicians. The latter entails creating an open process of careful review and discussion, which should take into account the facts that

  1. members of the American public hold diverse beliefs and values,

  2. that some of the most vital issues facing us are subject to controversy,

  3. and that controversy in a museum setting, when handled well, can productively illuminate such issues and advance public dialogue.

 

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Deliver 750,000 Constitutional Amendment Petitions to Congress

This morning, a group of allied organizations held a rally at the Capitol to mark the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. At the rally, People For the American Way and others delivered over 750,000 petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United to members of Rep. Donna Edwards’ staff. Rep. Edwards introduced a constitutional amendment in the House last year, and has been a strong supporter of efforts to reverse the decision.

Representatives from People For, Public Citizen, Move to Amend, Free Speech For People, and MoveOn deliver 750,000 petitions to members of Rep. Donna Edwards’ staff:


People For’s Marge Baker speaks to the crowd:

Protesters put a “for sale” sign on the Capitol:

A protester contests the notion of corporate personhood:

PFAW

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

Saturday marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

As you may know, People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon. Order your Silver Ribbon pin engraved with the credo: "Trust Women," >> for a $5 donation, and wear it through Feb. 22. (or make your own!)

Spread the word. Get your Twibbon on. Follow us on Twitter.

Take action! Donate today to one or more of our partner organizations. January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Our Silver Ribbon partners will be organizing a series of calls to action leading up to this anniversary. Check our Take Action section for the latest updates from our partner organizations.

Join us!

The Silver Ribbon represents science over ideology.

We who proudly wear it:
  • Support reproductive rights
  • Support free access to birth control
  • Support keeping abortion legal and accessible
Trust Women!

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

January 22, 2011 will mark the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon. Make your own Silver Ribbon, or for a $5 donation you can order a Silver Ribbon pin. Wear your Silver Ribbon from January 22nd to February 22nd to show your solidarity.

Spread the word. Get your Twibbon on. Follow us on Twitter.

Take action! Donate today to one or more of our partner organizations. January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Our Silver Ribbon partners will be organizing a series of calls to action leading up to this anniversary. Check our Take Action section for the latest updates from our partner organizations.

Join us!

The Silver Ribbon represents science over ideology.

We who proudly wear it:
  • Support reproductive rights
  • Support free access to birth control
  • Support keeping abortion legal and accessible
Trust Women!

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

Corporate Front Group on the Attack in North Dakota

Even though Election Day is almost two years away, a shadowy political organization with ties to the agriculture industry is already on the air with negative ads attacking North Dakota’s Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. The American Future Fund, as profiled in People For the American Way’s report Citizens Blindsided, is run by GOP operatives in Iowa and funded by anonymous donors who likely have ties to Big Agriculture.

A New York Times report traced the group’s founding to the ethanol industry and their lobbyists, and Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee wrote that groups like the AFF “operate in the shadows. Their donors are anonymous. The power behind them is rarely apparent. It’s impossible to track the exact amounts they spend on campaigns in any timely fashion.” The AFF is also responsible for running some of the midterm elections most misleading and disgraceful ads, including one spot that viciously attacked Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley over the Park 51 Islamic Community Center in New York.

Now, barely two months after the midterm election, the AFF is on the air in North Dakota criticizing Senator Conrad, who is up for reelection in 2012. The AFF spent over $10 million of secret money to sway the last election, and three good-government groups asked for an investigation into the AFF’s status as a 501(c)4 nonprofit. 501(c)4 groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donors but also cannot spend the majority of their money to influence elections. The AFF’s new ad campaign, which calls on North Dakota voters to “call Kent Conrad” rather than to vote against him, may be their attempt to avoid a possible IRS investigation into the amount of their political spending. But the AFF’s early spending shows that even though the midterm elections are over, political groups like the AFF with little transparency or supervision are gearing up to play an even larger role in the 2012 elections.

PFAW

Speaker Pelosi sends DADT repeal to President Obama

People For the American Way attended today’s enrollment ceremony for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal bill. Representatives and Senators stood alongside those discharged under this discriminatory policy to formally send the bill to President Obama for his signing. Each should be commended for their dedication to this cause, especially Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8), a veteran himself and the lead House sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. From CNN:

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania told the gathering of an e-mail he received from a company commander in Afghanistan, who mentioned how he often had to counsel soldiers who received divorce papers or "Dear John" letters from spouses or opposite-sex partners.

Murphy continued: "This young company commander, this captain, on his fourth deployment, wrote in that e-mail saying, 'I never thought I'd see the day when I got one of those letters myself. And I'm sitting here at three o'clock in the morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I have no where to go because I happen to be gay, and I can't walk to the chaplain, and I can't go to a battle buddy, and I can't walk to my commander's office, so I'm sitting here cradling my 9 mm pistol thinking about blowing my brains out. But I read this article about this Iraq war veteran named Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania that's fighting for me, and it gives me hope.'"

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) had this to say about the American promise of equality for all.

Perhaps the most memorable sound bites came from, as they often do, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA4).

This one, in particular.

For those who are worried about the radial homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice – two down, two to go.

Representative Frank’s message is simple.

LGBT equality advocates aren’t working some nefarious plot. What the Right labels as radical isn’t radical at all. It’s about fairness, freedom, and the Constitution. It’s about core values and fundamental rights that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, hold dear and should enjoy.

PFAW

Haley Barbour's Whitewash of History

Mississippi governor and potential presidential candidate Haley Barbour is now trying to backtrack his previous support for the racist White Citizens Councils that existed in the state when he was young.

In a recent interview with the Weekly Standard, he made his feelings quite clear:

You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.

Since not everyone in America is wholly ignorant of recent history, Barbour is being forced to backpedal, according to Talking Points Memo. Among other things, he now says:

My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either.

Perhaps we are meant to think that the formation of the White Citizens Councils in the 1950s represented a principled rejection of the Klan. However, neither the timing nor the motivation rings true. As People For the American Way said in a 2003 report:

[I]t is worth noting that by 1967, "even the white establishment of Mississippi had begun to decide that Klan violence was bad for business." Clarence Page, "Fight Over Judges Replays Our Bitter History," Chicago Tribune (Feb. 13, 2002) (citing William Taylor, who at the time was Staff Director for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission).

Barbour’s desperate and unconvincing backtracking should not be the end of the story, because it is simply not credible that he was unaware of what the White Citizens Councils really were ... as if their name wasn’t already a giveaway.

While Barbour today likens them to just another "organization of town leaders," the Mississippi White Citizens Councils show up in contemporaneous federal court cases as anything but a Rotary Club.

For instance, in 1964, a federal district court noted the then-recent formation of the Mississippi White Citizens Councils, including its first priority, in United States v. Mississippi:

In 1954, after the Supreme Court had declared state operation of racially segregated schools unconstitutional, white citizens councils -- not parties to this action -- were formed in Mississippi. The purpose of these organizations was the maintenance of racial segregation and white supremacy in Mississippi. The first statewide project undertaken by these organizations was the attempt to induce the white voters of Mississippi to adopt the proposed amendment to Section 244 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.

They succeeded, thereby introducing the literacy and civics tests that government officials subsequently used to keep African Americans disenfranchised.

Four years later, in 1968, their racist mission and funding were said to be common knowledge by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co:

It appears to be common knowledge that, in addition to its own activities promoting segregation, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an agency created in 1956 and financed by state tax revenues, used a part of its funds to finance some of the activities of various groups, including the White Citizens Council, which promote adherence to the ancient custom of proscribing the mixing of the races in places of public assembly; and that these groups, especially the White Citizens Council, use economic and social power to pressure those who might attempt to disregard custom into adhering to custom. See, generally, J. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society, 8, 32, 39-40, 42, 43, 65, 79, 94, 97, 110, 133, 151, 217 (1964).

People For the American Way discussed this key funder of the White Citizens Councils in a 2002 report:

The Sovereignty Commission, a state-funded agency, was created not long after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education in order to resist desegregation, and was empowered to act as necessary to protect the "sovereignty" of the state of Mississippi from the federal government. The Commission infiltrated and spied on civil rights and labor organizations and reported on their activities. It compiled dossiers on civil rights activists and used the information to obstruct their activities. The Commission existed until 1977, when the state legislature voted to abolish it and to seal its records for 50 years.

The White Citizens Councils were a dark stain on the history of our nation. No responsible officeholder - or office seeker - can think otherwise. Had Governor Barbour stated that he did not recognize that at the time because he was a product of the environment he grew up in, it might be believable. But his defense of the White Citizens Council coupled with his unconvincing backpedaling suggests that he still doesn’t understand how repugnant the South’s Jim Crow system really was.

PFAW

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the PFAW letter:

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

From the AAMIA letter:

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

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

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

PFAW

PFAW Delivers to Senate 25,000 Petitions Pressing for DISCLOSE Act

Yesterday, People For the American Way delivered to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer the signatures of over 25,000 activists urging the Senate to take up and pass the DISCLOSE Act before the end of this Congress. The House passed the bill earlier this year, but Republican Senators have twice blocked it from proceeding in the Senate.

The best chance the Senate has to pass the bill is to pass it now. Despite the overwhelming popularity of campaign finance disclosure measures, the GOP has hardly been friendly to DISCLOSE so far (all but two House Republicans voted against the measure, and it didn’t win the support of a single Republican senator). The bill was also a target of corporate lobbyists—many of whom, the Washington Post reports, will now be moving to Capitol Hill to work as highly placed advisors to new Republican members of Congress.

But even if the Senate doesn’t vote on DISCLOSE this month, we’ll keep on pushing to make it law. There’s absolutely no good reason for any member of Congress to oppose a bill that makes government cleaner and elections more transparent. Most Americans agree…and hopefully the GOP will catch on.

For more on the DISCLOSE Act and the Right’s opposition to it, read Michael Keegan on the “Corporate Money Denial Game”.
 

PFAW

Congress Moves Closer to Passage of DREAM Act

Yesterday, in a 216-198 vote, the House passed the DREAM Act, a measure that lays out a path to citizenship for young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and who graduate from high school with the commitment to attend college or join the military. Today, the Senate took a procedural vote that temporarily delayed action on the measure in order to build more support for its consideration in the coming week.

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

Until the DREAM Act becomes law, tens of thousands of young Americans will continue to be treated as criminals in the only homes they know. The Senate must follow the House’s example and work quickly to eliminate what is a fundamental injustice in American law. We support Senator Reid’s efforts to gather enough votes to pass DREAM, and urge fair-minded senators to throw aside divisive anti-immigrant politics and act with common sense and compassion.

Calls are still needed to the Senate: 866-996-5161. Here are some talking points from the National Immigration Forum.

Why should your Senators support the DREAM Act?

•    Because the public supports it—70%, according to a recent poll by First Focus.

•    Because the military wants it.  Secretary of Defense Bill Gates recently wrote a letter to the DREAM Act’s sponsor in the Senate in support of the DREAM Act.  Retired Gen. Colin Powell has also spoken publicly in favor of the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act will help the military meet recruitment goals, because one of the ways students will qualify is to serve in the military.

•    Because taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.  Allowing immigrant students to continue their education and achieve their potential will translate into better jobs and higher tax revenue when these promising young people enter the workforce.  A single-minded focus on enforcement, as proposed by anti-immigrant Members of Congress would deny taxpayers this return on investment, and result in higher deficits, cuts in other programs, or higher taxes to pay to deport these immigrant youth.

Also from the National Immigration Forum, the story behind today’s Senate action.

The Senate vote on a motion to table the DREAM cloture vote, which took place moments ago, reflected a strategic decision to buy time to build more support for the DREAM Act.

If you were watching the vote or saw a headline about it, you may have been puzzled as to why Senate Leader Reid made a motion to table his own cloture motion, and why so many Democrats voted for it.  Why did this happen?

It’s complicated.  Republicans have vowed to block every bill in the Senate until the issues of tax cuts and funding of the government for the current fiscal year are resolved.  Democratic leadership decided they would push back the DREAM vote until these other issues are resolved.  Once the tax cuts and government funding are dealt with, Republicans will not be able to use them as excuses to oppose the DREAM Act.

However: Senator Reid needed “Unanimous Consent” to withdraw his cloture motion and push back the vote.  He did not get it, forcing him to offer a motion to table the cloture vote. 

Procedural trick: By tabling the cloture vote, Democrats will be able to bring the DREAM Act up again in the coming days when the other issues have been resolved.

Bottom line: Our allies in the Senate know that DREAM supporters have momentum coming out of the House victory yesterday.  They want to take the additional time, remove excuses now being made by Republicans, and cultivate more support for DREAM in the Senate.

A real vote on DREAM in the Senate will be scheduled later.  Please continue to contact your Senators and tell them to support the Dream Act.

Here again is the phone number you can call to be patched through to your Senators offices: 866-996-5161.

We will keep you posted as more information becomes available on the schedule for a Senate vote on the DREAM Act.
PFAW