Citizens United v. FEC

Money in Politics Fuels Student Loan Debt

Wall Street has found another way to make money at the expense of our future: student loan debt. The amount of debt held by recent graduates increased an astonishing 20 percent from 2011 to 2013, reaching a total of more than $1.2 trillion. Meanwhile, big banks and financial institutions that profit from student loan debt are spending more than ever to influence political elections and to prevent policy solutions from being are enacted. Wall Street companies rake in an estimated $45 billion off higher education each year, with a significant portion derived from student loans.

One measure to deal with the student loan crises, proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, would allow over 25 million students to refinance their loans at a better rate. Senator Warren’s bill has stalled, along with similar proposals, due to gridlock and obstructionism fueled by special interest spending. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, between 2008 and 2012 the amount of money Wall Street institutions funneled into Congress through political donations nearly doubled, from $55.9 million to over $108 million. That’s a direct result of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which lifted restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections. 

The overwhelming increase in outside political spending is taking a toll on young Americans, as the weight of their debt limits their options post-graduation. Recent graduates are already faced with a daunting reality — with more than half of them currently unemployed — while the job market is flooded with people who have years of experience. If young Americans are fed up with special interest money robbing them of opportunity, their frustration can best be directed toward passing campaign finance reform… and supporting the Democracy for All Amendment.

This proposed amendment, which is being debated and voted on in the Senate this week, would allow Congress to regulate of the out-of-control spending in political elections. It currently has the support of 50 senators.  While not sufficient to secure the 2/3 of the Senate needed for passage, this weeks’ vote on  the Democracy for All Amendment is a historic  step towards passing the 28th amendment, and a major milestone in the fight to for better federal policies regarding student debt.

PFAW

First day of Senate debate to #GetMoneyOut

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois was there to set the record straight, about the true reality of this debate, and about the seriousness with which Democracy for All supporters have approached this historic step forward in the movement to take back our democracy from powerful corporations and billionaires.
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NPR Highlights Poll Showing Bipartisan Support for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

As the Senate begins debating the Democracy For All Amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, NPR’s Peter Overby highlighted the strong, bipartisan public support for reforming our campaign finance system in a radio segment this morning.

“When pollsters ask Americans about the political money system, overwhelming percentages basically say they hate it. So why doesn’t Congress do something?” he asked.

Overby spoke with Bob Carpenter, a Republican pollster who helped conduct a recent poll — commissioned by Public Citizen and partially underwritten by People For the American Way — on Americans’ attitudes toward a constitutional amendment like the one being debated this week. Carpenter emphasized that the data is clear: Republicans, Democrats, and independents all agree that Citizens United needs to be overturned. And while Republicans in Congress are pushing the myth that the amendment would gut free speech protections, Carpenter said that according to the poll, most Americans aren’t buying their arguments.

Overby’s segment highlights the fact that, in PFAW President Michael Keegan’s words, “Washington is the only place where campaign finance reform is a partisan issue.”

You can listen to the full segment here.

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Yet Another Way Activists are Raising the Issue of Campaign Finance Reform: Photo Petition!

Participate in the photo petition at http://www.demanddemocracy.org/

Curtailing the corrupting influence of money in politics may be the most pivotal issue facing our country. Unfortunately, many people see campaign finance reform as an abstract, boring issue that doesn’t resonate with their immediate priorities. In fact, as we’ve seen as the Democracy for All amendment is debated in the Senate this week, the dangerous threat to our democracy posed by big money in politics is absolutely fundamental to every  issue Americans care about:  student loan debt, paycheck equality for women, the stagnant minimum wage, climate change and sound energy policies. By addressing the countless ways that unlimited money in our elections impedes progress, it’s not hard to show how addressing the challenge of money in politics is relevant to every American.

To show how money in politics affects all of us, progressive organizations including People For the American Way, Public Citizen and Rethink Media have launched a photo petition and messaging campaign to help activists all across the country show why they care about getting money out of our elections.  The goal of the One Person One Vote #GetMoneyOut photo petition is simple: to show that democracy is about equal representation – one person one vote – without special privileges granted to a few. Special interest spending in elections has disrupted the balance of one person one vote by amplifying the voices of those who can afford to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in elections.

For the photo petition take a picture of yourself holding your pointer finger in the air (to represent one person one vote) while holding a sign that says #GetMoneyOut. You can be alone, or with a group. You can be in front of a Town hall, or at home in your house. We want as many pictures as possible of people, in as many places as possible, demanding the same thing… to #GetMoneyOut. If you want to get creative and incorporate additional props/signs into their photos… go for it!

Submit your photo at DemandDemocracy.org, along with the state you’re submitting it from. By uploading these photos to one central location, we can generate a trove of images showing activists speaking out on this issue.

We’ll also use your photo to tweet members of Congress dozens, hundreds or thousands of pictures of their constituents demanding that they #GetMoneyOut – and standing up for the core democratic principle of One Person One Vote. Your picture can help remind our elected leaders that money in politics is ultimately about people.

PFAW

The First Amendment, According to Mitch McConnell

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

Have you heard that Senate Democrats are working this week to repeal free speech?

I did, yesterday morning, from Mitch McConnell.

Have you heard that Democrats are going to go out and "muzzle" pastors who criticize them in the pulpit?

We did, from Ted Cruz.

Did you hear that Democrats are going to shut down conservative activists and then "brainwash the next generation into believing that this is how it should be"?

We did, last month, from the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins.

A good rule of thumb in politics is that the scarier someone sounds, the more you should doubt what they're saying. Another good rule in politics is not to trust what Mitch McConnell says about money in politics.

Because, yes, that's what we're talking about here. Not a secret new Orwellian regime. Not a new anti-pastor task force. What we're talking about is simply limiting the amount of money that corporations and wealthy individuals can spend to influence our elections.

This week, the Senate is debating a constitutional amendment that would overturn recent Supreme Court decisions that have paved the way for an explosion of big money in politics. In those decisions, including Citizens United and this year's McCutcheon, the Supreme Court radically redefined the First Amendment to allow corporations and the wealthy to drown out the speech of everyday Americans with nearly unlimited political spending. The Democracy for All amendment would restore to Congress and the states the power to impose reasonable restrictions on money in politics, just as they had before the Supreme Court started to dismantle campaign finance laws.

So, what are Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz so scared of?

In fact, it wasn't that long ago that Mitch McConnell supported the very laws that he is now dead-set on blocking. Back in 1987, McConnell said he would support a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to regulate independent expenditures in elections -- just as the Democracy for All amendment would. And then he introduced that very constitutional amendment. Either McConnell has dramatically changed his mind regarding what constitutes a threat to the First Amendment, or he's motivated by something more cynical.

So, if Mitch McConnell doesn't actually think that limiting the amount of money that wealthy interests can spend on elections is a violation of the First Amendment, what is he up to? Could it be that he now finds it more useful to court the dollars of major donors than the votes of his constituents?

Washington is the only place where campaign finance reform is a partisan issue. A poll this summer found that 73 percent of voters support a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Americans know that our First Amendment is about protecting the speech of citizens, not the interests of wealthy campaign donors.

Faced with a large, bipartisan grassroots movement that threatens their big-spending friends, the only arguments that Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz have left are wild accusations, flat-out falsehoods, and outlandish interpretations of the Bill of Rights.

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“The Wealthy Get to Shout, But the Rest of You May Only Whisper”: Former GOP Senator Alan Simpson Calls for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

This morning, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.) and Democratic Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) published a powerful joint op-ed in The Hill in support of the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and help get big money out of politics.

The authors write that the Supreme Court’s line of decisions overturning common-sense campaign finance laws says to Americans: “the wealthy get to shout, but the rest of you may only whisper.” They debunk the myth that the amendment would repeal First Amendment free speech protections and make clear that it would actually do “the exact opposite”:

The constitutional amendment would make it clear that campaign finance regulations are up to the voters who elect Congress and state legislatures. It would not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead it would protect sensible and workable campaign finance laws from constitutional challenges.

Critics have claimed that the amendment would repeal the First Amendment’s free speech protections. But it does the exact opposite – the proposal is an effort to restore the First Amendment so that it applies equally to all Americans. When a few billionaires supporting both political parties can drown out the voices of millions of Americans, we can’t have any real political debate.

Sen. Udall and former Sen. Simpson note that the money in politics situation has gotten far worse over the course of their times in office:

Over the course of our Senate careers, spending on campaigns has gotten out of control. According to a joint study by Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, outside groups spent $457 million to influence Senate and House races in 2012. In the 1978 election, when Senator Simpson was first elected, outside groups spent only $303,000. There is a deeply troubling trend here, and we simply cannot let it continue.

That former Sen. Simpson has joined the chorus of voices calling for change underscores the broad, bipartisan support for an amendment. A recent poll found that Republican voters support an amendment by a 26-point margin, and 137 Republican officials have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United.

You can read the full op-ed here.

PFAW

Civil Liberties Experts: Limiting Big Money In Elections Doesn’t Infringe on Free Speech Rights

This morning, six civil liberties experts released a letter emphasizing that reasonable regulations on money in elections do not violate the free speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. The authors — academics, philanthropists, and lawyers, all of whom are former leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — make clear that the protection of civil liberties is entirely compatible with commonsense limits on money in elections.

The letter was released following a barrage of misleading arguments pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and others about the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United that will be voted on in the Senate on Monday. Though opponents have tried to position themselves as defenders of free speech, with Sen. Cruz going so far as to claim that the amendment would repeal the First Amendment and “muzzle” Americans, this letter emphasizes that it is, in fact, the Court’s twisted interpretation of the First Amendment that threatens to leave Americans without a voice:

Rather than interpreting the First Amendment as assuring everyone a reasonable opportunity to be heard, the Court (and the National ACLU) has turned the First Amendment on its head by guaranteeing the wealthy an expensive set of stereo speakers, and leaving the average citizen with a bad case of laryngitis. Most Americans would find it preposterous to allot more time in a debate to the speaker with the most money. Yet, that is precisely how our campaign finance system functions today.

The authors, many of whom signed a similar letter in 1998, note that our country’s money in politics problem has only gotten worse since then. In the wake of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon, they write, “American democracy is almost irretrievably broken.” While they do not weigh in on the Democracy for All Amendment specifically, the civil liberties experts close the letter with a call to restore the promise of the First Amendment by overturning these damaging decisions:

We believe that overturning many of the Court’s narrow 5-4 campaign finance precedents and implementing generous, content neutral political spending limits is the best way to fulfill the promise of James Madison’s First Amendment as democracy’s best friend.

You can read the full text of the letter here.
 

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Wealthy Donors Aren't Like You and Me

As big-money donors shatter the old aggregate contribution caps, most Americans can't even begin to compete with them for political influence.
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Activists Deliver Amendment Petitions to 21 Senate Offices

Congress may be on recess, but activists across the country are not taking a break from the nationwide push to get big money out of politics. Today activists teamed up for a massive petition drop, delivering petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United to 21 Senate offices in 15 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington).

Activists delivering petitions raise their pointer finger in support of reclaiming our democracy from wealthy special interests by protecting the promise of “one person, one vote.” The one finger represents the idea that democracy is about equal representation without special privileges granted to a few.

As the Sept. 8 Senate vote on the Democracy for All Amendment rapidly approaches, the Progressive Democrats of America teamed up with People For the American Way and thirteen other groups to compile and deliver the petitions to key Senate offices. More and more people nationwide are now calling for an amendment – within our organizations alone we're up to 2.4 million in support! And now is the time for senators to hear from constituents about how important the fight against big money’s outsized influence in our democracy is to them. To date, 50 senators have already heeded the call and support the amendment.

Americans have made clear that this is not a fight that they will shy away from. Our political system is supposed to reflect the will of the people — and today’s massive, nationwide petition delivery underscores just what that political will is.

PFAW

Democracy for All Amendment: PFAW Member Telebriefing

On Wednesday, just over a month before the Senate votes on the Democracy for All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, People For the American Way members and supporters joined Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) for a telebriefing on the proposed amendment. As our telebriefing facilitator and Director of Communications Drew Courtney noted, Rep. Deutch has been a champion of the push for an amendment in the House of Representatives, where it already has a whopping 117 cosponsors.

In his introduction, Rep. Deutch noted that he was running for Congress when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision came down in 2010. As he reflected on the issues he was discussing on the campaign trail – from immigration reform to climate change – he saw that for progress to happen on any of them, we need to reform the way we do business in Washington. Rep. Deutch said that with so much dark money coming into our political system, the matters that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see being addressed by Congress are pushed to the side as wealthy special interests set the political agenda.

To fix this problem and return democracy to the people, he said, we need to overturn decisions like Citizens United. Rep. Deutch underscored the importance of every member of Congress hearing from their constituents again and again on this issue, urging them to become a cosponsor of the Democracy for All Amendment. He also debunked the myth pushed by amendment opponents that the proposal would harm or restrict free speech. To the contrary, Rep. Deutch clarified, the amendment would help us hear the voices of all Americans, no matter what their viewpoint may be. He closed his remarks with an acknowledgment that although amending the Constitution isn’t easy – nor was it meant to be – there are times in American history when we have to take that step.

PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker also spoke on the call and fielded questions from activists. She outlined the campaign in support of the Democracy for All Amendment underway this summer, including a week of writing letters to the editor, a week of social media activity, and a week of petition deliveries. Baker highlighted the fact that advocates have to keep up the push not only before and during the Senate vote on Sept. 8, but also in its aftermath. We have to make the phones of our elected officials ring off the hook on the day after the vote, she said, to make clear that we are paying attention to how our representatives voted and that we will keep up our work until the Democracy for All Amendment becomes the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

Visit our Democracy for All Amendment Toolkit for information on how to get involved.

PFAW

New Battleground State Poll Finds Voter Support for Candidates that Favor Amendment to Get Money out of Politics

Senate candidates, take notice: a new poll of 12 Senate battleground states released today finds that supporting a constitutional amendment to undo the damage of cases like Citizens United is not only good for our democracy, it’s good politics.

The poll, conducted by Democracy Corps for Every Voice, found strong, cross-partisan support for a constitutional amendment such as the Democracy for All Amendment now gaining momentum and moving through Congress. Nearly three in four voters (73 percent) favor it, including majorities “in even the reddest states.” Even among Republicans, supporters strongly outnumber opponents — by a sizable 26 percent margin.

The polling data also found that candidates’ support for an amendment can help win favor among voters. While a plurality of voters were more likely to support a Democratic candidate after hearing a pro-amendment argument, two thirds of voters had “serious doubts” about Republicans when they learned of their support for the Citizens United decision — including a majority of Republican voters.

The release of these new polling numbers could not come at a better time. This summer, a nationwide grassroots push for the Democracy for All Amendment is heating up. Already sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for an amendment, and individual Americans are raising their voices in support more than ever before. After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, the amendment — which currently has 50 supporters in the Senate — is expected to get a vote after the August recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even noted on the Senate floor this morning that the amendment is a priority for September.

Americans of all political stripes have made it clear that getting big money out of politics and ensuring that all voices are heard in our democracy is a priority issue. Across the board, people believe that the strength of your voice in our government should not be determined by how much money you can spend in elections. Now we know that this is not only an issue that Americans care deeply about, it’s one that will help shape their decisions on Election Day.

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National Candidates Share Their Views on Money in Politics in the 2014 Elections

Most Americans recognize money in politics to be a pressing issue, but no one understands it quite like the candidates running for office to try and change our campaign finance system.

In a candidate forum yesterday at Netroots Nation​, moderator and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker led panelists – Maine U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, Wisconsin U.S. House of Representatives candidate Kelly Westlund, and former California Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman – in a lively discussion of the role of money in politics in the 2014 elections.

Baker kicked off the discussion by noting both the magnitude of outside money flooding into the 2014 elections as compared to earlier elections, as well as the public will to quell this tide. She pointed out that nine in ten voters want to see their elected officials take action to fix our country’s money in politics problem.

The candidates began by telling the audience why they were inspired to make money in politics a central issue for their campaigns. Shenna Bellows, who said that her father was a carpenter and that her family did not have electricity or running water during her childhood, noted that “people like me” – those not from wealthy backgrounds – don’t often run for public office. This fact, she pointed out, contributes to the creation of laws tilted in favor of big business. Rick Weiland echoed that idea, and said that he believes money in politics is the number one issuing facing our country. For Kelly Westlund, the full weight of our country’s money in politics problem hit home for her when she approached her party about running for office and was asked whether she would be able to raise a quarter of a million dollars in three weeks. And Derek Cressman said that he was drawn to the opportunity of using the bully pulpit of a political office like secretary of state (or as Baker added, the platform of a being a candidate for that political office) to get support for measures like Proposition 49, a ballot initiative in California asking Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United that will now be on the ballot in the state in November.

Panelists also talked about fighting the cynicism and despair that can surround the issue of big money in politics for voters. Cressman said that while Americans already understand that this is a major problem, they are also eager to support solutions. He underscored the overwhelming grassroots energy around the issue. A number of panelists highlighted the importance of “connecting the dots” between money and policy – drawing the links for voters between progress on the issues they care most about and the creation of a political system not dominated by corporations and the super-rich. Multiple panelists also shared stories of the power of small dollar donors. For Bellows, a full half of the contributions her campaign receives are $6 or less. She lifted up the example of former senator and progressive hero Paul Wellstone, who she noted was outraised seven-to-one but still won his race.

As the panel wrapped up, panelists underscored the importance of pushing for a range of complimentary solutions to our money in politics problem, from the constitutional amendment now moving through the Senate to disclosure legislation to small-donor financing initiatives. As Westlund put it, it’s not enough to recognize the problems. We have to fight for solutions and get the right people at the table so that we can change the system and make sure the government’s policies reflect the will of the people.

Watch a video of the panel here:

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Barney Frank: This Year’s Midterm Elections Define Our Courts

In an op-ed printed in the Portland Press Herald this weekend, retired congressman Barney Frank offers a sharp critique of the far right Supreme Court under John Roberts. Explicitly noting the importance of the Court in defining law that affects all citizens, Frank makes clear not only that courts matter, but everyday citizens have a hand in how these courts are shaped.

Reviewing the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions — from overturning “more than 100 years of federal and state efforts to regulate the role of money in campaigns” to declaring that corporations have the right to religious freedom under RFRA—Frank states that “the court has ended this term with a barrage against laws it does not like” (emphasis added).

He continues,

…The Supreme Court is now strongly inclined to impose conservative ideology via Constitutional interpretation on a broad range of public policy. It is true that Kennedy and to some extent Roberts occasionally deviate from this, but Justice Samuel Alito has surpassed even Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in his ideological purity.

The relevance of this to the next two elections is very clear. Four of the sitting justices are in their late 70s or older. This means that there is a strong possibility that President Obama will have a chance to appoint another justice before his term expires, but his ability to do so will be determined not simply by the health of the justices in question, but by the composition of the U.S. Senate. The increasing partisanship in the Senate, the continued virulent influence of the tea party and recent history strongly suggest that even if a vacancy occurs, Obama will be prevented from filling it (emphasis added).

Frank refers to the unceasing Republican obstructionism and argues courts are critical for defining laws that affect Americans on a daily basis, highlighting the importance of this year’s midterm elections. As he concludes in this piece,

This makes it highly likely that among the issues that will be determined in the next senatorial and presidential election will be the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. Voters should act accordingly.

PFAW

Cleaning Up the Supreme Court's Democracy Mess

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

One year ago this week, the Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court's mess.

The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of "stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart." Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way's director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: "Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America."

Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.

Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It's a critically important first step in getting our country's laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn't exist, they won't have to fix it.

The push for voting rights protections isn't the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.

But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn't despair -- it's action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.

National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court's majority: "Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power."

The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: these wrong-headed decisions shouldn't have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won't.

PFAW

"Citizen Koch" Premieres Nationwide (And We Highly Recommend It!)

All around the country, the important film "Citizen Koch" is premiering in cities large and small. Find a screening near you!

The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”

People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 

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“I’m Afraid to Do What I Think Is Right”: Report Highlights Real-World Impact of Outside Political Spending

While we may be accustomed to seeing charts and tables about the impact of big money in politics, it’s far less common to hear about the real-world stories of its influence. Yesterday researchers from Ohio State University released a new report on “The New Soft Money,” a first-of-its-kind look at the day to day impact of independent expenditures (such as spending by super PACs) on federal campaigns and governance.

Through interviews with former members of Congress, campaign and legislative staff, candidates, and other political figures, the report details — in the interviewees’ own words — the effects of the explosion of independent spending into our political system following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

A few highlights from the report make clear the enormous impact outside spending has on the functioning of our democracy:

“No one’s saying, ‘Here’s $50 million for a good  compromise.” -Former Rep. Dan Boren (pg. 93)

“When Club for Growth first came out we used to laugh about them, we used to chuckle on the floor… But, after the Citizens United case, they became….much more active….if you didn’t behave in a certain way they would come into your district and spend a lot of money to make sure you were defeated in the primary.”  -Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (p. 87-88)

Some political insiders described the ongoing implicit threat of independent spending on attack ads as just as effective as an explicit threat would be:

“You’re already threatened.... You’re sitting there saying ... is Americans for Prosperity going to advertise against me in a primary, yes or no?....If you’re sitting there making a decision, [thinking]… we’d better do something about it, but if I do something about it, I know the Koch brothers are going to run an ad against me. I know they’re going to put a lot of money to try to defeat me in a primary. I know it… They don’t have to threaten me…the net effect is the same. I’m afraid to do what I think is right.” -Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who ran for Senate again in 2012 (p. 82)

The report was released on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee voted to move forward a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, serving as even more evidence of the pressing need to reform our campaign finance system.

PFAW

Ted Cruz and the Myth of the Censored Grandma

In today’s Senate subcommittee markup on a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics, Sen. Ted Cruz was ready with a long line of scary predictions as to what the proposed amendment would really do. From claiming that it would repeal the First Amendment to asserting that under the original proposed amendment, a “little old lady” could be put in jail for spending five dollars to put up a political yard sign, Cruz had horror stories at the ready. During the markup, Sen. Cruz dramatically tweeted that a “constitutional amendment proposed by Democrats would allow Congress to ban books!”

As we have pointed out before, Sen. Cruz’s doomsday predictions are far cry from reality.

Here’s what is reality: the proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to be able to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money in elections, as they did for years and years before the Citizens United decision. It would not change the landscape with respect to books. Grandmas would still be able to put out their candidate yard signs. The First Amendment would be restored from the damage done by Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.

Fortunately other members of the subcommittee were able to set the record straight. Sen. Durbin underscored the idea that a large bank account does not “entitle you to buy every seat at the table, control the agenda, silence your opponents.” In other words, the First Amendment is about protecting the right to free speech, not the “right” of wealthy special interests to buy elections and drown out all other voices. As Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has noted previously: “I’m still looking for the word ‘money’ in the First Amendment.

But presumably the goal of Sen. Cruz’s censored-grandma myth and other horror stories is to pull the conversation far away from the actual merits of the proposal at hand. Rather than talking about the influx of money flooding our elections, we’re talking about book banning. But with across-the-board support for efforts to get big money out of politics, it’s a distraction ploy that Americans aren’t buying.

PFAW

What Cantor’s Defeat Says About Money In Politics

As the news of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss last night to Tea Party challenger David Brat sinks in, Brat’s anti-immigrant extremism is increasingly coming into the spotlight. Today Right Wing Watch wrote that Brat actively sought out the endorsement of ALIPAC, an anti-immigrant hate group whose leader has suggested that violence may be necessary to quell President Obama’s supposed war on “white America.” Brat campaigned on the claim that a vote for Cantor was “a vote for amnesty.”

But there is another aspect to the race also worth paying attention to: Brat’s focus on corruption in Washington. This morning our friends at Public Campaign pointed out that Brat, who was vastly outspent by Cantor, consistently made speaking out against political corruption a part of his campaign. In his victory speech, Brat said to supporters: “What you proved tonight was dollars don’t vote — you do.”

The overwhelming majority of Americans (92 percent of voters, according to a November 2013 poll) think it’s important for elected officials do more to reduce money’s influence on elections — a statistic we often highlight in our work for urgently-needed campaign finance reforms. What last night’s news brings to the foreground is the obvious fact that this 92 percent cannot possibly reflect Americans of only one political leaning. A commitment to fighting corruption and the outsized influence of big money in politics is a deeply-held belief of people of all political stripes, whatever their other beliefs may be.

This morning Politico proclaimed, “Big money couldn’t save Eric Cantor.” And despite Brat’s extremism, there is something hopeful about the fact that people can fight back against the tidal wave of cash flooding our electoral system. To be sure, this outcome is the exception rather than the rule. More than nine times in ten, the better-financed congressional candidate wins. In the post-Citizens United and post-McCutcheon campaign finance landscape, to pretend that money doesn’t matter hugely in the outcome of elections — and in who has access to and influence over politicians once the election is over — is to be willfully blind.

But it’s also important to be reminded that when voters set their minds to it, they still have the power to reshape our nation — for good or ill.

PFAW

Money in Politics Takes Top Billing on Congress.Gov

Congress.gov saw so many views of S.J. Res. 19 because Americans across the country are interested in creating an America that does not allow corporations to use their money to cozy up with politicians.
PFAW