Members of the Task Force on Election Reform introduced three voter empowerment bills at the beginning of the 113th Congress in January. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi created The Task Force to develop electoral reform legislation under the D.A.R.E. initiative (Disclose, Amend, Reform, and Empower).
The objective of the Task Force on Election Reform is to combine the best parts of reform bills into one effective piece of legislation that will help strengthen the voices of average Americans and increase the participation of small-donor contributors in our elections.
The three bills that were introduced are:
The Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 269) was introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) along with 52 co-sponsors. Among other provisions, the bill matches small-dollar donation 5-to-1 and requires participating candidates to limit contributions to $100. The bill was referred to the House Committee on House Administration on January 15, 2013.
The Grassroots Democracy Act (H.R. 268) was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) with 36 co-sponsors. The bill matches small contributions 10-1 for candidates who limit contributions to $100 and 5-1 for those that follow the normal contribution limit. The act also provides a $25 tax credit to help voters make small-dollar donations to the participating candidates. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Communication and Technology on January 18, 2013.
The Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 270) was introduced by Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) with 13 co-sponsors. The bill matches the first $250 of a contribution 5-to-1 and cuts the contribution limits in half to $1,250 for participating candidates. The legislation also aims to mitigate the effects of Citizens United, by providing a broader definition of coordination so that super PACs and political non-profits cannot function as arms of candidates’ campaigns. The bill was referred to the Committee on House Administration to the Committee on Ways and Means to decide which committee it belongs in on January, 15 2013.
The members of the Task Force on Election Reform are Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards, Congressman Theodore E. Deutch, Congressman John Larson, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Congressman James P. McGovern, Congressman Rush D. Holt, Congressman Adam B. Schiff, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, Congressman John A. Yarmuth, Congressman Kurt Schrader, Congressman George Miller, Congressman David E. Price, Congressman Robert A. Brady, Congresswoman Susan A. Davis, Congressman Raul M. Grijalva, Congressman Keith Ellison, Congressman John P. Sarbanes, and Congressman Rick Nolan.
All members of the Task Force on Election Reform support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
The following video featuring Congressman Keith Ellison and People For the American Way's Marge Baker was recorded on December 15th, 2012 and live-streamed to host parties across the country.
On and around the weekend of January 19, 2013 - the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the third anniversary of the Citizens United decision - activists across the country will be mobilizing to demand that draconian voter suppression measures are overturned, that we get big money out of politics, and that real democracy flourishes in America.
What does Citizens United have to do with women’s health care? According to a decision last week from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, perhaps more than you may think.
Just a week after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Hobby Lobby’s petition to prevent enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage provision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals made a ruling at odds with that decision. Last Friday the panel granted a motion for an injunction pending appeal to plaintiffs Cyril and Jane Korte who run Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, a construction company. The Kortes had argued that the contraception mandate of the ACA violated their right to religious freedom.
In other words, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided that – at least temporarily – the company does not have to comply with the Obama Administration’s rules that most employer-provided health care plans must cover birth control.
ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser points out that the Appeals Court cited Citizens United in their reasoning, a move that he finds “ominous.” Millhiser highlights a line from the decision – “That the Kortes operate their business in the corporate form is not dispositive of their claim. See generally Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010)” – before arguing that:
As a matter of current law, this decision is wrong. As the Supreme Court explained in United States v. Lee, “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” Lee established — with no justice in dissent — that religious liberty does not allow an employer to “impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees,” such as by forcing employees to give up their own rights because of the employer’s objections to birth control.
Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit’s citation to Citizens United is an ominous sign. Lee was decided at a time when the Court understood that corporations should not be allowed to buy and sell elections. That time has passed, and the precedents protecting against corporate election-buying were overruled in Citizens United. It is not difficult to imagine the same five justices who tossed out longstanding precedent in Citizens United doing the same in a case involving whether employers can impose their religious beliefs on their employees.
Circuit Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner also raised issues with the decision. In her dissent, she addressed the corporation issue head-on. She noted that:
...it is the corporation rather than the Kortes individually which will pay for the insurance coverage. The corporate form may not be dispositive of the claims raised in this litigation, but neither is it meaningless: it does separate the Kortes, in some real measure, from the actions of their company.
Similarly, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Paul Gordon noted last month in reference to the Hobby Lobby decision that the question of where to draw the line in terms of government regulation of religious institutions and individuals is a tricky one. Still, he pointed out:
The requirement to provide certain health insurance for your employees – not for yourself, but for people you hire in a business you place in the public stream of commerce – seems a reasonable one.
Both Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the 3rd anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC will take place this year on the weekend of January 19, 2013, and activists are preparing to draw attention to the appropriate juxtaposition of two of the most pressing issues facing our country. Progressives understand that the dual threats of money in politics and voter suppression are interrelated and threaten the foundations of American democracy, and that taking on one of those issues means taking on both. That’s why people are rallying together under the banner of “Money Out, Voters In” on and around January 19th to raise awareness to these threats and jumpstart 2013 campaigns that will address them.
To launch these efforts, People For the American Way hosted a webcast with co-chair of the Progressive Caucus Representative Keith Ellison that was viewed by activists across the country who had assembled in organizing meetings to strategize for their January 19th action.
The results of a recent PFAW and unPAC produced art contest are in: a panel of experts (including such luminaries as Shepard Fairey, designer of the famous 2008 ‘Hope’ poster and Jesse Dylan, creator of the ‘Yes We Can’ music video) chose the piece ‘Monopolistic’ by 21-year old Tennessean Landon Wix as winner of a $3,000 prize.
Titled ‘Art > Money,’ the contest’s purpose was to find a piece of art to serve as an iconic image for the need to keep big money out of the American electoral process. Art can play an important role in such a campaign: as Shepard Fairey says, “It’s about using art to push back against the existing power structures in our society and inspiring real change.” In this instance, the American people agree: 80% oppose the infamous Citizens United decision and favor restrictions on the amount of money corporations can spend on elections.
PFAW alerted and encouraged our members to promote the winning image, and as a result of our and other’s efforts, Wix’s image was shared across the country and on the internet by thousands of activists as part of a larger effort to spread awareness about this important issue.
To see more of Wix’s work, visit http://www.landonwix.webs.com/
The "Stop the Greed" bus tour rolled into Denver, Colorado today and helped boost support for an important state ballot question on corporate political donations. PFAW’s Colorado Coordinator Ellen Dumm joined Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause (pictured above) and Luis Toro of Ethics Watch in support of the bus tour and a ballot initiative to overturn Citizens United.
On Election Day, Colorado voters will have a chance to say “no” to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited corporate campaign donations, by voting for Amendment 65. The ballot measure calls for the Colorado congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
The Stop the Greed Bus Tour is traveling to states to get the word out about how the billionaire oilmen Koch brothers are pouring millions of dollars into the 2012 elections in an effort to bolster their extreme right-wing agenda.
The Koch brothers have also bankrolled the controversial conservative group True the Vote, which has been accused of challenging eligible voters at the polls and disrupting elections.
The Citizens United decision brought about the rise of super PACs, and empowered 501(c)(4) public advocacy groups and 501(c)(6) trade associations to participate in (at times secretly-funded) electoral advocacy. The resulting influx of money into the election cycle has considerably altered the political landscape – and D.C. lobbyists have taken note.
As reported by Dave Levinthal at POLITICO, interest groups are utilizing super PACs to ‘twist arms.’
So for some issue interest groups, super PACs are a potentially major complement to — if not upgrade over — traditional, Capitol Hill lobbying in their ability to bring heat on lawmakers and twist their arms toward their agendas.
“If you’re a lobbyist, you’re talking with a legislator and mention you’re forming a super PAC, their ears are really going to perk up just because you said the words ‘super PAC,’” said Shana Glickfield, a partner at public affairs firm Beekeeper Group. “It’s such a big, scary thing — and can give you an extra edge of influence.”
One of the first powerful lobbying firms to create a super PAC for additional influence was the National Association of Realtors, which has since rewarded lawmakers friendly to their agenda with hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertisements and air cover. A host of other lobbying groups have done so as well.
As People For noted in our written testimony for the Senate Constitution Subcommittee hearing this past July on the need for constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United, the power of super PACs is twofold. Not only can special interest groups now spend freely on elections to promote their policy agenda, they can threaten to spend freely, effectively achieving the same result.
Of course, to accomplish its goals, a corporation need not actually spend such sums in every race they are interested in. Far from it. Especially for offices or in areas where electoral races are generally not overwhelmingly expensive – in other words, for most state and local legislative and judicial elections throughout the United States – the implied threat to spend large expenditures against elected officials could easily be enough to “persuade” them to take the “right” position. Conversely, the promise of an enormous windfall in supportive corporate independent expenditures could have an equally persuasive effect.
Such corruption leaves no evidence: no paper trail, no recordings, no ads. But it poisons our nation’s democracy.
Do D.C. lobbyists really need more tools in their arsenal to effectively ‘twist arms’? Are Sacramento lobbyists, Albany lobbyists, Tallahassee lobbyists or any other state-based lobbyists in desperate need of influence?
The obvious answer is no. Yet in the post-Citizens United world, the game is rigged, and those with power only accrue more of it. The people, meanwhile, are left with less and less of a say in government. It’s no wonder the Democratic Party, President Obama, nearly 2,000 public officials, seven state legislatures and over 300 cities/towns, and 1.98 million Americans are in support of a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United decision.