Elections

Executive Order to Slightly Lessen Citizen's United Damage

An executive order is in the works that would alleviate, albeit very slightly, the severe damage caused by the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen’s United . The Obama Administration plans to require government contractors to disclose their political donations in an effort to improve transparency by showing taxpayers where their money is ultimately being spent, and to eliminate any illusion of contractors engaging in pay-to-play politics.

Republicans are crying foul in an effort to maintain the considerable fundraising advantage they've developed in a system dominated by shadowy interest groups  who can now spend freely on campaign ads. But considering that federal agencies spent about $535 billion of taxpayer money on contractors last year alone, it is reasonable to wonder how much of that money is spent on helping to elect the people who make the decisions about who gets government contracts.

Polls have shown that at least three-quarters of Americans are in favor of correcting the Citizen’s United decision and limiting the staggering influence of corporate interests in elections. This executive order may be a small step in the right direction, but it highlights the urgent need for Congress to revisit the DISCLOSE Act and other legislative remedies as well as a constitutional amendment to ensure our right to fair and transparent elections.

PFAW

Citizens United Freed Corporations to Politically Pressure Employees

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on politicking, has caused ripples of sometimes unexpected consequences – from the toppling of long-established state laws to the rise of secretive corporate spending groups that operate outside the reach of disclosure laws. Now The Nation has uncovered another destructive consequence of the decision:

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State [1]—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

PFAW

Independents Align More Closely With Democrats on Social Issues

Conventional wisdom tells us that Independents swing elections. Logic tells us that the two major parties should be trying to court as many Independents as possible. So why are Republicans emphasizing a legislative agenda that falls out of synch with the priorities of most independent voters?

According to recent polling data compiled by CQ Weekly, the views of Independents align more closely with Democrats than with Republicans on social issues such as funding Planned Parenthood. Interestingly, Republicans are pretty evenly split on the issue, and independent voters are in favor of continuing funding. The majority of Independents also believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to legally marry and that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Why, then, are Republicans actively alienating Independents by threatening to shut down the government over issues that they oppose? As noted in the CQ article, One House, Two Agendas [paywall], even Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who manages communications strategy for Senate Republicans, fears the consequences of this shift in priorities:
 

“Our focus needs to be on reducing spending,” Alexander said. “We can’t preach the whole Bible in one sermon, so sometimes we have to take it one step at a time.”

Alexander’s views are reflected in the opinions of more libertarian-minded tea party groups. Last November, several tea party leaders and gay conservatives sent a letter to lawmakers asking them not to become distracted by the concerns of social conservatives.

“The tea party movement is a non-partisan movement, focused on issues of economic freedom and limited government,” they wrote. “We urge you to stay focused on the issues that got you and your colleagues elected and to resist the urge to run down any social issue rabbit holes in order to appease the special interests.”

In a recent essay describing a growing coalition between fiscal and social conservatives, PFAW Foundation’s Peter Montgomery explains how the Tea Party, supposedly concerned only about the size and scope of the federal government, is being co-opted by the Religious Right:

Now effectively in the employ of the libertarian David Koch, who founded Americans for Prosperity and chairs the board of its foundation, [Koch political operative Tom Phillips] has deep ties to the evangelical Right, most notably with Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, who now heads a new entity, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Reed and Phillips go way back; the two were partners in Century Strategies, the political consulting group through which Reed played a role in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. Now, it seems Phillips is partnered with Reed and other Religious Right leaders in a much greater conquest: a merger of the Religious Right and the ostensibly secular Tea Party movement to create an electoral juggernaut that will determine the outcome of the 2012 Republican presidential primary.

Republicans continue to force extreme social issues on the American people, and independent voters are finding it less and less palatable. Hopefully, they’ll get the message.

 

PFAW

The Story From Wisconsin: Big Defeat For Walker

A lot of people are feeling pretty good in Wisconsin right now, but Governor Scott Walker probably isn’t one of them.

Last night, his hand-picked successor to become Milwaukee County Executive (the office Walker left when he became governor) was crushed by a 22 point margin. And this morning Joanne Kloppenburg declared victory over State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative activist who tied himself to Walker’s agenda.

While Wisconsin judicial elections are officially nonpartisan, Prosser is well known as a Republican who was quickly associated with Scott Walker. People in the state then began to realize that electing Joanne Kloppenburg to the bench to replace Justice Prosser would shift the 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal leaning court, thereby affecting how the highest court in the state might rule when Walker’s law inevitably arrives at their doorstep for review.

In no time flat, the election took on huge significance as the contest turned into a referendum wherein voters could express their favor or displeasure with Walker’s anti-collective bargaining legislation while affecting the ideological bend of the court that will likely be the final word on the legality of Walker’s law.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Kloppenburg scored a 204 vote victory. Close? You bet, but that’s cold comfort for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP who might be feeling a twinge of regret for pushing their extreme anti-worker agenda.

One would think that other Republicans would learn some lessons from this defeat and tap down their extremism a bit. In Washington, at least, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

PFAW

Pro-Corporate Groups Spend Millions To Save Walker’s Preferred Justice In Wisconsin

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was supposed to win reelection in a walk, after winning a February primary with 55% of the vote. Prosser, a former Republican state assemblyman, faced JoAnne Kloppenburg, who previously served as the state’s assistant attorney general and came in second in the primary. But Governor Scott Walker’s brazen push to bust unions and implement an ultraconservative political agenda spurred the progressive community into action, and Walker’s popularity plummeted.

Many of the Wisconsinites who are outraged over the right-wing policies pursued by Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature, rallied to Kloppenburg’s side. Walker allies feared the potential defeat of Prosser, who called himself “a common sense complement to both the new [Walker] administration and Legislature.”

While there are just a few hundred votes separating the two candidates, guaranteeing a recount, last-minute spending by right-wing organizations helped salvage Prosser’s flagging campaign.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, which monitors spending in judicial elections, pro-corporate groups have greatly outspent progressive organizations. The Brennan Center found that spending in the race passed the $3.5 million mark, with most of the spending benefiting Prosser.

While the Greater Wisconsin Committee ran ads against Prosser’s reelection, pro-corporate organizations such as the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (an amalgamate of the Wisconsin State Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association), the Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Tea Party Express have flooded the state with ads supporting Prosser and berating Kloppenburg.

As of Monday, the four groups which backed Prosser spent a combined $2,177,220, but the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent $1,363,040. The final spending figures have not yet been tallied.

Citizens for a Strong America, a front group for the Koch Brothers-financed Americans for Prosperity, ran an ad so erroneous that the nonpartisan group PolitiFact gave it a “pants on fire” rating. Even the far-right Family Research Council added to the smear campaign, attacking Kloppenburg, who worked as assistant attorney general since 1989, as inexperienced in advertisements on thirty-four Wisconsin radio stations.

With a recount pending, Kloppenburg’s come-from-behind campaign shows the ability of progressives in states like Wisconsin to overcome the corporate juggernaut that is able to spend almost limitless amounts of money to support its favored candidates.

PFAW

Hundreds Protest Union-Busting Outside Koch Industries in Washington

Today, PFAW joined the We Are One Campaign and hundreds of workers outside of Koch Industries in Washington, DC to protest the political activities of the Koch brothers, the notorious multibillionaires who are working to destroy unions across the country. American workers are tired of being scapegoats and are taking to the streets all across the country to say so. It was great to see so many people turn out today to put the Koch brothers on notice. The Kochs have spent millions on advancing their anti-environment and anti-worker agenda. They founded Americans for Prosperity, and contributed $43,000 to help elect Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who recently signed a bill to end collective bargaining for state workers.

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Seek to Block Americans From Seeing Their Embarrassing Video

Wisconsin Republicans have been using the threat of legal action this week to suppress dissemination of a video that they are, quite justifiably, embarrassed about. As reported by Talking Points Memo:

First the Republican Party in Polk County, Wisconsin, pulled the tape of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) fretting about making ends meet on his $174,000 a year salary from its own website. Now they want it gone from the whole Internet.

For a couple hours, the local county GOP was successful. But we've put an excerpt of the video back up.

A day after TPM posted the video we obtained of Duffy talking about his salary at a Polk County town hall meeting earlier this year, the Polk County GOP contacted the video provider we used to host the video, Blip.tv, and demanded the video be taken down. ...

The county GOP took down the video from its blog after the Washington Post posted a short clip of it yesterday morning.

An official with the Polk County GOP, which posted many other clips of the town hall on its YouTube channel, told TPM yesterday that the video was taken down because it was "was being republished without our consent."

Duffy and his supporters are right to be embarrassed. However, they are not right to use copyright law to keep Americans from seeing and hearing Duffy's words for themselves. Copyright exists to encourage and protect intellectual property. It does not exist to allow an elected official to avoid accountability for his own embarrassing political speech. Nor is it intended to be used as a tool to harass those who criticize you, particularly when dissemination of portions of the video for news and commentary most likely falls within the fair use doctrine - an exception to the exclusive right of copyright holders.

How many bloggers out there without a team of lawyers to represent them are now worried about legitimately posting this video or others like it in the future? How much political speech is being intimidated this way?

Use of the law to squash criticism - particularly when there is a legitimate fair use claim - is not new. For instance, the National Organization for Marriage had Rachel Maddow take down her clip of a NOM audition tape that made viewers heap scorn upon the organization and its latest advertisement.

Molly Ivins once noted how then-Governor George W. Bush used the threat of a lawsuit to shut down an embarrassing parody website:

The parody, run by a 29-year-old computer programmer in Boston named Zack Exley, annoyed Bush so much that he called Exley "a garbageman" and said, "There ought to be limits to freedom." (That's not a parody -- he actually said that.)

Bush's lawyers warned Exley that he faced a lawsuit. Then they filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission demanding that Exley be forced to register his parody site with the FEC and have it regulated as a political committee.

In just the past few days, we have seen right wing groups use the law on public records as a weapon to intimidate academics who criticize them. But in a country whose freedom depends on robust and open political debate, the law should be used to protect political discourse, not to prevent it.

PFAW

‘Odd Alliance’ Between the Tea Party and the Corporate Lobby? Maybe, But It’s Nothing New

The New York Times today reports on what it calls the “odd alliance” between populist-seeming Tea Party groups and corporate lobbyists. The paper’s investigation into a Tea Party group’s all-out campaign to boost the profits of an Indonesian paper company is illuminating, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Since its start, the Tea Party movement has been tied to, and financially supported by, giant corporate interests. In January, PFAW’s Jamie Raskin wrote about the corporate agenda behind many of the Tea Party’s legislative priorities:

The 2010 congressional elections should have been centered, at least in the domestic sphere, on three freshly minted corporate catastrophes made possible by industry regulatory capture and systematic deregulation: the subprime mortgage crisis that caused a multi-trillion dollar collapse on Wall Street and the destruction of millions of peoples’ jobs, incomes, pensions and housing security; the BP oil spill, which wrecked an entire regional ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico and registered as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history; and the collapse of the Massey Coal corporation mines in West Virginia that killed 25 mine workers after the company had been cited dozens of times for unaddressed regulatory violations.

In the wake of these disasters, the Tea Party skillfully mobilized public anxiety about the direction of American politics but turned it against President Obama’s efforts to deal with the mounting crises of the society. Tea Party activists drew Hitler mustaches on photographs of the president and decried health care reform, which they called “Obamacare” and described as a totalitarian plot. They railed against President Obama’s efforts to get BP to set up a $20 billion fund to pay the victims of the British company’s recklessness and unlawful conduct: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a Tea Party hero, denounced Obama’s “redistribution of wealth fund” and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP for being “subjected” to “a 20 billion dollar shakedown” by the president. And, in the debate over financial reform, the Tea Party joined other conservative Republicans in seeking to give Wall Street a free pass for the appalling predatory actions and crimes that brought our economy to its knees. Today, many Republicans, flush with Wall Street money, are calling for a severe dilution or outright repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act and have placed a bull’s-eye target on the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the entity charged with protecting the public against fraudulent and deceptive financial practices.

PFAW

The Right's Use of Records Requests to Chill Dissent and Attack Academics

In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.

Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.

Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.

It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.

This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.

Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.

People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.

Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.

That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.

So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.

The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:

The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.

We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.

That is the American Way.

PFAW

Update from the Frontlines in Ohio: Voter ID Bill Could Affect Poor and Minority Populations

Poor and minority populations are again under attack in Ohio. With Ohioans putting all of our efforts into stopping Governor Kasich and Republican leaders from destroying workers’ rights, we’re being blindsided by a very troubling bill aimed at limiting access to the ballot box. Ohio’s new Voter ID bill, HB 159, which requires every voter to present a valid government issued photo ID in order to vote, sailed through the Ohio House of Representatives last week. This bill would put up unnecessary road blocks to the voting process and almost certainly cause mass confusion during next year’s presidential election.

Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, was Skyped in last week to testify to the Ohio House in favor of Voter ID restrictions. When asked by an Ohio legislator how many cases of voter fraud in Georgia led to the state’s Voter ID bill, he said “I don’t have a number in front of me,” adding, “It’s hard to put a number on it because you didn’t know that fraud was happening.” We then heard in-person testimony from the Deputy Secretary of State of Indiana (the same state where the current Secretary of State has been recently indicted on voter fraud). His answer to the same question was, “I can’t give you a number, however there were 2 people arrested in Indiana for voter fraud and no evidence of dead people voting.”

It costs between $21.75 and $25.75 to obtain an Ohio driver’s license. Should you need to purchase a birth certificate in order to get a drivers license, there’s an additional cost of $21.50. Paying somewhere between $40 and $50 is an unnecessary burden for many Ohioans in this uncertain economy. Imagine having to choose between paying for a state identification in order to vote and paying an overdue utility bill before disconnection. That’s not the kind of choice Americans should have to make.

In addition, racial minorities, the working poor, students and people with disabilities are twice as likely to lack a non-expired government photo ID.

In 2005, Ohio passed a law that imposed stricter ID requirements than federal law. Now, Ohio may become the most restrictive voting state in the country since this bill does not even permit voters to produce other forms of identification found to be acceptable in states that require identification. This bill would have national implications, considering Ohio’s historical position as “the” deciding state when determining the outcome of Presidential elections.

Shouldn’t we be making voting more accessible instead of making it restrictive and exclusive to a select group of people? The Republican Secretary of State doesn’t even support this bill, so why is the legislature pushing it through? The answer one Republican House member gave is, “Because we can.” As Ohio Representative Mike Foley put it, "There were 3,956,245 votes cast in the 2010 general election and there was one instance of voter fraud out of all of these votes cast. So we’re looking to spend somewhere in the $10-20 million range to deal with a .00000025 percent problem." With an $8 billion budget shortfall, we should be seeking ways to spend less money, particularly on a problem that doesn’t exist.

PFAW

Does Holding Banks Accountable Count as “Terrorism”? Glenn Beck Thinks it Does.

This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.

I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:

Like a lot of people, he feels the financial system got off too easy in the crisis. They created the mess, but unlike the millions of foreclosed homeowners and newly unemployed workers, they’ve come out mostly unscathed. It’s still very, very good to be a banker in this country. It’s not good at all to be underwater on your house. And he’s got a plan for changing that.

Union types are always looking for “leverage.” Leverage is what I have that gives me power over you. And Lerner thinks he’s identified the point of leverage that workers and homeowners and students have over the financial system. “What does the other side fear most?” Lerner asked. “They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich.” To do so, he wants to see a campaign of disruption and strategic default led by community-activist groups and aimed at J.P. Morgan Chase.

As Lerner sees it, once there’s leverage, once the banks are scared, there can be a settlement. What sort of settlement? Lerner gives a couple of examples in his talk. “You” — meaning banks in general, and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular — “reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We could make them do that.”

You may or may not agree with the wisdom of Lerner’s idea. But would you call it “terrorism”? Glenn Beck would, and has now chosen Lerner to be the newest anchor point in his vast liberal conspiracy theory, saying that the labor leader is plotting to commit “economic terrorism" by “collaps[ing] the system.”

People For’s legal department looked into what our laws actually say about domestic terrorism and, needless to say, it's not even a close question. There’s no danger to human life involved here. And there’s certainly no effort to intimidate the civilian population or the government.

In fact, under Beck’s definition of terrorism as advocating for peaceful economic disruption, he himself should be investigated. As Media Matters has pointed out, Beck himself has more than once advocated “taking down” or “resetting” our entire financial system—a much more sweeping economic action than the targeted protests Lerner is advocating.

The corporate-funded right wing has made it clear in the last few months that they will not tolerate working people who want to take on big corporations. In Wisconsin and Ohio, teachers and police officers and other public workers have been demonized for fighting to their right to organize, while corporations continue to get massive tax breaks and hold a huge amount of sway over elections.

In their world, the millions of Americans who suffered from the financial crisis—people like Charlie Engle—are the criminals, and the people who try to organize working Americans are “terrorists.” That topsy-turvy view of justice and power is unsettling, to say the least.
 

UPDATE: Lerner responds to Beck in The Nation:

So that was it: Beck, right-wingers and Wall Street sympathizers went ballistic because they knew the ideas I talked about are far from being a secret leftist conspiracy; in fact, they’re in sync with the thinking of most Americans. In my talk, I raised a very simple yet powerful idea: that homeowners, students, citizens and workers should make the same practical decisions Wall Street and corporate CEOs make every day—they should reject bad financial deals.


PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Clamp Down on the Right to Criticize Them

Wisconsin Republicans have escalated their assault on Democrats, liberals, unions, and anyone else who does not fall into line for their ideological agenda. This time, it is the right to criticize the Republican Party that is under attack, as the Cap Times reports:

The Wisconsin Republican Party, apparently stung by a blog post written by UW-Madison history professor William Cronon, has responded by asking the University of Wisconsin-Madison for copies of all of Cronon's office e-mails that mention prominent Republicans or public employee unions.

Cronon revealed the GOP's Freedom of Information Act request in his Scholar as Citizen blog post late Thursday evening along with a lengthy, and typically scholarly, defense.

In his inaugural blog post on March 15, Cronon, one of the UW's academic stars, had sketched the apparent influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadow conservative policy group that works with Republican state legislators, on Gov. Scott Walker's legislative agenda. It was the first time the respected professor had used a blog format and he was, to put it mildly, surprised by the response. The blog generated more than half a million hits. For many of his readers, it was the first time they were aware of the organization and its involvement with conservative legislators around the country.

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, major Walker campaign contributors, provide funding support for ALEC. ...

The Republican request, filed two days after Cronon's March 15 post appeared, asks for "Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon's state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."

The named individuals are the Republican governor, the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate, and the eight Republican senators targeted for recall.

Professor Cronon has written a long, must-read response to this political effort to intimidate him for daring to question the Republican Party.

In some ways, this is reminiscent of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's assault on academic freedom in Virginia. Academic freedom exists only in name if scholars questioning the Republican Party are bullied into not using it. In that sense, the Wisconsin assault against Professor Cronon is directly related to all the other ways that the modern-day GOP is actively undermining the infrastructure of our democracy, giving us:

  • elections where significant numbers of the GOP's opponents are prevented from voting;
  • campaigns where the GOP's opponents can't be heard over corporate millions;
  • the right to protest, but if you oppose a Republican official he may secretly plant troublemakers among your group to discredit you;
  • the right to a free press, but if a Republican who you criticize sends his goons to rough you up, the Party will not bat an eye;
  • the right to form a union that cannot collectively bargain;
  • the right to free speech, but if you displease the GOP you risk becoming the subject of phony video smears followed up by legislative attack;
  • the right to lobby, but your lobbying firm loses access to a GOP-dominated Congress if it hires Democrats.

In isolation, the incident in Wisconsin is terrible. But to see it only in isolation would be a grave mistake.

If the party officials involved with this are not condemned and banished from the party, this incident will do long-term damage. Continuing party support for those who undermine the foundations of our free society – as in the examples above – significantly lowers the bar for what departures from the principles of democracy are now acceptable.

This incident should be a rallying cry for Americans to protect the liberties and rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

PFAW

Encouraged by Citizens United, Right-Wing Groups Demand Even More Corporate Influence in Politics

While the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United overturned decades of precedent by granting corporations the right to spend money from their corporate treasuries to help elect or defeat candidates, many pro-corporate activists believe that the ruling didn’t go far enough and seek to eviscerate even more restrictions on corporate money in elections. Opponents of campaign finance reform are spearheading efforts to allow corporations to contribute directly to candidates for office, permit political groups to keep the identity of their donors a secret, and loosen restrictions on foreigners contributing to candidates. The Supreme Court is also set to consider a major case on the constitutionality of Arizona’s clean elections laws that provide public financing for qualifying candidates. Politico reports on the Right’s “sustained assault” on campaign laws:

Not satisfied by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate-sponsored election ads, conservative opponents of campaign finance regulations have opened up a series of new legal fronts in their effort to eliminate the remaining laws restricting the flow of money into politics.

They have taken to Congress, state legislatures and the lower courts to target almost every type of regulation on the books: disclosure requirements, bans on foreign and corporate contributions and – in a pair of cases the Supreme Court will consider this month – party spending limits and public financing of campaigns.

The sustained assault, combined with the Supreme Court’s rightward tilt on the issue, has some advocates for reducing the role of money in politics fretting about the possibility of an irreversible shift in the way campaigns are regulated and funded that would favor Republicans and corporate interests in the 2012 presidential race and beyond.



“Depending on its scope, an adverse ruling from the high court could undermine public financing systems across the country and increase still further the grossly disproportionate voice given to corporations and unions in our elections,” warns a memo by Gerry Hebert and Tara Malloy, lawyers at the pro-regulation Campaign Legal Center, which filed a brief defending the Arizona law.

“Just a year after the controversial decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Court is once again poised to issue a ruling that could make it harder for ordinary citizens to compete with big money in our democracy,” their memo predicted.

Opponents of campaign rules argue that removing restrictions allows more voices to compete in the political marketplace. And they have a slew of other suits pending that could dramatically alter the political money landscape, including one challenging a rule that limited how much the Republican National Committee could spend supporting the unsuccessful 2010 reelection campaign of former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.).

The Supreme Court is set to decide on Friday whether to hear the case which is being handled by Jim Bopp, a Republican lawyer and leading opponent of campaign restrictions. The impact of the Cao case “could be real big,” if the court overturns the so-called coordination limits at issue, predicted Bopp, who has dozens of cases pending in courts around the country.

One seeks to advance the Citizens United ruling by challenging an Iowa law banning direct corporate contributions to state candidates, while a pair of others dispute whether non-profit groups called the Committee for Truth in Politics and The Real Truth About Obama that aired ads critical of then-candidate Barack Obama had to disclose their donors or activity.
PFAW

The Strategy Behind the Maryland Marriage Bill Withdrawal

Advocates of equality were disappointed Friday when Maryland's pending marriage bill failed to pass the House of Delegates. It had already passed the Senate, in part because the vitriol of equality opponents had prompted one legislator to switch from opposing to supporting the bill. Unfortunately, advocates were unable to garner a majority of the House.

However, the bill was not defeated in a floor vote, but instead was "recommitted to committee." This is a critical distinction, one that allows advocates to introduce the bill again next year with a greater chance of success. Equality Maryland board member David Lublin explains the strategy on Maryland Politics Watch:

The House of Delegates agreed on a unanimous voice vote to recommit the bill to the House Judiciary Committee. This decision effectively kills the bill for the year. Many people naturally wonder why no vote was taken after all of the hard work that was done to advance the bill by so many people inside and outside of the legislature. Proponents agreed to this because they fell a few votes short of those needed to pass the bill on the floor of the House.

The argument for a vote is clear. People have a right to know where their legislators stand on such an important issue. Regardless of the outcome, it would have been the democratic process in action with delegates reflecting the will of their constituents and acting as our representatives.

On the other hand, proponents would have lost by a greater number than the closeness of the unofficial count because some "yes" votes would have become "no" votes. Legislators in marginal districts who might have been willing to stick their necks out to pass a meaningful piece of legislation would not do so if the legislation was going to fail.

Additionally, going forward, it is a lot harder to convert the votes of people who have cast a vote on the floor against marriage than it is to gain the votes of the undecided or who have said they oppose it but have yet to cast an actual vote on the topic. The thought behind not holding a vote is that it makes it easier to bring it up again next year and also does not demoralize opponents in other states. That was the thinking behind the decision to recommit.

Had the bill been defeated in a floor vote, then it would have been hard to reintroduce it successfully until after the next legislative elections, which are not until November 2014. But with the bill recommitted, advocates are freer to introduce it next year. In the meantime, they can spend the intervening months reaching out to legislators and the general population.

PFAW

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS Blasts Unions in Misleading Ad

A shadowy political organization founded by Karl Rove is spending $750,000 to run a nationwide ad blasting workers and their collective bargaining rights. Crossroads GPS is a pro-corporate group with a history of using misleading if not outright false claims to attack Democrats and progressive causes. The organization does not disclose its donors but NBC News found that “a substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls.”

Now, the group is out with an ad trashing organized labor on cable news in light of attempts to cut the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Idaho. Crossroads GPS asserts that public employees are overpaid, however, a study from the Economic Policy Institute shows that public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio actually “earn lower wages than comparable private sector employees.”

Crossroads GPS isn’t the only shadowy pro-corporate group to support the GOP’s war on organized labor.

Americans for Prosperity, an organization closely tied to the Koch Brothers, is vigorously supporting Republican union-busting and unfairly blames public workers for the country’s budget problems. Like Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity doesn’t disclose its donors and advocates for the agenda of corporate special interests.

As People For president Michael Keegan writes, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United has empowered groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity to secretly use corporate money to fund pro-corporate causes:

What is perhaps most troubling about the post-Citizens United flood of corporate money in politics is the free rein it has given for corporations to hide behind front groups to run misleading ads without ever being held accountable for their content. Americans for Prosperity is now employing the same tactics it used to smear health care reform in key House districts in its ad campaign against Wisconsin unions. Like in its ads falsely claiming that health care reform hurt Medicare recipients, the group's ads in Wisconsin pretend to champion populist values while pushing a decidedly anti-populist agenda. The ads seek not only to misinform voters, but to blame ordinary Americans for problems they did not cause.
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

As Unions Are Demonized, Corporate Power Continues To Be Left Unchecked

On The Morning Joe, Richard Haass offered his proposal to resolve the conflicts in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, where Republican governors are attempting to dismantle organized labor by stripping workers’ rights to bargain collectively for the purported reason of balancing the budget. Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations, agreed that collective bargaining is a right of workers that shouldn’t be rescinded, and went on to say that elected officials should “make a deal” with unions who represent public employees: “You can’t expect people to collectively bargain fairly with the people they are contributing to, why not make a deal with the public-sector unions,” said Haas, “going forward you can collectively bargain, but in exchange, you can’t contribute to the people you’re bargaining with. Essentially have a no political contribution to state officials, and that’s the deal.” According to Haass, this would prevent unions from “tilt[ing] the political playing field.”

If Haass believes that the unions which represent nurses, teachers, and police officers should be barred from influencing elections, will Haass and his likeminded commentators formulate a similar proposal for corporations?

As a result of Citizens United, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money from their general treasuries to fund political groups to bolster or attack candidates for office. And in states like Wisconsin, corporations can make direct contributions to the candidates, just as Koch Industries gave the maximum $43,000 to Scott Walker’s campaign.

Corporations helped finance the Republican campaign apparatus, and now their influence in lawmaking is mushrooming. “Citizens United alone did not win the 2010 elections for Republicans,” writes People For president Michael Keegan, “But the money it let loose helped ensure that those swept to power by widespread voter dissatisfaction would be eager to pander to the interests of corporations and the wealthy, and to demonize those who oppose them,” like labor unions.

Haass may claim that it’s unfair for labor unions to negotiate with officials they backed in the election, but the far more significant and serious question is: should corporations be allowed to finance the campaigns of the politicians who write their taxes, implement their regulations, and in many cases subsidize their coffers?

Just today, the “free-market” Republicans voted unanimously to maintain the tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that go to big oil companies.

As the Republican majority in the House of Representatives time and again confirms, corporate-backed politicians almost always side with corporate interests in government.

PFAW

Corporate-Funded American Crossroads Prepares for Massive Spending in 2012

The twin groups founded by GOP heavyweights Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are readying to spend $120 million to influence the 2012 elections. As reported in Citizens Blindsided, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were handsomely funded by Wall Street and private equity moguls, energy interests, and companies owned by billionaire Republican donors. After raising a combined $71 million for the midterm elections, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS intend to spend a whopping $120 million to beat President Obama and Democratic candidates for Congress. Brody Mullins of the Wall Street Journal reports:

Two conservative groups founded last year with the help of Republicans Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie have set a goal of raising $120 million in the effort to defeat President Barack Obama, win a GOP majority in the Senate and protect the party's grip on the House in the 2012 election.



In setting their new fund-raising goal, Crossroads officials say they spoke with nearly all of their major 2010 donors, numbering in the dozens. "They have told us they are sticking with us, and most of them have said they plan to come in at a significantly higher level," said Steven Law, the president of the two Republican groups. Mr. Law said he also has found new donors.

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were set up under two different sections of the law and follow slightly different rules. American Crossroads is a so-called 527 organization, which must disclose its donors, while Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)4 entity that doesn't have to make public its donors.



Leaders of the two Crossroads groups say they will focus on television advertising and other election activities, which could complement the Republican National Committee's focus on rallying Republican voters and funding state parties.

Campaign-finance rules give groups such as Crossroads an advantage over the RNC. Because political parties can't raise more than $30,000 from an individual, they must spend millions of dollars to raise money from thousands of donors.

Outside groups face no such caps, so they can raise larger amounts from fewer individuals, incurring smaller fund-raising expenses in the process. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS disclosed in an annual report sent to donors this week that they spent 96% of the money raised on campaigns.

The RNC spent about 70% of its money for the 2010 campaign on fund raising and other overhead expenses.
PFAW

The Story of Citizens United

The Story of Stuff Project has made a new video telling the story of Citizens United v. FEC. Take a look:

For more information on the influence that corporate spending had in the 2010 elections, read PFAW's report, Citizens Blindsided.

PFAW

Wisconsin after Citizens United

In the Huffington Post today, People For President Michael Keegan looks at what happens after corporations get unlimited influence in elections. In Wisconsin, big corporate funders not only have elected officials willing to unpopular and anti-populist policies, but also have instant access to decision makers:

The story of the year since Citizens United v. FEC may be perfectly crystallized in the fight that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is waging against his state's public employee unions. Organizations like Americans for Prosperity spent millions of dollars in 2010 running misleading ads bashing health care reform, progressives, immigrants, and American Muslims in order to elect politicians who would stand up for the interests of big business. Now those interests are working hard, and spending a little extra money, to make sure they collect on their investments.

The real story behind the protests in Wisconsin has little to do, as Gov. Walker would have you believe, with a state-level push for fiscal responsibility. It has everything to do with the changing dynamics of money and influence in national politics. Pro-corporate politicians have never liked the power wielded by unionized workers. Last year, in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court handed them the tools do to something about it, paving the way for a wave of corporate money that helped to sweep pro-corporate politicians into power in November. Citizens United also increased the power of labor unions, but union spending was still no match for money pouring into elections from corporate interests. As Rachel Maddow has pointed out, of the top 10 outside spenders in the 2010 elections, 7 were right-wing groups and 3 were labor unions. Gov. Walker's attempt to obliterate Wisconsin's public employee unions, if it succeeds, could be the first of many attempts across the country to permanently wipe out what are the strongest political opponents of the newly empowered corporate force in American politics.

Read the whole thing here.
 

PFAW