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.
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.
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.
In both Wisconsin and Ohio, Republican governors are attempting to rush through legislation that would devastate workers’ rights that would in reality do little to help close their states’ budget shortfalls. Behind their proposals to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights is actually a political power play to diminish the voice of organized labor in American politics, a move sponsored by corporate interest groups.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s desire to eliminate collective bargaining has more to do with political baiting than sound fiscal policy.
For example, Walker specifically exempts the four public employee unions that endorsed his gubernatorial bid in his plan to eliminate collective bargaining. Labor law professor Paul Secunda of Marquette University called it “the worst type of favoritism there could be.” And despite his claim to be a fiscal hawk, the Governor pushed through costly corporate giveaways that jeopardized the state’s balanced budget and rejected a Republican’s compromise bill that would permit only a temporary curb on collective bargaining while preserve unions’ financial concessions.
History shows that states that stripped their public employees’ collective bargaining rights did nothing to solve their fiscal problems. Policy Matters Ohio notes that while Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri recently eliminated public workers’ bargaining rights, “the budget shortfalls of these states in 2010 ranged from 10.6 percent of general revenue fund (Indiana) to 14.5 percent (Kentucky) to 22.7 percent (Missouri), mirroring the fiscal crisis of states across the nation.”
Rather than solve the budget problems, doing away with a key right of workers only advances the agenda of the corporate interests funding Republican campaigns.
Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg looked into the ties between virulently anti-labor corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart and the radical GOP proposals in Wisconsin and Ohio:
Koch, a closely held energy and chemical company based in Wichita, Kansas, is controlled by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. Along with other corporations, Koch Industries has often opposed organized labor on regulation and free trade, Holman said. Now they see a chance to cripple unions in the name of balancing budgets, he said.
The $1.2 million in Koch support for Republican governors includes $1.1 million given to the Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $3.4 million in support of Walker, according to Common Cause, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes the governor’s proposal.
In addition, Koch gave $43,000 directly to Walker, his single largest corporate source; $11,000 to the Wisconsin Republican party; $22,000 to Kasich; and $34,000 to the Ohio Republicans.
Koch also supported the 2008 campaign of Indiana’s Daniels, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The Republican Governors Association, which received $25,000 from Koch, was the biggest source of campaign cash for Daniels, institute records show.
In addition, Americans for Prosperity spent $1.2 million in support of Republican candidates for Congress last year, Federal Election Commission records show. Koch Industries’ federal political action committee contributed $1.3 million to candidates for the 2010 elections, 90 percent of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Bentonville, Arkansas, subject of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, also contributed to the campaigns of Walker and Daniels, and donated more than $340,000 to the Republican Governors Association for the 2010 elections, according to the Internal Revenue Service and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
As the Right revs up its efforts to discredit and defund Planned Parenthood, it’s important to remember its last attempt to bring down a national organization through sheer force of repeated falsehoods.
ACORN, which at its height was the largest anti-poverty organization in the country and registered hundreds of thousands of new voters, became a political pariah in the 2008 elections after right-wing organizations and politicians hyped up charges that individual ACORN employees had made up names on voter registration forms and a video by now-renowned prankster James O’Keefe purported to show ACORN employees cooperating with criminals. The problem was, of course, that these allegations were either over-hyped or just plain false. O’Keefe’s video was found to be heavily edited and misleading. The handful of ACORN employees who filled voter registration forms with false names did so to cheat ACORN out of their paychecks, and never had any plan to commit voter fraud. The Government Accountability Office found that ACORN had not misused federal money. But by then, the organization had lost its federal funding and disbanded.
Now, ACORN has been cleared of another one of the charges levied against it, voter fraud in Connecticut. The Connecticut Post reports:
Following a two-year probe, state investigators have cleared the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now of charges of voter fraud brought by Republican registrars in Bridgeport and Stamford.
"The evidence does not provide a sufficient basis to determine that Connecticut ACORN had an institutional or systematic role in designing and implementing a scheme or strategy to fraudulently register or enroll electors ... prior to the November 2, 2008 election," read the recent report from the Elections Enforcement Commission.
The commission's investigation took a close look at the nuts and bolts of ACORN's operation, including copies of thousands of voter registration applications.
ACORN paid workers, who were screened using prior employment records, a flat $8 an hour to canvass neighborhoods and register voters, regardless of how many completed cards were handed in at the end of a shift. Workers had to initial each card they collected and supervisors reviewed batches of completed cards to determine if they surpassed a threshold of 30 percent deficient.
Because ACORN under state law was required to turn in all cards to registrars, the organization would identify at the top those identified as defective -- an effort to avoid the very complaints filed by Borges and Corelli.
Although charges against ACORN keep on being dismissed, the damage against the organization and the people it served has been huge. And the efforts to slam the organization are continuing—just this week Sen. David Vitter introduced the “Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act.” We need to make sure that this sort of political takedown—where lies are repeated as the truth until it doesn’t matter anymore— doesn’t happen again.
In the year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, there has been new scrutiny on the increasingly cozy relationship between corporate funders of elections and national policy makers. Exemplifying that relationship have been the Koch brothers, billionaires whose dollars have helped to fund right-wing organizations and campaigns for years, and who were behind one of the most powerful outside groups in the 2010 elections, Americans For Prosperity. The brothers also hold twice-yearly meetings of influential donors, pundits, and politicians—past guests have included Glenn Beck, Sens. Jim Demint and Tom Coburn, and even Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (both of whom were in the Citizens United majority).
The Kochs held their most recent strategy meeting at a spa in Palm Springs this weekend. Attending the secretive event was House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, among other undisclosed guests. Outside were 800-1,000 protestors, 25 of whom were arrested for trespassing. The LA Times reports:
Protest organizers said they hoped to raise awareness about the Koch brothers and what activists portray as their shadowy attempts to weaken environmental protection laws and undercut campaign contribution limits.
The brothers control Koch Industries, the nation's second-largest privately held company. They have funded groups pushing a limited-government, libertarian agenda, helped organize "tea party" groups and contributed $1 million to a failed ballot initiative to suspend California's law to curb greenhouse gases.
"We cannot have democracy unless everyone has a voice," said Cathy Riddle, a Temecula website developer who held a sign reading "Corporations are not people." Donors like the Koch brothers are "drowning us out," she said. "Their voices are louder."
The protest, organized by Common Cause, included some members of People For the American Way. It came one week after activists, in events around the country, marked the first anniversary of Citizens United and called for a constitutional amendment to reverse it. Watch PFAW’s video explaining the decision and its impact:
After taking power in the House, the new Republican majority is preparing to eliminate one of the most significant efforts to ensure fair elections: the public finance system in presidential races. Instead of making the public finance system stronger, the GOP wants to do away with it altogether with little if any debate. Already, many House Republicans are pushing legislation that would allow corporations to make direct donations to candidates for public office even though “85% of voters say that corporations have too much influence over the political system today.” By eliminating the ability of campaigns to opt to receive public finances, candidates will become more, not less, dependent on the shadowy corporate dollars flowing into our elections.
Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports on the GOP’s plan to scrap public financing of presidential campaigns:
On Wednesday, House Republicans plan to rush to the floor a bill that would eliminate the federal government's presidential financing system—in the process, violating recent pledges by the GOP's leadership of increased transparency and debate in Congress. Not one hearing has been held on the legislation, nor has a single committee debated its merits. If it passes, it will roll back more than 30 years of law born out of the Watergate scandal, eviscerating one of the few remaining protections stopping corporations from heavily influencing, if not outright buying, American elections, reform experts say.
Democratic lawmakers and campaign finance reformers blasted the bill, not only for seeking to kill public financing but for breaking the GOP's campaign promises on transparency and accountability. "This is a sneak attack on the system," says Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "It's a total break from their public pledge for transparency and openness." Fred Wertheimer, a longtime campaign finance reform advocate at Democracy 21, called the bill "a gross abuse of the legislative process."
Public financing of presidential campaigns provides matching tax dollars to the small donations received by candidates who agree to publicly finance their campaigns, instead of relying on private donations. The intent is to encourage small donations, and the burden on taxpayers isn't much: Americans can voluntarily contribute $3 to the fund on their federal tax filings. The public finance system was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s. After President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign was found to have illegally accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from big corporations, Congress created a public financing system so that candidates wouldn't have to rely on corporations and deep-pocketed donors to finance their campaigns.
The way reformers see it, the presidential public financing system needs repair, not repeal. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the amount of public funds currently available to candidates is too small to be competitive in modern presidential races. She says lawmakers need to update the system to better emphasize small donations to candidates and raise the total amount of public funding available. "Imagine if you didn't make any changes to the tax code since 1976. Of course public financing is outdated. The issue, then, is not to get rid of, but how to fix."
Update: The House of Representatives voted 239-160 to end the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, although it's chances to pass the Senate are low.
While Republicans in Washington are celebrating the anniversary of Citizens United by threatening to scrap the public finance system for elections and allow corporations to donate directly to candidates, Senator Max Baucus of Montana is standing up with the vast majority of Americans who want to see Congress curb the enormous political clout of corporations and overturn Citizens United. Yesterday, Senator Baucus said he will reintroduce a Constitutional Amendment that would give elected officials the right to regulate corporate contributions to political organizations and reverse the Court’s sweeping ruling:
“The foundation of democracy is based on the ability of the people to elect a government that represents them - the people, not big business or foreign corporations. As Montanans, we learned our lesson almost a century ago when the copper kings used their corporate power to drown out the people and buy elections. Today, we have some of the toughest campaign finance laws in the land, and they work. Now we've got to fight to protect the voices on hard-working Montanans and keep elections in the hands of the people, and that's just what I intend to do,” Baucus said.
In the Citizen’s United case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, including foreign corporations, had the right to spend unlimited dollars from their general funds to make independent expenditures at any time during an election cycle - including directly calling for the election or defeat of a candidate.
As a result of the Supreme Court's ruling, Montana's century-old campaign finance laws limiting corporate spending are now also in jeopardy.
Baucus’ Constitutional amendment would restore the authority to regulate corporate political expenditure and protect states' right to regulate contributions in the way that works best for them. The amendment does not modify the First Amendment, and the language specifies that this does not affect freedom of the press in any way.
As Americans remember the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United with calls for action to limit corporate influence in politics and reverse the Court’s reckless decision, pro-corporate activists and their Republican allies in Congress seek to further erode corporate accountability and transparency. As American University Constitutional law professor, Maryland State Senator, and People For Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin writes, Citizens United not only ushered an avalanche of corporate and secret money in elections but also paved the way for more attacks on restrictions on corporate power. Raskin asks:
Do you want to wipe out the ban on federal corporate contributions that has been in place since 1907? This should be a piece of cake. If a corporation is like any other group of citizens organized to participate in politics for the purpose of expenditures, why not contributions too?
Apparently, the answer is “yes.” While the majority decision in Citizens United said that corporations can use money from their general treasuries to finance outside groups, the ban on direct donations from corporations to candidates was left intact. But as profiled in People For’s report “Citizens Blindsided,” corporations have a number of mouthpieces, front groups, and political allies who want to create even more ways for Big Business to influence American politics.
NPR’s Peter Overby reports that pro-corporate activists from groups like Citizens United and the Center for Competitive Politics now want Republicans in Congress to further weaken already-diluted laws on transparency and fairness in elections:
Citizens United has helped to upend the debate over political money — so much so that when the American Future Fund ran a radio ad targeting Sen. Kent Conrad earlier this month for the 2012 Senate race, it was treated as just part of the political game. Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said this week that he won't seek re-election.
Michael Franz, a political scientist with the Wesleyan Media Project, tracks political ads.
"The effect of Citizens United in 2010 may not have been as huge, because what was going on had been set in motion earlier," he said. "But what the court did in Citizens United could suggest huge effects for other campaign finance laws down the road."
First of all, disclosure is under attack.
"Just because it may be constitutional to impose these disclosure rules, doesn't mean it makes for sound policy," said Michael Boos, counsel to the group Citizens United.
The federal ban on foreign donors faces a court challenge. House Republicans plan to vote next week to kill off public financing in presidential elections.
And the Center for Competitive Politics, an anti-regulation group, wants to undo the century-old ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates.
That was one of the first campaign finance laws on the books. The center says the corporate world now is far different from what it was in 1907, when Congress imposed the ban.
Today is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which lifted restrictions on the amount of money corporations can spend to influence federal elections. To mark the anniversary, people across the country are organizing rallies and house parties to spread awareness of the decision and to call for a constitutional amendment to reverse it. Click here to find an event near you.
And take a look at this video we put together following Citizen Jane as she runs for office in post-Citizens United America:
Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas raised eyebrows and ethics questions late last year when they attended a conference sponsored by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who head Koch Industries. A comprehensive expose from The New Yorker reported on the Koch Brother’s immense financial and ideological ties to right-wing and pro-corporate groups, and the Koch-sponsored event that Scalia and Thomas attended was held “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” The Koch Brothers have greatly benefited from the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate rulings, including the Citizens United decision which allowed corporations to use funds from their general treasuries to finance, sometimes secretly, political organizations. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Citizens United, and Common Cause is requesting that the Justice Department look into whether Justices Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the case:
The government reform advocacy group Common Cause today asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have recused themselves from the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision because they were involved with an array of conservative groups that stood to benefit from it.
In the case, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act that prevented corporations and unions from spending an unlimited amount of money on electioneering, such as campaign ads. Scalia and Thomas sided with the majority in the decision, which was made a year ago this week.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder, Common Cause President Bob Edgar said both justices should have been disqualified from hearing the case because of their ties to Charles and David Koch, wealthy brothers who fund an array of conservative causes.
The justices both attended “retreats” held by Koch Industries, Edgar said, that focused on championing conservative ideas including opposition to campaign finance laws.
Their attendance raises the question of whether the two judges were impartial in their decision, Edgar said. He also questioned Thomas's impartiality because his wife, Ginny, ran a nonprofit group that Edgar said benefited greatly from the Citizens United decision.
“Until these questions are resolved, public debate over the allegations of bias and conflicts of interest will serve to undermine the legitimacy of the Citizens United decision,” Edgar said.
Friday is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which helped unleash massive corporate spending in the 2010 elections, and more voices have emerged to denounce the Court’s wrongheaded and extreme ruling. The decision’s impact on public policy debates became more apparent today as the House of Representatives prepares to vote to repeal the health care reform law after pro-corporate groups spent handsomely to discredit the law with bogus charges and attack Congressmen which supported reform.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea, have launched Business for Democracy, “a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “members of ‘Business for Democracy’ believe ‘the decision is inconsistent with the basic ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’" and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.
In today’s Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed how the vast corporate spending to influence the midterm elections was “just an experiment” compared to how corporations plan to sway the 2012 election. But despite the push by pro-corporate groups to keep spending by businesses in elections unchecked, the efforts for legislative remedies and the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United persevere:
According to Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate, Citizens United spending - that is, spending that was only made possible by the court's ruling - accounted for 15 percent of the roughly $4 billion spent on the 2010 midterm elections. Eighty-five million dollars of Citizens United money was spent on U.S. Senate races alone. Worse, 30 percent of all spending by outside groups was funded by anonymous donations, an illegal action prior to the ruling. Forty million of the dollars spent on Senate races came from sources that might never be revealed.
But as striking as these consequences might be, the 2010 election was just an experiment, the first opportunity to test the new law. In future elections, corporations and shadowy organizations will have a clearer understanding of the boundaries they are operating within, a reality that is sure to translate into more undisclosed cash. And the savvier corporate players know that the mere threat of a corporate onslaught of funding for or against a candidate is enough to win legislative favor, in effect blunting prospects for sound regulation, consumer protection and fair tax policies. As former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), himself a victim of Citizens United spending, said, "It is going to be worse in 2012 unless we do something - much worse."
Yet even as we lament this decision, we should recognize the opportunity it presents. Justice Roberts and his allies overreached so brazenly that they have created an opening for genuine reform.
The clearest and boldest counter to the court's ruling would be a constitutional amendment stating unequivocally that corporations are not people and do not have the right to buy elections. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced such an amendment to counter Citizens United during the last session of Congress and views it as the only sure way to beat back the court. "Justice Brandeis got it right," she noted last February. " 'We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.' "
Campaigns for constitutional amendments demand a great deal of patience and tenacity. But as Jamie Raskin, a Democratic Maryland state senator and professor of constitutional law at American University, notes, "American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies." Not only is a push for an amendment a worthy act, it also provides a unique opportunity to educate the broader public, raise the profile of this important issue and force elected officials to go on record as to where they stand. The campaign could create enormous pressure on state legislatures and Congress, prompting changes to campaign finance even before an amendment is ratified.
Success will require a coalition that transcends party. In this case, there is promising news. An August 2010 Survey USA poll found that 77 percent of all voters - including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents - view corporate spending in elections as akin to bribery. Broad majorities favor limiting corporate control over our political lives. A coordinated effort, executed right, could unite progressives, good-government reformers and conservative libertarians in a fight to restore democracy.
Even though Election Day is almost two years away, a shadowy political organization with ties to the agriculture industry is already on the air with negative ads attacking North Dakota’s Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. The American Future Fund, as profiled in People For the American Way’s report Citizens Blindsided, is run by GOP operatives in Iowa and funded by anonymous donors who likely have ties to Big Agriculture.
A New York Times report traced the group’s founding to the ethanol industry and their lobbyists, and Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee wrote that groups like the AFF “operate in the shadows. Their donors are anonymous. The power behind them is rarely apparent. It’s impossible to track the exact amounts they spend on campaigns in any timely fashion.” The AFF is also responsible for running some of the midterm elections most misleading and disgraceful ads, including one spot that viciously attacked Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley over the Park 51 Islamic Community Center in New York.
Now, barely two months after the midterm election, the AFF is on the air in North Dakota criticizing Senator Conrad, who is up for reelection in 2012. The AFF spent over $10 million of secret money to sway the last election, and three good-government groups asked for an investigation into the AFF’s status as a 501(c)4 nonprofit. 501(c)4 groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donors but also cannot spend the majority of their money to influence elections. The AFF’s new ad campaign, which calls on North Dakota voters to “call Kent Conrad” rather than to vote against him, may be their attempt to avoid a possible IRS investigation into the amount of their political spending. But the AFF’s early spending shows that even though the midterm elections are over, political groups like the AFF with little transparency or supervision are gearing up to play an even larger role in the 2012 elections.
Today, the DC Delegate has a vote in the Committee of the Whole House.
Tomorrow, this partial right to vote – the only direct representation DC has had on the House floor in its entire history – will likely be revoked by House Republicans as they approve the House Rules of the 112th Congress. Speaker-designate Boehner needs to hear from you that this is unacceptable. From DC Vote:
On January 5, in the first hours of the 112th Congress, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will likely silence the DC Delegate's voice in the Committee of the Whole House.
Call the incoming Speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner (R-OH) TODAY at 202.225.6205 and ask him to retain this important piece of DC's participation in the House.
Sample Call Script:
My name is ______ and I'm calling to ask Congressman Boehner [BAY-ner] to retain the DC Delegate vote in the Committee of the Whole.
DC residents pay full federal taxes, fight in wars and serve on juries, but have no voting representative.
It's taxation without representation. The Committee of the Whole is the only voice DC has when all the members of the House meet.
Please tell Congressman Boehner to retain the DC Delegate vote.Once you've called, please ask friends and family (especially in Ohio) to call also.
For a historical timeline of the District Delegate position, click here.
As Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) noted following last November’s elections:
The opportunity to vote in committees, now including the Committee of the Whole, is significant to the American citizens who live in the nation's capital and pay full federal taxes annually to support our federal government.
Maintaining the DC Delegate’s vote in the Committee of the Whole House is an important part of long-standing efforts to fully enfranchise our nation’s capital. Call now. 202-225-6205
David Savage of the Los Angeles Times and Adam Liptak of the New York Times both examined this week how president Obama’s two Supreme Court picks are changing the dynamic of the high court. “Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan,” writes Savage, “have joined the fray and reenergized the liberal wing.”
Gone are the mismatches where the Scalia wing overshadowed reserved and soft-spoken liberals like now-retired Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Instead, the liberals often take the lead and press attorneys defending the states or corporations.
"They're clearly on a roll," said Washington attorney Lisa S. Blatt, who has argued regularly before the high court. "They are engaged and really active. It just feels like a different place."
That dynamic was on display this fall, when a court that leans conservative on cases of crime and punishment heard California's appeal in a case where a panel of three federal judges had ordered the release of about 40,000 prisoners. The state's lawyer stepped to the lectern with reason to expect a friendly reception.
The order is "extraordinary and unprecedented," Carter G. Phillips began, and "extraordinarily premature" because the state was not given enough time to solve its prison problems.
But Sotomayor soon cut him off.
"Slow down from the rhetoric," she said, launching into a withering discussion of the state's 20-year history of severe prison overcrowding and "the needless deaths" from poor medical care.
Kagan picked up the theme, contending that the state had spent years fighting with the judges but not solving the problem. It's too late now for "us to re-find the facts," Kagan said. The California judges had delved into the details for 20 years, and it was time now to decide whether the remedy was right, she said.
While Kagan, due to her recent role as the administration’s Solicitor General, has had to sit out many of the most contentious cases since she took her seat on the court, Sotomayor has clearly shown herself “alert to the humanity of the people whose cases make their way to the Supreme Court,” writes Liptak. He looks at the three opinions Sotomayor has written commenting on the court’s decision not to hear particular cases:
Justice Sotomayor wrote three of the opinions, more than any other justice, and all concerned the rights of criminal defendants or prisoners. The most telling one involved a Louisiana prisoner infected with H.I.V. No other justice chose to join it.
The prisoner, Anthony C. Pitre, had stopped taking his H.I.V. medicine to protest his transfer from one facility to another. Prison officials responded by forcing him to perform hard labor in 100-degree heat. That punishment twice sent Mr. Pitre to the emergency room.
The lower courts had no sympathy for Mr. Pitre’s complaints, saying he had brought his troubles on himself.
Justice Sotomayor saw things differently.
“Pitre’s decision to refuse medication may have been foolish and likely caused a significant part of his pain,” she wrote. “But that decision does not give prison officials license to exacerbate Pitre’s condition further as a means of punishing or coercing him — just as a prisoner’s disruptive conduct does not permit prison officials to punish the prisoner by handcuffing him to a hitching post.”
In the courtroom, she was no less outraged at the argument in a case concerning prison conditions in California, peppering a lawyer for the state with heated questions.
“When are you going to avoid the needless deaths that were reported in this record?” she asked. “When are you going to avoid or get around people sitting in their feces for days in a dazed state?”
In her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kagan praised her former employer and mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall, saying his “whole life was about seeing the courts take seriously claims that were not taken seriously anyplace else.” Obama’s appointment of two justices who follow vocally in his path may be one of the most profound and lasting results of the 2008 elections.
In his farewell speech, US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania called on Congress to move quickly to counter the burgeoning right-wing extremism of the Roberts Court and the Republican caucus. Specter, who was first elected to the US Senate in 1980 as a Republican, spoke about how the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown little respect for their own precedents or congressional fact-finding while pursuing a hard line pro-corporate bent. The increasingly conservative Court has consistently ruled in favor of corporations over the rights of workers and consumers, and the concerns of environmental protection and fair elections. Specter specifically pointed to the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited and undisclosed funds from their general treasuries in elections and overturned decades of Court precedents and congressional measures limiting corporate influence in politics. Specter said:
This Congress should try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the constitutional mandate of Separation of Powers. The Supreme Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedents, that is stare decisis.
The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative: ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony, given under oath, and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising, thus effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote.
Chief Roberts promised to just “call balls and strikes,” and then he moved the bases.
Specter also blasted Republican obstructionism in the Senate. He said that even though 59 Senators backed ending debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required groups to publicly disclose their donors, the important bill never received an up-or-down vote due to Republican procedural moves:
Repeatedly, senior Republican Senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline. With 59 votes for cloture on this side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the sixtieth vote for many important legislative initiatives, such as identifying campaign contributors to stop secret contributions.
The Pennsylvanian later criticized the GOP for preventing judicial nominees from also having up-or-down votes:
Important positions are left open for months, but the Senate agenda today is filled with un-acted upon judicial and executive nominees. And many of those judicial nominees are in areas where there is an emergency backlog.
When discussing how Senate Republican leaders, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC), supported ultraconservative candidates against Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Specter condemned the GOP’s embrace of “right-wing extremists,” adding: “Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.”
Last week, SCOTUSBlog had a podcast interview with legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, discussing his new book The Conservative Assault on the Constitution. The blog has asked Chemerinsky some follow-up questions, and his responses are worth reading.
For instance, he discusses the concept of a living Constitution and the hypocrisy behind the Right's claims of a consistent approach to judging cases.
Q. Within the context of the "conservative assault" you discuss in the book, can you please define the terms "living constitution" and "strict constructionist"?
- Everyone is a strict constructionist in that everyone believes that the text of the Constitution should be followed where it is clear. But the phrase "strict constructionist" was coined by Richard Nixon to refer to something more ideological: Justices who followed the conservative approach to interpreting constitutional provisions. Interestingly, conservatives are not strict constructionists in interpreting the Second Amendment. There conservatives read the Second Amendment as if it simply said "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." They ignore the first half of the Amendment which speaks of the right existing for the purpose of having a well-regulated militia.
A belief in a "living Constitution" rejects the notion that the meaning of a constitutional provision is the same in 2011 as when it was adopted. A living Constitution says that in interpreting the Constitution, Justices and judges should consider history, tradition, precedent, and modern needs. There always has been a living Constitution and hopefully always will be. The opposite of a living Constitution is a dead Constitution and no society can be governed under that.
He also discusses how self-professed conservative "originalists" are selective in when they pay attention to original intent.
Q. You write in your book that "it is clear that conservatives often abandon the original-meaning approach when it does not serve their ideological purposes." Can you please elaborate - perhaps by providing an example or two?
- Affirmative action. I am skeptical that we can ever really know the original intent or meaning for a constitutional provision. But if ever it is clear, it is that the drafters of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment intended to allow race-conscious programs of the sort that today we call affirmative action. The Congress that ratified the Fourteenth Amendment adopted many such programs. Yet originalist Justices, like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, pay no attention to this history in condemning affirmative action. Another example is campaign finance. There is absolutely no indication that the drafters of the First Amendment intended to protect the speech of corporations (that did not occur for the first time until 1978) or spending in election campaigns. But conservative Justices nonetheless find a First Amendment right for corporations to engage in unlimited expenditures in campaigns.
Of course, that is a reference to Citizens United, where the aggressively activist Roberts Court handed our elections over to powerful corporate interests. There is a direct line from that case to the new corporate-friendly gang that will be running the House of Representatives for the next two years.
Who sits on the Court has consequences for us all.
Yesterday, People For the American Way delivered to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer the signatures of over 25,000 activists urging the Senate to take up and pass the DISCLOSE Act before the end of this Congress. The House passed the bill earlier this year, but Republican Senators have twice blocked it from proceeding in the Senate.
The best chance the Senate has to pass the bill is to pass it now. Despite the overwhelming popularity of campaign finance disclosure measures, the GOP has hardly been friendly to DISCLOSE so far (all but two House Republicans voted against the measure, and it didn’t win the support of a single Republican senator). The bill was also a target of corporate lobbyists—many of whom, the Washington Post reports, will now be moving to Capitol Hill to work as highly placed advisors to new Republican members of Congress.
But even if the Senate doesn’t vote on DISCLOSE this month, we’ll keep on pushing to make it law. There’s absolutely no good reason for any member of Congress to oppose a bill that makes government cleaner and elections more transparent. Most Americans agree…and hopefully the GOP will catch on.
For more on the DISCLOSE Act and the Right’s opposition to it, read Michael Keegan on the “Corporate Money Denial Game”.
The first major decision any newly-elected member of Congress makes is who will serve as his or her chief of staff. The personnel choice says a lot about the member’s personality and priorities. Off-the-charts extremist Congressman-Elect Allen West, for instance, chose off-the-charts extremist radio host Joyce Kauffman (before the “liberal left” raised some concerns about her role inciting a school shooting plot). It should come as no surprise, then, that Wisconsin Senator-Elect Ron Johnson, whose pro-corporate policies earned him plenty of corporate cash on the campaign trail, has picked a corporate lobbyist to lead his team in Washington.
Johnson’s pick, reports Express Milwaukee, is Don Kent, who after a gig at the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush Administration, “became a lobbyist at Navigators Global, where he ‘heads up the Homeland Security practice.’”:
Johnson’s choice of Kent shows that he’s trying to ingratiate himself with big defense contractors, Big Pharma and anti-worker groups.
Navigator Global’s clients include AgustaWestland North America, the world’s largest helicopter manufacturer; the Coalition of California Growers, which was fighting a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize; the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which was fighting an effort that would allow some taxpayers to file their state tax returns for free; the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, when then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was investigating the industry; Pfizer; and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which wanted to block the reimportation of Canadian drugs to bring down costs for consumers.
Plenty of people—including members of Congress—go in and out of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street. But Johnson’s choice makes a clear statement about the difference between him and his predecessor, Russ Feingold. Feingold has been one of the Senate’s strongest champions of clean elections and transparent government, and wrote the campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. In the first election after Citizens United, Johnson benefitted from a flood of outside money, some from pro-corporate groups, to unseat Feingold.
It’s one of the first signs that the corporate interests that funded Tea Party candidates across the country are going to get what they paid for.
Via The Awl
A new Center for Responsive Politics report uncovers some more details about the money behind American Crossroads, one of the most powerful right-wing spenders in the 2010 elections.
The Karl-Rove founded group acted as a “Shadow RNC” in this year’s elections, collecting and distributing money from wealthy donors who were shying away from the embattled party committee. But it also had a brand new leg up: the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on influencing elections. A full third of American Crossroad’s $28 million in funding came from corporate donors, CRP found. And a big chunk of American Crossroad’s remaining cash—54%--came from just four wealthy donors.
And that’s just the branch of American Crossroads whose funding we know about. The group’s sister organization, Crossroads GPS, spent $17 million on elections, and according to CRP,” saw its preferred candidates win in 71 percent of the races in which it invested money.” We can’t know for sure about the sources of GPS’s funding, since it doesn’t have to report its activities to the Federal Election Commission, but we do know that it received significant funding from Wall Street bankers. Once source told Politico in October that “most of the GOP corporate money is believed to be moving through [Crossroads GPS], so that it isn’t disclosed publicly.”
Rove himself has said that the Citizens United decision made the success of American Crossroads and American Crossroads GPS possible. In turn, his groups helped to define what political spending looks like in the post-Citizens United era, where corporations and a few wealthy individuals have enormous power over elections—but rarely have to own up to it.
UPDATE: Mother Jones has more on the Big Four donors to Crossroads.
Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Job Security. Americans for New Leadership. Center for Individual Freedom. Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity.
These are just a few of the many feel-good names that adorned corporate-funded groups that spent millions to elect pro-corporate candidates in the 2010 elections.
Now, the Sunlight Foundation has created a tool to help you name your own corporate front-group PAC. Try it here:
And for more about some of the real groups that hid their pro-corporate intentions behind platitudes about the American Dream, check out our report: Citizens Blindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy.