Koch Brothers

ALEC and Koch-Funded SPN in the Spotlight

Last week The Guardian began to shine some light on the shadowy right-wing group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), exposing how the organization connecting corporations with conservative legislators to move a legislative agenda supporting special interests is declining in popularity. In the wake of tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s shooting, many former members are attempting to distance themselves from ALEC’s extreme agenda.

Close on the heels of that revelation, we now see that a Koch-funded network of state policy groups with ties to ALEC, the State Policy Network (SPN), plans to launch a coordinated assault on many of the issues and services most important to everyday working Americans. Newly-exposed funding proposal documents obtained by The Guardian outline what they call a “blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014.”

And what an agenda it is. According to the documents, the proposals take aim at public education, health services, worker’s compensation, environmental protections, and more. A new website (www.stinktanks.org) launched by allies ProgressNow and the Center for Media and Democracy helps to further expose the agenda behind these state policy groups and draw attention to some of SPN’s major funders.

SPN, a member of ALEC, should take heed of ALEC’s declining public image. The American people are tired of the coordinated attack on the services, rights, and protections vital to a thriving middle class.
 

PFAW

Yesterday's Big Election Victories and What They Mean

What a huge day for progressive power! Yesterday, voters in nearly every region of the country turned out and resoundingly defeated right-wing attacks on:

  • Workers’ Rights (Ohio);
  • Choice (Mississippi);
  • Voting Rights (Maine);
  • Marriage Equality (Iowa);
  • Immigrant Civil Rights AND Government By the People (Arizona);
  • Public Education (North Carolina);
  • AND MORE.

In the nationally-watched races and ballot initiatives across America, progressives won across the board. These hard-fought victories are not just wins for people in these states. The results have important ramifications moving forward into the 2012 elections, with this flexing of political muscle providing a good source of hope that maybe 2012 can be our 2010.

Let’s remember that most of the Republican presidential candidates came down on the losing side of virtually every one of these issues, showing how out of touch they and their party are with Americans’ values. Frontrunner Mitt Romney, whom many consider to be the presumptive nominee, after his usual hemming and hawing, came out strongly against workers’ rights in Ohio and said he would support the shockingly extreme “personhood” amendment in Mississippi that would have given fertilized eggs the rights of human beings. Even the overwhelmingly Republican -- and culturally conservative -- electorate of deep red state Mississippi rejected that radical position by a whopping 58%-42%. An astute political observer might accurately say that Mitt Romney was in fact yesterday’s, and thus Election 2011’s, biggest loser.

Ohio – workers’ rights and defending the middle class WIN

In Ohio, voters stood up their neighbors -- their nurses, teachers, policemen and firefighters -- and successfully repealed the right-wing governor’s Wisconsin-style attack on the fundamental collective bargaining rights of public employees -- the law known as SB 5. Tallies are showing that over 60% of voters voted “No” on Issue 2, to repeal SB 5, with only six counties in the entire state showing majorities in favor of keeping the law. In all those counties, Republican Governor John Kasich won with more than 60% of the vote in 2010.

We worked hard, with PFAW activists in Ohio playing a critical role in the effort. Our allies in Ohio, especially our friends at We Are Ohio, led an inspiring and effective campaign. This victory will have a lasting impact in Ohio and national politics, as it staved off an attack that could have been crippling to progressives in a critical swing state.

The attacks on working people in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states are part of a right-wing effort to break the back of organized labor, which is a major source of progressive power and one of the only political counterweights to the corporate special interests that fund the Right. Like laws that disenfranchise voters in communities that traditionally vote more progressive, these new policies are a naked partisan power grab by Republican politicians, and at the same time serve as a big gift, basically a policy kickback, to their corporate contributors like the Koch brothers.

We will work hard to help replicate nationally for 2012 the Ohio organizing model that mobilized a middle-class revolt against right-wing extremism in that state.

Mississippi – reproductive rights WIN

As I mentioned above, voters in Mississippi, a state in which Democrats didn’t even bother to run a candidate in several statewide races, overwhelmingly rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. That dreadful law would have effectively turned ALL abortions, without exception for rape, incest of the health of the mother, into murder under state law. It would have done the same with many popular forms of birth control and the processes involved in fertility treatment, even creating legal suspicion around miscarriages.

A similar “personhood” amendment had twice been rejected by voters in Colorado by similarly large margins, but polling leading up to Election Day in Mississippi showed a toss up. It’s important to note that while many anti-choice conservatives expressed reservations about the far-reaching extremity of the amendment, just about every Religious Right group and Republican supported it … and it lost by 16 points … IN MISSISSIPPI.

Maine – voting rights WIN

Maine voters yesterday voted to preserve their same-day voter registration policy after the right-wing legislature passed a law to repeal it.

In another example of the Right doing everything it can to make ballot access more difficult for some voters, after Republicans took control of the governorship and the legislature in 2010, one of the first things on the chopping block was Maine’s same-day voter registration law.

Voters have been able to register at their polling place on Election Day in Maine since 1973 -- if there is anything ingrained in the voting culture of Maine it’s same-day registration. Same-day voter registration is the reason Maine has one of the highest voter turnouts in the country (states with same-day registration average 6% higher turnout than states without it). It’s good for democracy … but apparently that’s bad for the Right.

Republicans had used the bogus straw man argument about “widespread voter fraud” -- even though it’s never been a reported problem in Maine. They amazingly trotted out the argument that people who wait until Election Day to register are not “engaged” enough in the process, even though same-day registrants are simply abiding by the law of nearly 40 years, and showing up on Election Day is the ultimate demonstration of “engagement.”

The Maine Republican Party even ran a full page newspaper ad just before the election trying to portray the ballot initiative to “repeal the repeal” and save same-day registration as some sort of gay activist plot. The ad implied that Equality Maine’s support of the referendum was somehow insidious and revealing of some problem with the long-standing, pro-democracy law. In reality, LGBT rights groups did have stake in the results of yesterday’s same-day voter registration ballot initiative because if Mainers would not join together to defeat such a radical right-wing usurpation of voters’ rights, then the Equality movement in that state concluded there would be little hope in waging another campaign to enact same-sex marriage equality by referendum. So, yesterday’s victory for voting rights effectively leaves the door open for a future victory for marriage equality as well. 

Iowa – marriage equality WIN

While the victory in Maine opens the possibility of a future win for marriage equality in that state, in Iowa, the state’s existing marriage equality law won a major victory with the election of the Democrat running in a special election for state Senate. Party control of the Senate hinged on this race and if the Republican had won, the legislature would surely move to undo marriage equality for same-sex couples in Iowa.

The Senate seat in question became open when Republican Governor Terry Branstad appointed incumbent Democratic Senator Swati Dandekar to a high paying post on the Iowa Utilities Board. Republicans knew full well that the bare majority Democrats held in the Senate would then be up for grabs, and with it, the fate of marriage equality. Congratulations to Democratic Senator Elect Liz Mathis, the voters who elected her and all the people of Iowa whose rights will continue to be protected by a state marriage law that holds true to our core constitutional values of Fairness and Equality.

Arizona – immigrant rights and democracy WIN

Voters in Arizona really made an impressive show of strength yesterday when they voted to RECALL Republican State Senator Russell Pearce, the architect of Arizona’s infamous draconian “show me your papers” immigration bill, SB 1070. Arizonans did themselves and the country a great service in rejected the lawmaker who pioneered the shameful racial profiling bill.

This is not just a victory for fair and humane immigration policy. The often untold story of SB 1070 is that it was engineered by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a policy group funded by corporate special interests that essentially writes many of the laws pushed every year by right-wing state legislators across the country. SB 1070 was on its face an ugly, racist backlash against undocumented immigrants, but it was also a handout to the powerful private prison industry, which stood to benefit financially by mass roundups of undocumented immigrants who would, of course, be held in prisons.

The successful recall of the right-wing, anti-immigrant icon Russell Pearce was a win for fairness, for civil liberties and for the dignified treatment of America’s immigrant communities. But it was also a triumph over corrupt corporate influence in government and a victory for Government By the People.

Wake County, North Carolina – public education and racial equality WIN

Last month, voters in Wake County, North Carolina decisively defeated four conservative school board candidates responsible for scrapping the district's lauded diversity policies. Yesterday, the final runoff election was decided by Wake County voters who handed victory, and majority control of the school board, to the Democrats.

The ousted board members had been backed by the Koch-funded Tea Party group Americans For Prosperity (AFP). This past summer, People For the American Way and PFAW's African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) program joined with Brave New Foundation to cosponsor the release of their “Koch Brothers Exposed” video that told the story of AFP’s involvement in the school board election and the board’s effort to resegregate schools. I’m proud that we were able to help shine a light on the Right’s unconscionable attack on public education, racial equality and civil rights.

More Notable Results

The citizens of Missoula, Montana passed a resolution in support of amending the Constitution to end corporate personhood and undo the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizen's United v. FEC. The referendum was initiated by a City Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken, an active member of our affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Official (YEO) Network.

In Kentucky, Democrats won four out of five statewide races with incumbent Democratic governor Steve Beshear winning in a landslide over his Republican challenger

In New Jersey, after two years on the losing side of confrontations with Gov. Chris Christie, Democrats seemed to turn the tide, fighting off well-funded Republican challenges and gaining one seat in the state Legislature.

And in Virginia, the GOP was expected to take majority control of the state Senate -- which they only needed two seats to do – but might have fallen just short. With a paper-thin margin of 86 votes in one race handing preliminary victory to the Republican, there will surely be a recall and Democrats are at least publicly optimistic.

There were more progressive victories in local races around the country, and some losses. For the most part, however, the losses were either very minor or very expected. Where the eyes of the nation was focused, and where progressives put energy and resources, we won across the board. This morning, as we look ahead to 2012, the Right should be very nervous.

Thank you for your ongoing support -- it makes all the difference, every time … and 2012 will be no exception.

PFAW

‘What You Talkin’ Bout, Willard?’

If you watched TV in the 1980s, you surely remember this:

The TV show Diff’rent Strokes – which featured the iconic tagline “What you talkin’ bout, Willis”? – was produced by PFAW’s founder Norman Lear.

And when Norman heard that Mitt Romney – whose first name is actually Willard – was running for president, it rang a bell.

In a piece in Variety this week, Norman asks Willard Mitt Romney exactly what he is talking about:

"What You Talkin' Bout, Willard?"

By Norman Lear

I don't have to explain that line to Americans who grew up watching one of our production company's sitcoms, "Diff'rent Strokes", which ran for eight seasons between 1978 and 1986 and for years after in syndication. Any one who knows the show will recall this signature phrase repeated by the young Gary Coleman to his older brother when stupefied and maddened by something his brother just said, "What you talkin' bout, Willis?"

I know some people think Willard Mitt Romney is the only responsible adult
i n that implausible field of presidential hopefuls, but often he will say
 something so surprising and disingenuous in this seemingly endless campaign, 
I find myself thinking, 'What you talkin' bout, Willard?

Absent a profanity, I don't know a better reaction to Romney's declaration 
that "corporations are people." Of course he'd be correct if the people
 he's referring to are the billionaire Koch brothers. Or if they are the 
people who are setting up phony corporations for the purpose of supporting
 Willard Mitt Romney's candidacy with million dollar gifts, and they could of 
course include the Kochs.

"What you talkin' bout, Willard?" leaps to mind at the thought of the natty
 Harvard-educated Wall Street executive and former Massachusetts governor 
railing against "eastern elites" at the last Republican National Convention. And it aches to be shouted out when I am reminded that Willard Mitt Romney, 
seeking someone to head his legal team, chose a man whose reactionary views
 about the U.S. Constitution led to a bi-partisan Senate vote to keep him off 
the Supreme Court, Robert Bork.

Willard's embrace of Bork, despite his angry rants since then, such as those
 calling for active government censorship of popular culture, is clearly 
meant to signal far-right activists that they can count on more Supreme
 Court Justices in the mold of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito, who are all
 energetically working to make Romney's assertion that "corporations are 
people" a legal reality.

What are you talkin' bout, Willard?

 

PFAW

Koch Brothers Sink to a New Low to Undermine Public Education

The Koch brothers have had a piece of the right-wing anti-public education franchise for some time, through their sponsorship of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The corporate-funded think tank has churned out all sorts of model legislation for right-wing state legislators aimed at undermining and defunding public education.

Now, through the Koch-created and funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers have taken their attacks on public education to a new level: attempting to reinstitute school segregation.

A brand new video from our friends at Brave New Foundation -- a part of their "Koch Brothers Exposed" series -- details the disturbing rise of racial resegregation in one award-winning North Carolina school district. The story goes like this: AFP supported a slate of right-wing school board candidates who ran on a platform that echoed those of 1960's southern segregationists like George Wallace almost verbatim ... they won, and now they are using their power to hurt the public school system by not only erasing the district's commendable achievements of diversity, but hurting the quality of public education received by all the district's students.

People For the American Way and PFAW's African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) program are both incredibly proud to cosponsor the release of this video, and we're hopeful that we can help shine a light on this latest right-wing attack on public education, racial equality and civil rights.

Watch the video, and help spread the word by sharing this post.

After you watch the video, please call David Koch at his Manhattan office at 212-319-1100 and tell him to "stop funding school resegregation now."

PFAW

Another Dirty Trick in Wisconsin? AFP Sends Out Absentee Ballot Applications with Wrong Return Date

This one is particularly shameless:

Americans for Prosperity is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date.

The fliers, obtained by POLITICO, ask solidly Democratic voters to return ballots for the Aug. 9 election to the city clerk "before Aug. 11."

A Democrat on the ground in Wisconsin said the fliers were discovered to be hitting doors in District 2 and District 10 over the weekend.

"These are people who are our 1's in the voterfile who we already knew. They ain't AFP members, that's for damn sure," the source said.

If this is true, AFP will be only the latest right-wing organization to try to influence the outcome of Wisconsin’s recall elections by tricking the other side into not voting. But AFP is no unknown fringe group – backed by the influential and well-connected Koch brothers, the group spent millions of dollars last year running often-misleading ads in contentious congressional districts

AFP’s alleged absentee-ballot trick comes as the Wisconsin GOP is attempting to use statutory means to keep low-income people, youth and seniors from accessing the ballot. The state’s Republican legislature and governor have passed a Voter ID bill that will require voters to present government ID at the polls, setting up a hurdle for the 175,000 seniors and many students and low-income people who don’t have the proper documents. Gov. Scott Walker then moved to close DMV offices – where those without IDs could obtain them for a fee -- in several heavily-Democratic areas.

The Right likes to harp on the dangers of “voter fraud” – individuals going to great lengths to vote in the wrong districts, an exceptionally rare occurance. But the bigger problem has always been voter suppression, or systematically keeping large groups of people from accessing the ballot box. Rather than passing unnecessary Voter ID laws that keep traditionally disenfranchised people from voting, states would be better off making sure there are stringent laws against the kind of unethical and undemocratic behavior AFP is allegedly engaging in. Those who conspire to prevent Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote should be held fully accountable.
 

PFAW

Deceitful Robocalls Added to List of Dirty Election Tricks in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin GOP has been going to great lengths to sabotage efforts to conduct fair and open recall elections in Wisconsin. Instead of honestly putting their candidates against the Democrats and letting the voters decide between the two, they are running fake Democratic candidates in the primaries in an attempt to confuse voters and draw out the process. They have even distributed posters designed to encourage Republican voters to participate in the Democratic primary and vote for their planted candidates.

Adding to the list of dirty tricks, reports are surfacing that a “Right to Life” group is robocalling Wisconsin Democrats and telling them not to go to the polls today, and instead to wait for an absentee ballot to arrive in the mail. This is false, as July 12 is the last day to cast a vote in the Democratic primary, and there is not enough time to cast a vote by mail. Apparently, the robocalls are coming from a 703 area code (Virginia).

We do not know yet exactly who is ultimately responsible for these calls, and even if an individual is caught and takes the fall, we may never find out who’s really pulling the strings. Whoever they are, they are obviously people in synch with the right wing agenda of Governor Walker and the Koch Brothers. Disenfranchising voters by tricking them into not voting is a tried and true method of voter suppression. So is finding excuses at the polling place to keep certain people from voting, as GOP-pushed voter ID laws do. What all the tactics we see in Wisconsin have in common is that the right wing is pulling out the stops to prevent the people from exercising their constitutional right to remove them from office.

PFAW

Interesting...

In a bit of coincidence, the Wisconsin union busting law goes into effect on the same day (today) that, in Ohio, the petitions to overturn a similar law are submitted to the Secretary of State.

UPDATE: We Are Ohio blew the 231,000 signature requirement out of the water and today delivered a whopping 1.3 MILLION petition signatures to get repeal of SB 5 on the ballot! I hope Gov. Kasich, the Koch brothers and all the other right-wing ideologues and corporate interests are getting nervous!

PFAW

Supreme Court's Legitimacy Rests With the Justices

As noted in a NYT editorial by Jeff Shesol, some of the justices of the Supreme Court are spending a lot of their time off the bench engaging in all sorts of extracurricular activities. Of course, they have always participated in the usual speech-giving and book-singing circuit – but as of late, some justices have lent their names to organizations with decidedly partisan agendas, including Koch-sponsored policy retreats, and have become increasingly entangled with ideological benefactors with clearly partisan agendas.

This has prompted calls for a re-examination of our standard of judicial ethics, since many of them surprisingly do not apply to the high court. Sheshol writes:

Yet there are few, if any, precedents for the involvement of Justices Thomas and Scalia with the fund-raising efforts of the Koch brothers. In an invitation to a meeting earlier this year in Palm Springs, Calif., Charles Koch cautioned financial contributors that “our ultimate goal is not ‘fun in the sun.’ This is a gathering of doers.” The meeting’s objective was “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” Last summer’s sessions included “Framing the Debate on Spending” and “Mobilizing Citizens for November.” The invitation listed Justices Scalia and Thomas first among the “notable leaders” who had attended past meetings.

In the face of criticism, the court’s conservatives may be doubling down. Justice Thomas, in particular, has lashed back, refusing to disclose activities and relationships that have been called into question. Stone’s admonition, clearly, is as relevant as ever. Over its history, the Supreme Court has faced periodic threats to its legitimacy and has survived with its powers intact, thanks in large part to its public esteem. At some point, another challenge will come. And the court, next time, may find fewer Americans on its side if its members allow themselves to be perceived, in Justice Breyer’s words, as “junior-varsity politicians” who possess, but do not merit, the last word.

 

PFAW

Koch-Funded Group Posts Face Eviction Notices on Houses in Michigan

So, the Koch brothers-funded astroturfing front group Americans For Prosperity's Michigan branch has been busy ... trying to scare people into opposing the construction of a local bridge the group is fighting by putting fake eviction notices on their houses.

Bearing the words “Eviction Notice” in large type, the bogus notices told homeowners their properties could be taken by the Michigan Department of Transportation to make way for the New International Trade Crossing bridge project. The NITC is the subject of debate in Lansing, and Americans for Prosperity is lobbying heavily against it.

“It was meant to startle people,” Scott Hagerstrom, AFP’s Michigan director, said of the notices on Tuesday.

[Detroit Free Press/TPM]
 

PFAW

On Bus Tour, Energy Funded Group Misplaces Blame for High Gas Prices

Most companies don’t go telling consumers that their product is too expensive – but that’s exactly what the energy industry is doing. Reverse psychology is an interesting phenomenon, and most people are aware when people try it on them. Yet that is one way to describe the newest trick the energy industry is trying to pull on the American people. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded oil-industry front group, is embarking on a bus tour to remind everybody that gas prices are very high – and that President Obama and too much regulation are to blame.

It’s a novel strategy: find a straw man to bear the brunt of consumer frustrations, so that the energy industry seems like it’s on their side. Then, they will be able to make a populist argument to eliminate regulations, encourage pro-corporate policies and increase their profits. Brilliant!

However, the AfP and their energy-industry funders must be crossing their fingers, hoping that Americans don’t understand the way the oil market actually works. The reality is that because gas prices are dependent on the price of oil, and oil is priced and sold on a global market, less regulation – or more domestic drilling for that matter – wouldn’t help significantly bring down prices at the pump, especially in the short term. What it would do is make oil barons such as the Koch brothers even richer.

Speculation is the likely real cause of high prices, but you won’t be hearing about that on AfP’s tour. A new Think Progress investigation shows how heavily involved the Koch brothers are in artificially manipulating oil prices – and surely they would like to keep it that way. And just a couple of weeks ago, Rep. Elijah Cummings and the other Democrats on the House Oversight Committee released a report on the increasing role of speculation on rising gas prices.

If Americans really want relief from high gas prices, we should demand a different narrative from AfP and their “drill, baby, drill” creed. The pain at the pump is too severe for another self-serving bus tour.

PFAW

GOP Brings the War on Unions to the Federal Government

We’ve seen Koch-funded politicians across the country introduce bills that dismantle public-sector unions at the state level. Now it seems they’ve got their eye on a bigger prize, attempting to destroy unions at the federal level as well.

On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce held a hearing on “Official Time” which the government defines as “authorized, paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees.” Unions use this time to complete tasks such as setting safety requirements, overtime assignments, and dispute-resolution procedures, all of which are necessary for a productive workforce.

Official time was granted by the Civil Reform Act of 1978. This time is strictly regulated, and can only be used on activities that both labor and management deem reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.

Despite the fact that official time costs only $130 million per year -- significantly less expensive than having outsiders handle arbitration and other issues that would arise without official time -- and has survived and been deemed useful through three Republican administrations, the GOP is now considering cutting it due to “budgetary restraints.”

It’s no surprise that the Koch brothers have invested heavily in those who are now trying to chip away at federal employee unions. The congressman who brought up this issue, Rep. Phil Gingrey, counts Koch Industries as one of his top 20 contributors. Of the “expert witnesses” at the hearing discussing official time, two were from organizations heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Witnesses from both the Heritage Foundation and Competitive Enterprise Institute were present, organizations that received 4,115,571 and $700,499 respectively in 2009.

Federal unions are required, by law, to represent all employees in certain agencies or positions, even if they don’t pay their union dues. In exchange for this, they are allowed “official time” in which to complete some union work. John Gage, the National President for the American Federation of Government Employees, stated the ramifications of ending official time clearly, revealing that ending official time would nearly completely take away the collective bargaining rights of federal employees, making it impossible for unions to effectively function.

PFAW

Oversight Committee to Look to Vulnerable Targets for Budget Cuts, Avoid Tough Scrutiny

The House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee is planning two hearings today, providing an interesting one-two punch against favorite Republican debt scapegoats: public workers and the poor.

The first hearing of the day, Official Time: Good Value for the Taxpayer? will likely discuss how we need to shrink the size of the federal workforce. The second, Duplication, Overlap and Inefficiencies in Federal Welfare Programs will likely discuss how our social safety net is somehow unsustainable.

My predictions as to the take-away messages of these hearings are based on Chairman Issa’s predictable witness list. As we’ve noted with great frequency, Issa calls industry and think-tank “experts” to the stand who will tell him what he wants to hear, and today’s lineup is no exception. The Heritage Foundation will be featured prominently this afternoon, as well as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Interestingly, both of these very conservative think tanks have received large amounts of funding from the Koch brothers – to the tune of $4,115,571 and $700,499 respectively in 2009. Yes, these are the very same Koch brothers who quietly fund the tea party and a plethora of right wing politicians and organizations. Check out the Center for American Progress’ report and PFAW’s Koch Brothers Fact Sheet for many, many more details.

John Mashburn, executive director of the Carleson Center for Public Policy, will be testifying in the welfare hearing. His organization, which might as well be the Ronald Reagan fan club, wants to reduce federal assistance programs to a series of block grants administered by the states:

The first order of business for the CCPP will be to help reverse the damage done to the 1996 welfare reform. Then, it will concentrate on extending the successful design of returning power and responsibility to the states for other welfare programs, specifically Medicaid and Food Stamps. 

Agenda items:

  • Restore the integrity of the 1996 welfare reform. 
  • Develop a plan to emulate the 1996 model to block grant Medicaid to the states.
  • Develop a plan to block grant the Food Stamp program to the states.
  • Develop a plan to consolidate the 180+ additional categorical federal means-tested programs and replace them with finite block grants to the states.

As many Republicans are discovering back home in their districts, applying this goal to Medicare is proving to be rather unpopular. It’s concerning that other important social programs could face the same treatment, especially since the beneficiaries of these programs don’t carry the same political clout as senior citizens.

PFAW

Tea Party Bemoans “Government-Corporate Cronyism” … Really???

Tea Party groups have been busy protesting companies that support eco-friendly and other progressive policies or help Democrats … they’ve even been protesting GE, NOT because the company exploits loopholes and tax credits to avoid paying any U.S. taxes, but because GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt works with the Obama administration chairing its Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

“Jeff Immelt is the face of government-corporate cronyism in America today,” commented Russ Walker, vice president of political and grassroots campaigns for the Tea Party “astroturf” group FreedomWorks.

The Tea Party needs to look in the mirror.

Overwhelmingly, it’s Tea Party Republicans who push the tax policies that allow GE to not pay its fair share of taxes … it’s Tea Party Republicans who want to bust up labor unions at the behest of the Koch brothers … it’s Tea Party Republicans who want to continue billions in subsidies for oil companies … and it’s Tea Party Republicans who oppose all regulation of corporate polluters, Big Insurance, Wall Street and every other sector of corporate America.

Now, there are certainly too many corporate-friendly Democrats … too many Blue Dogs and so-called moderates who are willing to put the interests of corporations over the interests of We the People. But let’s not be fooled by the Tea Party’s co-opting of rhetoric aimed at holding corporations accountable. The only accountability the Right wants for corporations is for when the occasional executive strays from the pack and is caught making nice with Democrats.

PFAW

Walker Admits He Never Campaigned On Union-Busting

If Gov. Scott Walker wonders why there is such a negative reaction to his union-busting efforts in Wisconsin, he needn’t look very far: a poll by the non-partisan Wisconsin Policy Research Institute found that nearly six in ten Wisconsinites disapprove of his plan to dismantle the collective bargaining rights of public employees. If so many people in Wisconsin oppose a central tenet of Scott Walker’s social and economic policy and still elected him, the Governor surely made a very persuasive case on the campaign trail. Or did he?

Today, before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, Gov. Walker admitted, for the first time, that he never campaigned on ending collective bargaining rights for public workers. Walker tried to claim that union-busting was part of the “range” of solutions he campaigned on (a Politifact-certified lie), until Rep. Gerry Connely (D-VA) pressed the issue and asked him if he ever “explicitly” campaigned on this particular proposal--to which Walker answered, “No.” Gary Sargent at the Washington Post has the video.

Note to future pols: if you plan to do something really extreme once in office, you may want to mention it once or twice beforehand.

For more info on the corporate interests driving the actions of the Committee and Governor Walker, check out our fact sheet, Anatomy of a Koch-a-Thon: Sham Budget Hearings Brought to You by the Koch Brothers

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.

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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

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

Hundreds in California Protest Corporate Influence in Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Roles of Justices Scalia and Thomas in Citizens United Under Scrutiny

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.
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