Legislation

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – two days left

The Senate is scheduled to take its first votes of the lame duck session this Wednesday. Number 2 on the list – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

In addition to our recent fact sheet, PFAW has just sent its letter to the Senate urging the bill’s passage.

November 15, 2010

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act formed a strong foundation for pay equity in this country. Now that fair access to the courts has been restored, it is time to build on that foundation. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we urge you to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) as a clean bill with no amendments.

The Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision was a clear step backward for ending employment discrimination in the workplace, when the Supreme Court held that employees could not challenge ongoing compensation discrimination if the employer’s original discriminatory decision occurred more than 180 days before filing of the claim. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was meant to correct this misinterpretation of the nation’s civil rights laws. It reiterates Congress’ intent to hold employers accountable for discrimination and allows employees a fair chance to fight back.

But they still need the tools to do so. S. 3772 strengthens the remedy, enforcement, and exception provisions of the existing Equal Pay Act. It engages the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor in a number areas including technical assistance, data collection and review of existing data, and the provision of wage discrimination training to government employees and individuals seeking their assistance. It supports negotiation skills training for women and girls and general public awareness regarding the means available to eliminate pay discrimination.

S. 3772 sends a clear message: The wage gap is real. No employer should benefit from discriminating against employees like Lilly Ledbetter. Retaliating against employees who fight for equal pay is unacceptable. Pay equity should be the rule, not the exception. What S. 3772 does not do is also clear: It does not eviscerate employers’ legal rights. It does not take away their right to set their own business practices or constrain them in terms of job applicants. It does not create unfair comparisons between jobs performed or where they’re performed. It does not hurt small businesses, and it certainly does not negatively impact women.

In fact, S. 3772 is good for families who are facing daily struggles in this unsteady economy. The last thing they should be worrying about is whether the women who work so hard to support them are being treated fairly in the workplace. Americans know this to be true. According to a June 2010 National Partnership for Women and Families/Lake Research Partners poll(1) regarding the Paycheck Fairness Act, 84% said they supported “a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace.” 72% expressed strong support. This message resonated with men (81% support/69% strong) and women (87% support/74% strong) and among Democrats (91% support/83% strong), Republicans (77% support/61% strong), and Independents (87% support/70% strong). It also holds up among racial and ethnic groups and across geographic regions.

For these reasons and more, we strongly urge you to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) as a clean bill with no amendments.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan
President

Marge Baker
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program

(1) A press release announcing the poll results is available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=24776&security=2141&news_iv_ctrl=1741. Visit http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/5-2010_Poll_Data_One_Pager.pdf?docID=6681 for additional information.

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Save a few minutes on the national call-in day to dial 877-667-6650. That’s tomorrow – the day before the vote.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – mark your calendars

The Senate is scheduled to take its first votes of the lame duck session on Wednesday, November 17. Number 2 on the list – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

So that you’re prepared for next week, we have updated our fact sheet on the bill. Here’s a sample of our talking points.

The Paycheck Fairness Act sends a clear message. The wage gap is real. No employer should benefit from discriminating against employees like Lilly Ledbetter. Retaliating against employees who fight for equal pay is unacceptable. Pay equity should be the rule, not the exception.

What the Paycheck Fairness Act does not do is also clear. It does not eviscerate employers’ legal rights. It does not take away their right to set their own business practices or constrain them in terms of job applicants. It does not create unfair comparisons between jobs performed or where they’re performed. It does not hurt small businesses, and it certainly does not negatively impact women.

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Save a few minutes on the national call-in day to dial 877-667-6650. That’s Tuesday, November 16 – the day before the vote.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Leaked Pentagon Study Says DADT Repeal Won’t Harm War Efforts

The case for keeping the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell became even weaker today, as leaks from a Pentagon study of the policy suggest that the policy could be repealed “with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts.”

The Washington Post confirmed with two people familiar with the report that the Pentagon study group found overwhelming support or ambivalence to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell among current servicemembers:

More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, said two sources familiar with the document. The survey results led the report's authors to conclude that objections to openly gay colleagues would drop once troops were able to live and serve alongside them.

One source, who has read the report in full, summarized its findings in a series of conversations this week. The source declined to state his position on whether to lift the ban, insisting it did not matter. He said he felt compelled to share the information out of concern that groups opposed to ending the ban would mischaracterize the findings. The long, detailed and nuanced report will almost certainly be used by opponents and supporters of repeal legislation to bolster their positions in what is likely to be a heated and partisan congressional debate.

In September, when Republicans in the Senate—without a single exception—joined together to filibuster a Defense Authorization bill that included Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, we compiled a list of prominent arguments for and against repeal. The list was lopsided, to say the least, with military leaders and the American public favoring repeal and right-wing leaders railing against it. Since then, two federal judges have found the policy unconstitutional.

Jen wrote yesterday on the prospects of the Senate passing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal during Congress’ lame duck session this year. Sen. John McCain, who is leading the fight to keep Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, has called the Pentagon’s study “a political ploy.” But, the Post reports, at least 10 senators of both parties say they’re waiting to read the report, which will be published on Dec. 1, before deciding how to vote on DADT repeal. Maybe today’s news—suggesting that the forthcoming report will corroborate what experts have been saying all along in the DADT debate—will help them along in their decisions.
 

PFAW

DADT repeal approaches critical turning point

With the House and Senate set to reconvene next week, we’re hearing a lot of talk about what will or won’t be considered, especially when it comes to the FY 2011 Defense authorization bill. PFAW and AAMIA have both supported the inclusion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which passed as an amendment on the House floor and in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now is the time – likely the only time for the foreseeable future – to close the deal on the Senate floor and send repeal to the President’s desk.

Senator McCain, who was behind the bill’s filibuster back in September, is waging a very public campaign to convince Chairman Levin to water down his proposal and drop repeal. Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, put the rumors in perspective.

Sarvis told Roll Call that he expects Levin to bring the defense bill to a vote with the repeal in it, and he called it “premature” to speculate on whether Levin will yield to McCain’s pressure. The most important thing for now, he said, is for proponents of the repeal to take the reins in framing the message on the issue.

“There’s no doubt McCain is trying to frame the debate early, even before Senators return for the lame duck,” Sarvis said. “We’re trying to counter where McCain is out there saying the only bill that can move out there is a watered-down bill. That assertion needs to be pushed back on.”

Senators Lieberman, Udall (Mark), and Gillibrand added their own call to action.

The Senate should act immediately to debate and pass a defense authorization bill and repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ during the lame duck session. The Senate has passed a defense bill for forty-eight consecutive years. We should not fail to meet that responsibility now, especially while our nation is at war. We must also act to put an end to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that not only discriminates against but also dishonors the service of gay and lesbian service members.

The National Defense Authorization Act is essential to the safety and well-being of our service members and their families, as well as for the success of military operations around the world. The bill will increase the pay of all service members, authorize needed benefits for our veterans and wounded warriors, and launch military construction projects at bases throughout the country.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates did the same in a recent interview.

I would say that the leaving "don't ask, don't tell" behind us is inevitable. The question is whether it is done by legislation that allows us to do it in a thoughtful and careful way, or whether it is struck down by the courts. Because recent court decisions are certainly pointing in that direction. And we went through a period of two weeks in October where we had four different policy changes in the space of, as I say, two weeks, from striking it down totally, to a stay, to appeal, and so on. So I I think we have the least flexibility. We have the least opportunity to do this intelligently and carefully and with the kind of preparation that is necessary, if the courts take this action as opposed to there being legislation.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal is still very much within our reach. Contact your Senators and Majority Leader Reid, the Department of Defense, and the White House. Thank our supporters and urge them to stand up and speak out. Urge the opposition to change course.

Note that the long-awaited Pentagon study is set to be released on December 1. We have every reason to believe that good news is coming. We must keep fighting.

Click here for more information on the path forward.

PFAW

Department of Education takes a stand for LGBT youth

October 28 marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I recently wrote about how honoring Matthew is part of Making It Better. Not only must we make sure that the law bearing his name is effectively implemented, but we must also ensure school safety for LGBT youth – a fact not lost on the Department of Education.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, the Department has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also [. . .] be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. [. . .] Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment.

Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, applauded the guidance.

The Departments of Education and Justice are rightly focused on the plight of certain religious students and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who may not be receiving the full protections from bullying and harassment that are their right. While additional, specific protections are still needed, I commend this Administration for doing all in its power to protect vulnerable students.

David Warren, Director of Education at the Anti-Defamation League, further noted the importance of the guidance.

Federal leadership on this important issue is critical to ensure that schools are safe places for all students, and that they help foster a culture in which bias and bullying are not tolerated. The guidelines will help community members work together to promote a civil and respectful environment for children, online as well as offline.

As did the Human Rights Campaign, who went on to describe next steps.

In order to fully protect LGBT young people, HRC continues to call on the administration to go beyond today’s interpretation of existing law and come out in support of two important pieces of legislation: the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit discrimination by schools against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
PFAW

Sheldon Whitehouse Analyzes "Judicial Activism"

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has authored a thoughtful piece in the National Law Journal, one that makes an important contribution to our national dialogue on the role of the Supreme Court in Americans' lives. This is a must-read analysis of "judicial activism" - what it means, and how to identify it.

For years, using propaganda like "activist courts" and "legislating from the bench," the Right has demagogued against judges who protect basic American values like church-state separation, equal rights, freedom of speech, and the right to privacy. But the Roberts Court has made clear that the Right doesn't believe their own propaganda about "judicial activism."

Focusing attention on the real meaning of “judicial activism,” rather than simply using the term as an epithet to denigrate decisions one disagrees with, Sen. Whitehouse identifies five key characteristics - the "red flags"- that unmistakably signal judicial activism:

First, an activist court would be less likely to respect the judgments of the American people as expressed through state and federal legislation. ...

Second, an activist court would chafe at unwelcome prior precedents of the court. ...

Third, an activist court, facing the perennial choice between securing a broad consensus and allowing a bare majority to carry the day, would go down the path that allowed it to reach farther in the ideologically satisfactory direction. As a result, an activist court would likely render 5-4 decisions rather than strive to find broader common ground across the court. ...

Fourth, a discernible pattern of results would likely emerge: Whether conservative or liberal, an activist court would issue decisions consistent with its ideological preferences. ...

Fifth, an activist court might be prepared to violate rules and tenets of appellate decision-making that have long guided courts of final appeal. ...

Sen. Whitehouse then analyzes the jurisprudence of the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court and demonstrates, step by step, that it raises all five of the red flags of "judicial activism." His objective analysis shows that the conservative justices who are praised by the right wing exemplify the judicial activism that the right claims to oppose.

The centerpiece of a generation’s worth of right-wing propaganda on the courts crumbles.

The article finishes on a hopeful note:

"Judicial activism" is often in the eye of the beholder. If, as I have suggested here, we can identify red flags for judicial activism, the conservative bloc on the current Supreme Court is flying all of those flags. Let's hope that [the 2010-2011] term sees a renewal of the best traditions of the Court, not merely the imposition on our Republic of the ideological or political will of a determined, but bare, majority of the justices.

Indeed, let us hope.

PFAW

The Most Outrageous Ads of the Election

This election cycle has experienced a massive flood of political spending following the dramatic weakening of campaign finance laws in cases such as Citizens United and SpeechNow. According to Political Correction, between August 1st and October 29th, the ten biggest right-wing groups, many of which are backed by contributions by corporations and don’t publicly disclose their donors, have spent about $100 million to air 109,826 ads. Many of the conservative candidates and organizations have been employing false claims and polarizing smears in their ads meant to foment cultural divisions and discredit progressive legislation. Here are just a handful of the most outrageous and irresponsible ads used this election year:

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

The Right Wing has used the Park51 Community Center as a way to provoke fear, stoke divisions, and promote intolerance. The debate surrounding the community center has been riddled with attacks on religious freedom and baseless claims that the project’s organizers have ties to extremist groups, and the right has attempted to make the community center in Lower Manhattan an election issue in places like Iowa and North Carolina.

American Future Fund:

Renee Ellmers (Republican nominee, NC-02)

Anti-Health Care Reform

The recently passed health care reform law has been hammered by outside groups and conservative politicians with numerous dishonest and misleading attacks. Independent fact checkers have confirmed that the law does not use taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or drugs like Viagra for sex offenders. Other false and deceptive claims include allegations that the reform law establishes death panels, creates an army of IRS agents to arrest people without coverage, cuts Medicare benefits, and leads to the government takeover of the health care system.

American Action Network:

Susan B. Anthony List & CitizenLink (Focus on the Family Action):

Anti-Immigrant Extremism

Conservative politicians are taking cues from the Right Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform by attempting to portray Latinos in America as violent criminals who threaten White Americans. While smearing Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act, such anti-immigrant ads unfairly depict Latinos as invaders, gangsters, and welfare-beneficiaries. Even Sharron Angle tried to distance herself from her campaign’s ads by claiming that they are not Latinos but could actually be “terrorists” from Canada.

Sharron Angle (Republican nominee, NV-SEN):

Sen. David Vitter (Republican nominee, LA-SEN):

PFAW

Public Continues to Demand Campaign Disclosure and Spending Caps

A new New York Times/CBS News survey confirms the findings of other polls taken after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United: Americans want greater transparency and stronger reforms in the political system. According to the poll, “nearly 8 in 10 Americans say it is important (including 6 in 10 who say “very important”) to limit the amount of money campaigns can spend.” This includes majorities of Democrats, independents, and even Republicans. In addition, “more than 7 in 10 of the public said spending by groups not affiliated with a candidate should be limited by law, and just 2 in 10 said it shouldn’t.”

Support for campaign transparency is so high that one must wonder if the only Americans who oppose disclosure rules are Republicans in Congress and pro-corporate lobbyists. The Times/CBS poll found that a staggering 92% of Americans believe “it is important for campaigns to be required by law to disclose how much money they have raised, where the money came from and how it was used.” Such findings corroborate the results of a Hart Research poll taken on behalf of People For the American Way, which found that 89% of voters favor “legislation that would require greater disclosure by corporations of their spending to influence elections,” and that a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans wants not only disclosure laws but also “limits on how much corporations can spend to influence the outcome of elections.”

The business community is increasingly calling for substantial campaign finance reform as well, as seen in a survey of business leaders conducted by the Committee for Economic Development. The poll found that 77% of business leaders “believe that corporations should disclose all of their direct and indirect political expenditures, including money provided to third party organizations to be spent on campaign ads.”

Despite the vast support of Americans and even business leaders for more openness and transparency in the political process, Republicans and corporate lobbyists continue to oppose commonsense proposals like the DISCLOSE Act. The obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate voted in lockstep to keep the DISCLOSE Act from passing, and recently the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, deceptively denied the very-existence of active political groups that do not disclose their donors.

Steele later said that “if people are that bothered by” the lack of transparency in Congress, “then the Congress needs to change it.” As People For the American Way’s President Michael B. Keegan pointed out:

The glaring problem with Steele's supposed embrace of transparent elections is that just a couple of months ago, people were "bothered by" hidden corporate spending in elections, the majority in Congress did draft a law to make that spending transparent...but Steele's party united to stop the law in its tracks just before the midterm elections.

Steele's bumbling and disingenuous response was infuriating, but it served as a perfect illustration of why Republicans have done everything they can to allow unfettered, undisclosed corporate influence in our elections. With the system as it is, Steele can watch corporate interest groups spend millions of dollars to help elect Republican candidates, and nobody is held accountable to voters.

The post-Citizens United landscape -- where corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to run ads for and against candidates, but aren't required to disclose that spending -- has been a boon to candidates who push a pro-corporate agenda. Michael Steele knows it. And so does every candidate who is benefiting from the influx of secretive spending. They know it, but they don't have to own up to it.

The Republicans in Congress continue to reject the beliefs of nine-in-ten Americans that support disclosure and campaign finance reform, and want to tie the hands of Congress from making even basic changes to increase transparency in the system.

PFAW

LGBT Community Speaks Out Against Gold’s Gym

Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads has received millions of dollars in funding from TRT Holdings and its owner, Robert Rowling. TRT Holdings under Rowling’s leadership owns the companies Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym. TRT Holdings donated $2,341,000 to American Crossroads, and Rowling himself gave the pro-GOP group $2.5 million. As reported in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS plan to spend well-over $50 million to elect Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Now, activist Michael Jones, through the online community Change.org, is calling on consumers to hold Gold’s Gym accountable for the company’s substantial donations to the pro-corporate, right-wing political organization.

After criticizing Target and Best Buy for contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Minnesota political organization that supports a staunchly anti-gay candidate for Governor, supporters of LGBT equality are now attacking Gold’s Gym and its parent company, TRT Holdings. Most of the candidates American Crossroads supports also have astoundingly anti-gay and anti-equality opinions and records.

Jones has launched a petition that calls out Gold’s Gym, which “markets and caters to LGBT customers,” for using money from their corporate accounts to effectively support candidates “who want to take away civil rights for LGBT Americans.” Jones writes:

Who would have thought that giving money to Gold's Gym could have such ugly consequences for the LGBT community?

Among the candidates that the owner of Gold's Gym is working to elect include Nevada GOP senate candidate Sharron Angle, who is challenging Sen. Harry Reid. Angle, you might recall, has previously said that women who are raped should turn their lemons into lemonade, and that LGBT people should be barred from adopting children. And that's only the tip of iceberg. In years past, Sharron Angle put her blessing behind an insert that went out to voters that said homosexuality would lead to the destruction of the United States, and called gay people "sodomites" and "perverts." She even endorsed a statement that said there was no evidence to suggest homosexuality was biological, and that scientists who argue otherwise are flawed.

Thanks, Gold's Gym!

But Sharron Angle isn't the only candidate that American Crossroads is supporting. There's also Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri, who is currently running for an open U.S. Senate seat in the state. Blunt has a whopping 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to legislation focused on the LGBT community, and has voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and in favor of banning gay adoptions in Washington, D.C. And in his current campaign for U.S. Senate, he's made the preservation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a hot issue, suggesting that if he loses his race, DOMA will die and gay people will be allowed to get married all over the country. Ah, the horror!

Once again, thank you, Gold's Gym.

American Crossroads also supports Colorado’s Ken Buck, who said that homosexuality was a “choice…like alcoholism,” and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who believes that gay and lesbian couples should not have the right to adopt children, among other anti-equality Republicans.

Now, four Gold’s Gyms in the San Francisco Bay Area just released a statement saying that they will leave the Gold’s Gym brand as a response to TRT Holding’s political donations.

In the end, corporations should not just face petitions from consumers to stop financing political groups, but should be restricted from spending money in elections in general. Nine in ten Americans want “clear limits on how much money corporations can spend to influence the outcome of an election,” and Gold’s Gym and other companies should know that the public does not want them using their money from their general treasuries to influence elections.

 

PFAW

Michael Steele’s ‘Disclosure’ Meltdown

Already under fire for mismanaging the Republican National Committee, Chairman Michael Steele displayed his bizarre and badly-uninformed take on the election yesterday on Meet the Press. Not only is there overwhelming evidence that groups that do not disclose the sources of their funding are participating in the election at unprecedented levels, but the Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions have allowed such groups to be more powerful and less transparent. When asked about the flood of money from outside groups in the election, Michael Steele inexplicably responded: “I don’t know what they’re talking about. No one’s produced one shred of evidence that any of that’s happening.”

Even though Republicans twice voted lockstep in the US Senate to filibuster the DISCLOSE Act, which would have made these groups reveal their donors, Steele tried to portray the Democrats as the opponents of disclosure legislation. In a disheartening lack of follow-through Gregory did not challenge Steele on this statement.

Steele ended the segment by calling for transparency and legislative fixes if necessary: “Absolutely, I am all for transparency, I think it is an appropriate part of the system, it instills the trust that people have in the system and it also avoids questions like this because that information is out there…but the law is what the law is right now, and if people are that bothered by it then the Congress needs to change it.”

For so-called “Super PACs” that are required to disclose their donors, like American Crossroads and the First Amendment Alliance, we have ample evidence that corporate and special interest money is flowing in. A recent New York Times report also demonstrated that corporate money is flowing into the US Chamber of Commerce’s electoral spending. But for 501c4 “social welfare” organizations, such as Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network, we do not know the identity of the donors.

Gregory pointed out to Steele that by law 501c4 groups “do not have to disclose,” and asked, “is that a problem in our politics when you can put a great deal of money into a campaign without disclosing your agenda or who you are?” Steele then said that Congress should “put up” and “change the law,” but that the lack of disclosure may not be a problem anyway: “we haven’t seen any evidence that it is, why are you saying that it is a problem?”

Polling confirms that the public is “bothered by it.” Numerous polls reveal that the vast majority of Americans disagree with the Citizens United decision, regardless of their political party, and oppose the inundation of special interest money in elections. Will Steele now call upon Republicans in Congress to end their filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act and stop resisting transparency in the system?

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

Don’t forget to honor Matthew Shepard today by making it better

Last week, I wrote about Matthew Shepard and his mother Judy. Today, on the 12th anniversary of Matthew’s death, the Make It Better Project is urging Congress to support the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Please join them!

The recent suicides of several LGBT students across the country have highlighted the fact that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools can have a dramatic and tragic effect on LGBT students, their families, and school communities.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262/S. 3739) and the Student Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 4530/S. 3390) will help make the lives of LGBT youth better!

Call Members of Congress on Tuesday, October 12th and ask them to make sure they cosponsor both bills, H.R. 2262/S. 3739 and H.R. 4530/S. 3390!

Students - Share your story with Congress and tell them how these bills will make life better for you.

Adults - Tell Congress why this is important to you and how these bills will improve the lives of students.

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected directly to your Members of Congress.

OR CLICK HERE to get talking points and automatically identify your Members of Congress, find their direct numbers.

Please click here for more information.

PFAW

Chamber’s Foreign Funding Demonstrates the Need to Revisit Citizens United

Coming on the heels of a report by ThinkProgress on how the US Chamber of Commerce uses membership dues from foreign corporations to pay for political advertisements in American elections, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is facing new scrutiny for opening up the floodgates of corporate spending. People For the American Way has spoken out against the Chamber’s practices of collecting “hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign owned businesses, including companies owned by foreign governments,” and the editorial board of the New York Times is also sounding the alarm. The Times editors write that the election system is broken as a result of Citizens United and actions by Republicans in Congress and the FEC to weaken the remaining regulations of campaign finances:

Because the United States Chamber is organized as a 501(c)(6) business league under the federal tax code, it does not have to disclose its donors, so the full extent of foreign influence on its political agenda is unknown. But Tuesday’s report sheds light on how it raises money abroad. Its affiliate in Abu Dhabi, for example, the American Chamber of Commerce, says it has more than 450 corporate and individual members in the United Arab Emirates who pay as much as $8,500 a year to join.

Because of a series of court decisions that culminated in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling earlier this year, these and similar 501(c) nonprofits have become huge players in the year’s election, using unlimited money from donors who have no fear of disclosure. (Not surprisingly, the chamber has been a leading opponent of legislation to require disclosure.) One such group, American Crossroads, organized by Karl Rove, announced on Tuesday a $4.2 million ad buy to support Republican candidates, bringing the group’s total spending to about $18 million so far.

The possible commingling of secret foreign money into these groups raises fresh questions about whether they are violating both the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws. The Federal Election Commission, which has been rendered toothless by its Republican members, should be investigating possible outright violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by foreign companies and the chamber.

Now, Minnesota Senator Al Franken is calling on the FEC to look into the Chamber’s finances, the Star Tribune reports:

Franken’s letter says that the Chamber’s mixing of funds under current FEC rules “is not per se illegal.” But he wrote that the company had to demonstrate that its foreign funds were not used for political purposes, and pushed the FEC to launch an investigation.

In addition, Franken’s letter asked the FEC to change its regulations allowing foreign companies to spend on elections — which is legal so long as the company is incorporated in the U.S. and creates a special election committee staffed by Americans.

 

PFAW

Santorum Slamming JFK, Secularism

Fifty years ago, the man who would become America’s first Catholic president delivered a historic speech that helped reduce anti-Catholic prejudice in our public life. Five decades later, a man who would like to be the nation’s second Catholic president celebrated the occasion by slamming Kennedy. It’s a remarkable reversal. 

Former Senator Rick Santorum has been using the anniversary of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s famous address on church-state separation to decry the destructive forces of secularism that he says Kennedy unleashed. (People For the American Way is among Santorum’s targets.)
 
Santorum’s attack deserves attention, especially at a time when religious and political leaders, Santorum among them, are eagerly fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Much of Santorum’s recent speech – delivered in Houston on September 9 and reprised since then at events like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference – is given over to repeated claims that Kennedy emboldened secularists who want a public square “cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths.” He says Kennedy’s speech launched a movement that is “repressing or banishing people of faith from having a say in government.”
 
These inflammatory claims are regularly advanced by Religious Right leaders who portray supporters of church-state separation as hostile to faith and religious liberty. But how can they be taken seriously?
 
Choose any topic that is being debated in the public square, and you’ll find people of faith advancing their values, probably on both sides of the issue – and not just on abortion and gay rights.  Religious Right activists spouted Tea Party arguments about the evils of government while progressive religious leaders worked hard to promote health care reform. The Catholic hierarchy is among the religious organizations working to deny gay couples legal recognition while other religious groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are working for full marriage equality.  At the same time, the two groups are both lobbying for humane immigration reform.
 
It’s a complicated scene, and it’s a noisy one. Who has been silenced? Not Ralph Reed, who is bragging that he’s planning to mobilize conservative evangelical voters to turn Election Day into a historic rout for Democrats.  And certainly not conservative Catholics like Santorum.  At Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference, a panel included leaders of two groups organized to promote conservative Catholic values in the public arena – Catholic Advocate and Faithful Catholic Citizens.
 
There are situations that bring constitutional values into tension. America, via the Supreme Court and civil rights legislation, has decided (Rand Paul notwithstanding) that a business owner’s desire to discriminate against racial minorities does not trump other individuals’ right to equal access to public accommodations, even if the desire to discriminate was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  Courts and legislatures are wrangling with similar situations that consider religious beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception alongside LGBT Americans’ right to legal equality, and all Americans’ access to medical care.
 
But the fact that some court cases have gone against those seeking a religious exemption to a generally applied law is no grounds for claiming that religious people have been silenced, or no longer have the right to make their case in the public square. What Santorum seems to want is a kind of double standard: religious conservatives can take part in public debate but should be shielded from criticism. They can engage in legal and political advocacy, but if they lose they can claim the process has been stacked against them by sinister anti-religious forces.
 
Santorum argues that the secularist forces unleashed by Kennedy threaten peaceful coexistence and even put American civilization at risk. He says the founders believed that “if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths - a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.”
 
But Santorum himself is actively undermining the possibility for a “tolerant, democratic and harmonious” public square. He seeks political gain by branding his opponents as enemies of religious liberty. And he has played a significant role in inflaming an ugly anti-Islamic wave of public opinion that has resulted in fatal violence and could leave communities damaged and divided for years.
 
Santorum portrays himself as heroic, telling audiences, “I have been criticized in the media for daring to speak out on these sensitive moral issues.”  That’s not true.  Santorum is criticized not for “daring to speak out” but for saying things many people disagree with. Santorum has every right to denigrate the loving relationships of same-sex couples by comparing them to man-on-dog sex. But just as surely others have the right to criticize and even ridicule him for those statements.  
 
The First Amendment is a two-way street. But that seems to be one truth that Santorum and his allies refuse to acknowledge.
PFAW

First Monday in October

Today, as the Supreme Court opens its new term, the major news concerns a decision from last term: the solid rebuke of Citizens United by a bipartisan group of more than 50 legal scholars and public officials. The impact of that decision is poisoning election campaigns around the country and, through the Congress that will be elected as a result, will doubtless impact the lives of every American.

This term, the Court will be deciding at least one new corporate personhood case, as well as other cases affecting our most important rights, including freedom of speech, church-state separation, and due process. Some of the ones we'll be looking at:

Corporate Personhood & Privacy: AT&T v. FCC. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally requires federal agencies to disclose records to the public upon request. There are numerous exceptions, such as records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of "personal privacy." The Supreme Court will decide if "personal privacy" applies to corporations, as well as to people.

Free Speech: Snyder v. Phelps. Fred Phelps and his fellow fanatics from the Westboro Baptist Church are infamous for picketing the funerals of military personnel with messages such as "God Hates Fags." According to Phelps, the deaths of U.S. servicemembers are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. The Supreme Court will determine whether Phelps' funeral-picketing activities are protected by the First Amendment. The case will be argued Wednesday.

Free Speech: Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association. The Supreme Court will address whether a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment. California argues that states can restrict minors' access to violent material just as they can with sexual material. During oral arguments in November, we may get a sense as to whether the Supreme Court agrees.

Church-State Separation: Arizona Christian Tuition v. Winn. Arizona has a program that gives parents tax credits for tuition at private schools. Most parents use these credits toward tuition at religious schools. A group of taxpayers sued, arguing that this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Before the Supreme Court can decide that issue, it must first determine if the plaintiffs have standing to sue. In 2007, the Roberts Court limited the circumstances in which taxpayers can challenge government expenditures that violate the Establishment Clause, and they may do so again in this case.

State Secrets Privilege: General Dynamics v. U.S. and Boeing v. U.S. These cases are actually not about the most infamous uses of the states secret privilege, which notoriously has been used to shut down lawsuits against the government alleging U.S. complicity in torture and other illegal activities. This time, it's the federal government that has initiated the lawsuit, which raises interesting Due Process issues. These consolidated cases address whether the United States can sue two defense contractors for failing to fulfill their contractual obligations, while at the same time using the state secrets privilege to prevent the companies from presenting a defense.

Employment of Immigrants: Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting. In 2007, Arizona passed a law targeting employers who hire undocumented immigrants by revoking their licenses to operate in the state. The state law also requires employers to participate in a federal electronic employment verification system that federal law specifically makes voluntary. The Supreme Court will decide whether federal immigration legislation preempts Arizona's laws.

Preemption - Right to Sue Drug Manufacturers: Bruesewitz v. Wyeth. The federal Vaccine Act preempts certain design defect lawsuits in state court against child vaccine manufacturers "if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings." The Bruesewitz family argues that their lawsuit isn't preempted because the side effects were not unavoidable: A safer, alternative vaccine was available. The Supreme Court will decide if the Vaccine Act preempts the family's suit.

Preemption - Right to Sue Car Manufacturers: Williamson v. Mazda. An accident victim sued Mazda in state court for negligently choosing to install a lap-only seatbelt in the back center seat instead of a safer lap/shoulder belt. However, federal car safety regulations at the time specifically allowed lap-only seatbelts. The Supreme Court will decide if Congress intended the federal safety regulations to preempt such state lawsuits.

PFAW

Pro-GOP Outside Groups Eclipse Parties in Spending

Traditionally, political parties and their campaign arms spend the most amount of money promoting their congressional and senatorial candidates across the country. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, however, a flurry of outside groups has materialized with gigantic war chests. As profiled in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, the Court’s decision allowed for new groups to surface and older organizations to increase their fundraising capacities. In the midterm elections, Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant of Bloomberg report that political committees supporting Republicans and attacking Democratic officials have so-far outspent both the Republican and Democratic parties’ campaign arms in 2010:

Republican-leaning groups outspent the two political parties combined during September’s first four weeks in a bid to sway the U.S. congressional elections, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The groups -- including Crossroads GPS, advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- spent more than $33 million, mainly on advertising. That compares with just under $20 million spent by the Republican and Democratic committees charged with electing their party’s candidates.

Outside organizations are focusing most of their fire on Senate races, particularly in California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada and Pennsylvania, their reports to the FEC show. Many of the groups are registered as nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors, drawing protest from Democrats including President Barack Obama and Montana Senator Max Baucus.

“Republican operatives in the shadows are clearly winning the hidden money game,” said Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Obama has used two of his recent weekly addresses to blast Republicans for blocking legislation that would make groups engaged in political activity report their contributions. Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, today asked Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman to investigate the organizations.

While political parties and their campaign arms must disclose their donors and have caps on contribution amounts, many outside groups accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations and do not have to disclose the sources of their funding. Thanks to such organizational advantages, such outside groups are now overshadowing political parties as regulations concerning transparency and spending fall by the wayside.

PFAW

Menendez introduces LGBT-inclusive immigration reform

Senator Menendez has sent a strong message that same-sex couples and their families deserve equal rights under immigration law. On Wednesday, he joined with Senator Leahy to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill that is LGBT-inclusive. Both men support the Uniting American Families Act.

Immigration Equality Action Fund hailed this important step forward.

It is simply unconscionable that our immigration laws tear families apart . . . Senator Menendez’s legislation, which is a truly comprehensive bill, would provide LGBT families with important opportunities to keep their families together. The bill’s introduction is welcome news not just for lesbian and gay Americans, but also their extended families, their communities and our country. The Immigration Equality Action Fund is committed to working for its passage.

PFAW welcomes an immigration debate that provides equality to same-sex couples so that they can keep their families together. They need to be able to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents should have the right to apply for family-based visas and green cards.

As the 111th Congress draws to a close, and the 112th begins, we urge both the House and Senate to make inclusive reform a priority.

PFAW

News Corp Helps Chamber, Chamber Helps Republicans

Much like how Sarah Palin advised Christine O’Donnell to “speak through Fox News,” News Corp. is increasingly speaking through pro-corporate groups political groups. Following their $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association, the parent company of Fox News is donating $1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As detailed in PFAW’s report After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is planning to spend $75 million in targeted races in the 2010 election.

The Chamber’s sizeable political budget comes after the trade association spent $144 million to lobby Congress in order to fight greater business oversight, Wall Street Reform, Health Care Reform, workers’ rights, and the DISCLOSE Act. So far, the Chamber is airing ads in ten high-profile Senate races to buttress pro-corporate candidates, and attack their opponents for supporting progressive legislation such as Health Care Reform. In all ten races, the Chamber is working to elect Republicans, in hopes of intensifying the obstructionist tactics of the Senate Republicans. This $1 million contribution is another sign that Fox News is not just the biggest cheerleader of the Republican agenda in the media, but is also openly financing the election of more Republican candidates.

PFAW

Senate Dysfunction Continues as Two Republicans Block Women's Museum

Republican obstructionism found another victim today in the senate: a bipartisan bill to sell unused land for the construction of the National Women’s History Museum has been held up in the Senate. Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have both placed holds on the bill that would sell land near the Smithsonian to the private group planning the Women’s Museum. Unless the holds are withdrawn, the Senate must go through the protracted process of holding a cloture vote, which requires the support of 60 Senators.

Even though all the preparations and finances for the museum would be privately funded, the two Republican Senators found their personal problems with the Museum to be so egregious that they are delaying the Senate’s ability to vote on the land deal. Senator DeMint, who is the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund and driving the GOP even farther to the right, believes that the Museum will be used to advance abortion-rights. Despite claims from the Museum organizers that the Museum does not intend to discuss the abortion issue, the far-right group Concerned Women for America is baselessly charging that the Museum will be biased towards the choice-activists. Of course, no one should have expected any less from DeMint, who most recently claimed that “this idea that government has to do something is not a good idea” and promised to “block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days.”

Oklahoma’s Senator Coburn’s reasons are more personal: he just doesn’t like the idea.

Gail Collins in the New York Times writes:

Coburn’s office said the senator was concerned that taxpayers might be asked to chip in later and also felt that the museum was unnecessary since “it duplicates more than 100 existing entities that have a similar mission.”

The office sent me a list of the entities in question. They include the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas and the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Washington.

There also were a number of homes of famous women and some fine small collections of exhibits about a particular locality or subject. But, really, Senator Coburn’s list pretty much proved the point that this country really needs one great museum that can chart the whole, big amazing story.

Neither Senator has a sound record on women’s issues to begin with: both support a sweeping criminalization of abortion, and Coburn even said: “I favor the death penalty for abortionists.” DeMint wants unmarried pregnant women to be banned from teaching in public schools.

But due to the combination of unprecedented Republican obstructionism with opposition to women’s rights, the National Women’s History Museum may have to wait for quite some time for the bill to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

 

PFAW

DeMint’s Democracy

If you needed any more proof that Congress’s “deliberative body” has officially become its “dysfunctional body,” today we have this:

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint warned Monday evening that he would block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days of the pre-election session.

Bret Bernhardt, DeMint's chief of staff, said in an e-mail to GOP and Democratic aides that his boss would place a hold on all legislation that has not been cleared by both parties by the end of the day Tuesday.

Any senator can place a hold to block legislation — and overcoming that would require the Senate to take time-consuming steps to invoke cloture, which would require 60 votes.

Even by the very, very low efficiency standards of today’s Senate GOP, DeMint’s decision to become a one-man obstructionist vigilante is taking things to a new level. Or maybe it’s not:

Now, however, a Democratic senator is coming forward to relay that DeMint's threat of grinding the consideration of bills to a halt is nothing new. It has been a formal policy of his since Obama was elected president.

"It is my understanding Jim DeMint has had a standing hold on everything throughout this two year process," Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. "When I have had amendments on a couple of occasions, I have been told: 'Absolutely, we in the Republican leadership are fine but you are going to have to clear it with Jim DeMint because he has a standing hold on everything.' So I'm not sure this is a real change from what he has been doing."

So, one senator in the minority party has had a stranglehold on all legislation for the past two years? Apparently, DeMint’s ideological hold on his party extends much farther than elections.
 

PFAW

Hung out to dry

Republicans have given us a sneak peek of what they have in store for America if they succeed in taking over Congress on Election Day ... and it's not pretty.

On Tuesday, Republican senators voted in lockstep to block the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the DREAM Act... just yesterday, they voted in unity to block the DISCLOSE Act for the second time. Corporate special interests are drowning out the voices of regular voters by dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into this year's elections, and every single Republican voted to block a bill that would add some basic fairness by simply requiring disclosure of who is behind political ads. Every. Single. Republican.

The unprecedented obstruction just does not stop. President Obama's judicial nominees have been held up endlessly. In some cases, they've needed to be re-nominated and have multiple Judiciary Committee votes despite being approved by the Committee the first time. Some of these nominees even passed in Committee unanimously, with no Republican opposition, but the "Party of No" has been intent on blocking even the most uncontroversial nominees from the Senate floor. Meanwhile, there are vacancies on the federal courts -- 11 seats of the 23 pending on the nominations calendar -- that have been declared "judicial emergencies" by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Our judicial system is hurting and so is Americans' access to justice.

It's not just the Senate. Yesterday, the House passed legislation to help small businesses, but only because of the Democratic majority -- just like with the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate, every single Republican voted "no." This vote came on the very same day that the GOP House Leadership released its "Pledge to America" -- in the rollout, Minority Leader Boehner and his cohorts mentioned "small businesses" no fewer than 18 times. The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

In both the Senate and the House, Republicans have consistently opposed tax relief for small businesses and the middle class, justifying their obstruction with phony, hypocritical arguments about spending. Republicans have tried to block extensions of unemployment benefits and aid for homeowners to prevent foreclosures, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is even blocking a food safety bill that passed in the House with bipartisan support last summer and has overwhelming support from consumer groups. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing to add billions, if not trillions, to the deficit by extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%.

The Republicans have a clear agenda: to serve corporate special interests. They want to take back Congress but it's their policies that sunk our economy in the first place -- policies that encourage the outsourcing of jobs, allow Wall Street greed to go unchecked and punish middle and working-class families. They pretend to be on the side of small businesses because it's politically expedient, but even as they complain that letting the Bush income tax cuts expire for the top 2% hurts small business, the facts tell a different story as more than 98% of tax filers with small business income are not in that top 2% of the income tax. The Republican definition of "small business" is a mega corporation like Bechtel or PricewaterhouseCoopers. The only part of America to which they will ever make good on any "pledge" is Corporate America... and they'll do that at any cost. Perhaps that's why the GOP staffer who headed up the development of the "Pledge to America" was, up until April, a lobbyist for some of the most powerful oil, insurance and pharmaceutical and other corporate interests in the country -- including Exxon, AIG, Pfizer and the Chamber of Commerce.

So let's recap. Just this week, Republicans have proven their disdain for soldiers, students, the hurting middle class and even food consumers... Is there anyone they haven't left hung out to dry? Oh yeah... corporate special interests.

We can not put these people in charge again.

UPDATE: Add women to the groups of people Republican senators have hung out to dry just during the last weeks of September.

PFAW