In an interview with Vox released today, President Obama expressed his support for constitutional remedies to our country’s worsening money in politics problem.
The president said:
I would love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it.
This isn’t the first time the president has weighed in on the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. In 2012 during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, President Obama made a splash when he said that “over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United.” As the Vox article notes, today’s comments go a step beyond his previous remarks.
Agree with the president? Share our graphic and show your support:
You can watch the full interview with President Obama here:
PFAW activists joined with allies from Public Citizen, Open Democracy, and others last Thursday at public hearings on New Hampshire House and Senate bills calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.
About 50 supporters of a constitutional amendment attended each hearing, creating standing room only and overflow in the small room reserved for the House bill hearing.
Speakers included small business owners, activists who passed local town resolutions in favor of an amendment, and high school students. Not a single person testified in opposition to the proposed legislation, underscoring the deep support among Americans of all backgrounds for fixing our big money system.
The bills (HB 371 and SB 136) call for the state legislature to recommend a constitutional amendment to the state’s congressional delegation, as well as for public hearings in geographically diverse areas across the state to decide the exact language for such an amendment.
A committee in the New Hampshire House will vote on the bill in an executive session on Wednesday afternoon, while the appropriate Senate committee has not yet set a date for a vote. PFAW activists and allies will be back at the state capitol next week for a lobby day to meet with key representatives and senators on Wednesday, February 4th.
Interested in joining us? For more information and to RSVP, email Lindsay Jakows at email@example.com.
It’s hard to know where to begin when running down the list of harmful special interest giveaways in the omnibus spending bill narrowly passed by the House yesterday. Earlier this week, we wrote about a rider in the bill that would allow the amount of money rich donors can give to political parties to skyrocket. The legislation moving through Congress also includes a provision that would have the effect of allowing mountaintop mining companies to keep filling Appalachian streams with toxic waste. Yet another rider is a “Wall Street giveaway,” actually drafted by Citigroup’s lobbyists, that would repeal a piece of financial regulation and let banks take part in more kinds of high-risk trading deals with government backed money.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren railed against the Wall Street rider on the Senate floor:
[Americans] see a Congress that works just fine for the big guys, but it won’t lift a finger to help them. If big companies can deploy armies of lawyers and lobbyists to get the Congress to vote for special deals that benefit themselves, then we will simply confirm the view of the American people that the system is rigged.
It is, as Sen. Warren says, hard not to think that “the system is rigged” when members of Congress use a spending bill to sneak through major policy shifts that benefit wealthy political donors, Wall Street executives, and big businesses, while leaving the majority of Americans with an even weaker political voice.
This is especially true when you consider that those who voted for the rider-filled spending deal were, by and large, the members who received bigger contributions from the benefitting industries. The Washington Post compared the House spending bill votes with Center for Responsive Politics data on campaign contributions to each representative from the finance, insurance, and real estate industries. What they found is disheartening, but not surprising:
On average, members of Congress who voted yes received $322,000 from those industries. Those who voted no? $162,000.
And that doesn’t even take into account the dark money whose source is unknown to the public (but likely known by the officials who benefit from it).
It’s one more example of the influence that money can buy in our current system, where big gifts from corporate spenders pave the way for corporate political victories. When Wall Street lobbyists can literally write the laws they want, no matter the impact on ordinary Americans, it’s clear that we need serious reform to the rules governing money in politics.
The infusion of big money into our democracy is helping to perpetuate racial inequalities, according to a report released yesterday by Demos. As we have seen in recent election cycles, the most aggressive and influential political donors are overwhelmingly white and affluent, paving the way for elected officials to be beholden to a donor class and far less concerned about the needs of most Americans.
While the economic biases of money in politics are clear, the report, called “Stacked Deck: How the Racial Bias in Our Big Money Political System Undermines Our Democracy and Our Economy,” also highlights some unsettling information on how elections dominated by wealthy special interests impede efforts for a more racially diverse and responsive political system:
Elections funded primarily by wealthy, white donors mean that candidates as a whole are less likely to prioritize the needs of people of color; and that candidates of color are less likely to run for elected office, raise less money when they do, and are less likely to win. Ultimately, people of color are not adequately represented by elected officials.
• A recent study of black candidate success concluded that “the underrepresentation of blacks is driven by constraints on their entry onto the ballot” and that the level of resources in the black community is “an important factor for shaping the size of the black candidate pool.”
• Candidates of color raised 47 percent less money than white candidates in 2006 state legislative races, and 64 percent less in the South.
• Latino candidates for state House raised less money than non-Latinos in 67 percent of the states where Latinos ran in the 2004 election cycle.
• In a typical election cycle, 90 percent or more of the candidates who raise the most money win their races.
• Ninety percent of our elected leaders are white, despite the fact that people of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population.
• In a 2011 study, researchers found that white state legislators of both major political parties were less likely to reply to letters received from assumed constituents with apparently African American names (like “DeShawn Jackson”).
Tellingly, a governing body that skews heavily white also creates policies that can have detrimental impacts on racial minorities. The report also compiled case studies that demonstrate how big money disrupts progress on racial equality on a variety of issues, including:
• Private Prisons and Incarceration. Incarceration in the U.S. has increased by 500 percent over the past three decades, with people of color vastly over-represented in our nation’s prisons and jails. This is the result of policies that have put more people in jail for longer sentences despite dropping crime rates, policies boosting the bottom line of the growing private prison industry.
• The Subprime Lending Crisis. Because of rampant discriminatory lending practices, the subprime-lending crisis hit people of color especially hard. Banks and other mortgage lenders used millions of dollars of political contributions and lobbying to weaken and circumvent consumer-friendly regulations, resulting in the largest loss of wealth in communities of color in American history.
• The Minimum Wage. The federal minimum wage has remained stagnant, losing real value over the past several decades. Raising the wage to $10.10 an hour would lift more than 3.5 million workers of color out of poverty, but Congress has instead prioritized policies favored by the wealthy.
As money continues to dominate the process by which we elected public officials, our government moves further away from the true definition of a democracy and continue to serve only a very narrow segment of Americans.
The government spending bill released by the House last night includes a rider that would drastically increase the amount of money the super-rich can give to national party committees. The language included in the spending deal would allow wealthy donors to give ten times the current limit to political parties.
Adam Smith at Public Campaign put the potential new limits into perspective in a powerful graphic:
With the new annual individual party limit expected to be more than six times the median household income, it’s clear that this shift is simply about handing the wealthiest political donors even more power and access. A tiny fraction of the country already dominates political spending; these changes would make it even harder for ordinary Americans to have a seat at the table.
What’s more, these provisions, which would have major implications for the health of our democratic process, were not even debated by Congress. They were simply snuck into an omnibus spending bill – a quiet attack that threatens to further undermine what’s left of our country’s common-sense rules limiting big money in politics.
After the midterm elections, exit polls found that nearly two-thirds of voters said that our system already favors the wealthy. Americans are ready for a government that works for everyone. But it looks like what we’re getting instead are Congressional leaders increasing committed to big money donors at the expense of everyone else.
On Thursday, PFAW members joined MoveOn.org, Kentucky AFL-CIO, and other activists to protest Sen. Mitch McConnell’s pro-corporate agenda outside of a high-dollar fundraiser for the senator featuring Mitt Romney. The exclusive event was priced at $1,000-$5,000 a ticket.
Activists, standing up against big money in politics, called for Sen. McConnell to listen to Kentuckians and not just to the billionaires and corporations that fund his politics. They held signs that read “Ditch Mitch” and “Corporations are not People.”
Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan joined the protest, along with PFAW organizers and grassroots activists.
It’s no secret that our country’s elections have been taken over by out-of-control spending, and this year’s rapidly approaching midterms are no exception. Maybe that’s why it’s so refreshing to read about some recent progress in the fight to reclaim our democracy from corporations and billionaires. Today the Montgomery County Council in Maryland is set to vote on legislation that would create a system of small-donor public financing for local elections — and it’s looking likely to pass.
It’s a system based on a simple premise: swap in lots of small donations from local community members in place of a handful of large donations from powerful interests. Encourage local people to give money to candidates they support by matching those donations with public funds. Not only does this empower regular people to get involved in campaigns, since they see their dollar going further, but it makes it smart for candidates to seek support from, and be accountable to, their own community members rather than wealthy special interests.
The Baltimore Sun explains how it would work in Montgomery County:
Beginning in 2015, candidates for county executive or council would qualify to have their political campaigns publicly funded if they attracted a sufficient number of small contributions of $5 to $150. In the case of a council race, for instance, it would be 125 donations adding up to at least $10,000. After that, campaigns would be largely publicly financed on a matching basis….The system would be voluntary, but participants would not be able to accept donations larger than $150 or from political action committees or labor organizations.
Public financing has worked in other cities across the country. Take New York City as an example. A 2012 Brennan Center analysis of the effects of the city’s public finance model found that the matching system helped “bring participants into the political process who traditionally are less likely to be active.” The study suggested that the model encouraged candidates to reach out to a more diverse group of people to support their campaigns, rather than centering all of their efforts on the wealthiest donors.
And when candidates start getting into office because of the support of their constituents, rather than because a few wealthy special interests have bankrolled their campaigns, the policy agenda can shift from one designed to keep powerful interests happy to one designed to serve the common good.
Legislators across the country should take note of what’s happening in Montgomery County. Polling consistently shows that the overwhelming majority of voters want to see elected officials work to lessen big money’s impact on our elections. In other words, Americans understand the problem but are hungry for solutions. Along with long-term fixes like pushing to amend the Constitution to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing can be a way to put everyday Americans’ voices at the center of our political process, where they belong.
On Friday, PFAW members and local activists came out to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s West Louisville campaign office to hold him accountable for his support of big money in politics and for voting against the Democracy For All Amendment during this week’s Senate vote.
The rally included PFAW Regional Political Coordinator Scott Foval, along with MoveOn Council’s Ann Hardman, University of Louisville’s College Democrats President Connor Allen, and local activist Bonifacio “Flaco” Aleman. Activists had a giant “King Mitch” holding fake money and signs saying “Money Is Not Speech” and “Mitch: Go Filibuster Yourself!” and more.
McConnell led the fight to block the Democracy for All Amendment during Senate debates this week. As a leading voice against efforts to get big money out of elections, McConnell has fought hard for years to protect billionaires’ and millionaires’ influence in our elections instead of protecting the average Kentuckian’s interests.
This rally along with over 15,000 signatures on a petition delivered to McConnell last week should make it clear to “King Mitch” that Kentuckians support an amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and #GetMoneyOut. Polling also shows that three in four voters support the measure nationally.
There were not sufficient votes to pass the proposed amendment this week, but a majority of the Senate did vote on Thursday in support of the Democracy for All Amendment despite “King Mitch’s” best efforts.
Sen. Ted Cruz has been known to make some pretty outlandish comments about the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment being debated in the Senate which would overturn decisions like Citizens United, but his latest may take the cake. “Lorne Michaels [of Saturday Night Live] could be put in jail under this amendment for making fun of any politician,” Sen. Ted Cruz claimed on the floor of the Senate this week.
Luckily, a number of more grounded voices were able to set the record straight about Cruz’s wild and inaccurate remark. Last night, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said:
I think [Cruz] is wrong… This amendment is simply about restoring the old status quo about campaign contributions… I think his point…really has very little, if anything, to do with the constitutional amendment that the Senate is debating.
Amendment sponsor Sen. Tom Udall clarified that “[n]othing in the amendment would permit the arrest of anyone for engaging in political speech,” and pointed out that the proposal intends to bring the country’s campaign finance rules back to what they were in 1975, when Saturday Night Live began.
Other responders were a little more fiery, including former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, who on Monday published an op-ed with Sen. Udall in support of the Democracy for All Amendment. Simpson called Cruz’s remarks about Saturday Night Live “outrageous,” and urged Sen. Cruz to “read the damn amendment. That would be a wonderful thing.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders also joined the conversation on The Ed Show last night, noting that Sen. Cruz “sounds like he is on Saturday Night Live. It’s a very funny skit.” He pointed out that “Citizens United is a little over four years old; Saturday Night Live has been on the air for decades. And I don’t recall too many people on Saturday Night Live going to jail for making fun of politicians.” Sen. Sanders added that it’s a “preposterous argument” and “just another scare tactic.”
Indeed, as Sen. Udall said in a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, quoting People For the American Way President Michael Keegan:
‘A good rule of thumb in politics is that the scarier someone sounds, the more you should doubt what they’re saying.’ We heard some scary things in the last couple of days. Lorne Michaels is going to jail. And he’s sharing a cell with the little old lady who put up a $5 dollar political yard sign. Books and movies are banned. The NAACP, Sierra Club, and Moveon.org have been prohibited from speaking about politics. Scary stuff. But none of it is true. [emphasis added]
Here’s what is true: the proposed amendment is supported by 73 percent of voters, including a growing body of grassroots activists who have pushed for hundreds of state and local resolutions and who are making senators’ phones ring off the hook this week with thousands of calls expressing their support for fixing our democracy.
So if the best that amendment opponents like Sen. Cruz can do is to push wild-eyed myths about comedic producers being thrown in jail, it’s clear that the American people are winning this fight.
In the ongoing Senate debate on the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, Sen. Ted Cruz has taken to waving around a list of top political donors that ranks Koch Industries as the 58th largest donor. But what Cruz has not been saying is that this list, compiled by our friends at the indispensable Center for Responsive Politics, has — by its own admission — a big piece of the puzzle missing.
The list details “heavy hitters,” organizations that have sent large amounts of money to candidates, parties, and PACs between 1989-2014. But the list points out that it doesn’t include dark money or other outside spending, such as money given to a super PAC. In the article’s own words:
It's also important to note that we aren't including donations to politically active dark money groups, like Americans for Prosperity, a group linked to the Koch brothers, or the liberal group Patriot Majority — because these groups hide their donors; see a list of top donors that we've been able to identify to such groups. We are working to revise this list to take into account the new realities of campaign finance created by the Citizens United decision, but as it currently stands, there are significant omissions.
When you do take into account outside spending, which exploded in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision, the picture changes dramatically. For example, the Koch-backed network raised more than $400 million in 2012 alone — a figure that towers over the $19.7 million in Koch Industry’s direct contributions over a 25-year period to candidates, parties and leadership PACs noted on the list Cruz references. In fact, the $407 million they funneled into 2012 political activity alone is more than the top six organizations on the list have sent to candidates, parties, and PACs in the past 25 years combined. And as Washington Post reporter Matea Gold noted earlier this year, “[T]he network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors in the 2012 elections financially… matched the long-established national coalition of labor unions.” To put it simply: when you look at the full landscape of political spending, it would be difficult to argue that the Koch-backed network is not among the top “heavy hitters” in our democracy.
Sen. Cruz can continue to cherry-pick the stats he finds most convenient for his quest to block meaningful Congressional action on big money in politics, but the American people know better.
As the Senate begins debating the Democracy For All Amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, NPR’s Peter Overby highlighted the strong, bipartisan public support for reforming our campaign finance system in a radio segment this morning.
“When pollsters ask Americans about the political money system, overwhelming percentages basically say they hate it. So why doesn’t Congress do something?” he asked.
Overby spoke with Bob Carpenter, a Republican pollster who helped conduct a recent poll — commissioned by Public Citizen and partially underwritten by People For the American Way — on Americans’ attitudes toward a constitutional amendment like the one being debated this week. Carpenter emphasized that the data is clear: Republicans, Democrats, and independents all agree that Citizens United needs to be overturned. And while Republicans in Congress are pushing the myth that the amendment would gut free speech protections, Carpenter said that according to the poll, most Americans aren’t buying their arguments.
Overby’s segment highlights the fact that, in PFAW President Michael Keegan’s words, “Washington is the only place where campaign finance reform is a partisan issue.”
You can listen to the full segment here.
On Monday afternoon People For the American Way joined partner organizations, Senators, and Representatives in a rally outside the U.S. Capitol in support of the Democracy For All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics. As the Senate begins debating the measure, PFAW and ally organizations teamed up to deliver more than three million petitions in support of an amendment.
The rally was kicked off by People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker (pictured speaking above) and Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. Speakers included Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.), and Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.) Rally footage was featured on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and in the Huffington Post.
Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)
Sen. Al Franken (Minn.)
Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.)
Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.)
At the rally, PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker said, “Today, more money than ever is flooding our democracy. But something else is also happening: everyday Americans are fighting back. Americans are no longer willing to settle for elections auctioned to the highest bidders.” You can watch her speech here.
The massive number of petitions delivered is just one of many indicators of the broad support for an amendment to get big money out of politics. Sixteen states, more than 550 cities and towns, and public figures including former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and President Barack Obama have already voiced support for an amendment. Recent polling found that nearly three in four voters (73 percent) favor it.
Organizations contributing petitions included People For the American Way, MoveOn.org, CREDO, Daily Kos, Public Citizen, Public Change Campaign Committee, USAction, Common Cause, Democrats.com, Free Speech For People, Coffee Party, Center for Media and Democracy, Brave New Films, Progressive Democrats of America, Sierra Club, US PIRG, Communications Workers of America, Wolf PAC, Move to Amend, Food and Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International, Greenpeace, Public Campaign, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the League of Conservation Voters, and the Story of Stuff Project.
Get more information on PFAW’s Government By the People work here.
Have you heard that Senate Democrats are working this week to repeal free speech?
I did, yesterday morning, from Mitch McConnell.
Have you heard that Democrats are going to go out and "muzzle" pastors who criticize them in the pulpit?
We did, from Ted Cruz.
Did you hear that Democrats are going to shut down conservative activists and then "brainwash the next generation into believing that this is how it should be"?
We did, last month, from the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins.
A good rule of thumb in politics is that the scarier someone sounds, the more you should doubt what they're saying. Another good rule in politics is not to trust what Mitch McConnell says about money in politics.
Because, yes, that's what we're talking about here. Not a secret new Orwellian regime. Not a new anti-pastor task force. What we're talking about is simply limiting the amount of money that corporations and wealthy individuals can spend to influence our elections.
This week, the Senate is debating a constitutional amendment that would overturn recent Supreme Court decisions that have paved the way for an explosion of big money in politics. In those decisions, including Citizens United and this year's McCutcheon, the Supreme Court radically redefined the First Amendment to allow corporations and the wealthy to drown out the speech of everyday Americans with nearly unlimited political spending. The Democracy for All amendment would restore to Congress and the states the power to impose reasonable restrictions on money in politics, just as they had before the Supreme Court started to dismantle campaign finance laws.
So, what are Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz so scared of?
In fact, it wasn't that long ago that Mitch McConnell supported the very laws that he is now dead-set on blocking. Back in 1987, McConnell said he would support a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to regulate independent expenditures in elections -- just as the Democracy for All amendment would. And then he introduced that very constitutional amendment. Either McConnell has dramatically changed his mind regarding what constitutes a threat to the First Amendment, or he's motivated by something more cynical.
So, if Mitch McConnell doesn't actually think that limiting the amount of money that wealthy interests can spend on elections is a violation of the First Amendment, what is he up to? Could it be that he now finds it more useful to court the dollars of major donors than the votes of his constituents?
Washington is the only place where campaign finance reform is a partisan issue. A poll this summer found that 73 percent of voters support a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Americans know that our First Amendment is about protecting the speech of citizens, not the interests of wealthy campaign donors.
Faced with a large, bipartisan grassroots movement that threatens their big-spending friends, the only arguments that Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz have left are wild accusations, flat-out falsehoods, and outlandish interpretations of the Bill of Rights.
This morning, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.) and Democratic Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) published a powerful joint op-ed in The Hill in support of the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and help get big money out of politics.
The authors write that the Supreme Court’s line of decisions overturning common-sense campaign finance laws says to Americans: “the wealthy get to shout, but the rest of you may only whisper.” They debunk the myth that the amendment would repeal First Amendment free speech protections and make clear that it would actually do “the exact opposite”:
The constitutional amendment would make it clear that campaign finance regulations are up to the voters who elect Congress and state legislatures. It would not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead it would protect sensible and workable campaign finance laws from constitutional challenges.
Critics have claimed that the amendment would repeal the First Amendment’s free speech protections. But it does the exact opposite – the proposal is an effort to restore the First Amendment so that it applies equally to all Americans. When a few billionaires supporting both political parties can drown out the voices of millions of Americans, we can’t have any real political debate.
Sen. Udall and former Sen. Simpson note that the money in politics situation has gotten far worse over the course of their times in office:
Over the course of our Senate careers, spending on campaigns has gotten out of control. According to a joint study by Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, outside groups spent $457 million to influence Senate and House races in 2012. In the 1978 election, when Senator Simpson was first elected, outside groups spent only $303,000. There is a deeply troubling trend here, and we simply cannot let it continue.
That former Sen. Simpson has joined the chorus of voices calling for change underscores the broad, bipartisan support for an amendment. A recent poll found that Republican voters support an amendment by a 26-point margin, and 137 Republican officials have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United.
You can read the full op-ed here.
People For The American Way hosted a telebriefing Thursday evening to update PFAW members on the electoral landscape for 2014. The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured prominent pollster and political strategist and current President of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake, as well as PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.
Lake discussed the political climate in Congress and the general frustration voters feel toward both political parties. She emphasized multiple times throughout the call that in this election “the key is voter turnout.” In Kentucky, for instance since most undecided voters are leaning towards Alison Lundergan Grimes, turnout will be critical to help unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Political Director Randy Borntrager discussed the work PFAW is doing to make the biggest impact possible in the most pivotal races to help progressives win this election. Lake and Borntrager emphasized that increasing awareness to voters of what is truly at stake – from reproductive rights to potential Supreme Court vacancies – will help make a difference come November.
Questions from callers also focused on other critical races including gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin, the Senate race in North Carolina, and contests in Alaska and Iowa, among others.
In closing, Drew Courtney noted that the telebriefing shows that “we have some challenges ahead, but we are going to fight hard and push forward, and we’re not going to go back to the way things were before.”
Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.