People For the American Way

Bipartisan Agreement Breaks Out at Hearing on Faith Based Initiatives

At today’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, there was one item on which witnesses and Members of Congress from across partisan and ideological divides agreed: the Obama administration is ducking an important and controversial decision on whether religious organizations that take federal money to provide social services can discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring people to provide those services.  The administration further dodged the issue and rankled committee members by declining an invitation to testify.

There is some progress to report: the hearing came one day after the White House issued a long-awaited Executive Order (Subcommittee Chair Jerold Nadler called the pace of reform “glacial”) on the topic of federal funding for faith-based groups.  The Executive Order implements a number of recommendations made by an advisory council the administration had created to review what was called the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives by the Bush Administration and what is now called the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Melissa Rogers, Director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest Divinity School and a co-chair of the president’s commission, was among those who testified.
 
Among the elements of the new Executive Order and provisions to: require that beneficiaries who object to a religiously affiliated program have access to a secular alternative; clarify rules requiring that federal money not be used for religious activities like worship or proselytizing; ensure that awards are made on the basis of merit, not religious or political considerations; and require meaningful oversight of grants without excessive entanglement in religious groups’ internal affairs.  These provisions were mostly welcomed across the political spectrum (with some sniping from the Religious Right), though there was disagreement in the advisory council over the issue of social services being provided in rooms where religious art or symbols are displayed (the administration OK’d religious symbols in rooms where secular programs are carried out) and over the question of requiring churches to set up separate nonprofit organizations to receive federal money (the administration decided not to require that step).
 
But the big unresolved issue is one that the Obama White House prevented its own advisory commission from addressing – whether groups can decide to hire only people of a certain faith for social service jobs that are being funded by American taxpayers.
 
People For the American Way, like all the Democrats present at the hearing, believes the Obama administration should overturn the poorly reasoned Bush-era Justice Department memo that misinterpreted the law to allow federally funded discrimination.  During his 2008 campaign, Obama explicitly pledged to do so. But since then the administration has declared that the Justice Department would consider the issue on a case-by-case basis. 
 
Religious Right groups and their political allies want the administration to explicitly embrace the status quo set up during the Bush administration, which allows hiring discrimination.  Progressive groups want the administration to revoke the controversial Bush-era legal memo and return to a bright line standard against taxpayer-funded discrimination.  Pretty much everyone agrees that churches and religious groups can and should be able to make religiously-grounded hiring decisions for jobs that are paid for with privately raised funds.  And everyone agrees that administration’s “case by case” approach makes no sense.
 
Come to think of it, there was one other topic of agreement: Rep. Trent Franks doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Franks, who gained a measure of infamy last year when he denounced President Obama as an “enemy of humanity,” popped into the hearing to assert that the administration’s lack of clarity on the hiring issue was stirring controversy over a principle that the federal courts had settled for 50 years, the right of religious groups to hire based on religion.  After Franks left, there was general consensus in the room that, to be charitable, Franks was confusing the basic issue: the difference between private and taxpayer funds.  Franks wrapped his embarrassing confusion in Religious Right rhetoric about groups that supposedly want to erase religion from public life, or in his memorable words, ensure that “anything in the shadow of the American flag cannot be religious.”
PFAW

People For and Progressive Groups Urge Senate to Break Confirmation Gridlock

This week, People For and 46 other progressive groups sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the backlog of judicial nominees before the end of this session of Congress. Republican obstruction has prevented dozens of nominees from even receiving a vote on the Senate floor, leaving the federal court system with over 100 vacancies and the slowing down the process of bringing more diversity to the federal bench. Read the full letter:

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you to end the troubling backlog of judicial nominees that exists to date in the 111th Congress. The obstruction of many of President Obama’s nominees through filibuster threats and anonymous “holds” is hindering the important work of our judicial branch, particularly in the many areas of our nation that now face judicial emergencies due to unfilled vacancies on the bench.

Throughout the 111th Congress, President Obama has worked with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to select extraordinarily well-qualified judicial nominees who could easily be confirmed by wide margins and begin serving the public, if brought to a vote before the full Senate. Yet a troubling number of these nominees, many of whom have been cleared by the Committee on the Judiciary with little or no opposition, have been blocked from up-or-down confirmation votes for reasons that defy explanation. Indeed, many of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have been confirmed, to date, have been confirmed by unanimous votes – but only after languishing for many months on the Senate floor, raising significant doubts about the legitimacy of the ongoing delays in confirmation proceedings.

Due to arcane floor procedures that allow a single member to impede the important business of the Senate, our judicial branch has reached a state of crisis. Out of 872 federal judgeships, 106 are currently vacant, with 50 of those vacancies now characterized as “judicial emergencies” in which courts are being overwhelmed by filings that cannot be considered. As a result, a growing number of Americans, from all walks of life and across all economic strata, are finding it increasingly more difficult to assert their legal rights and to have their fair day in court.

In the meantime, the Senate is badly failing in its constitutionally-mandated role of considering the nominees that President Obama has selected. Prior to entering its pro forma session, the Senate failed to confirm any of the 23 nominees who are currently pending on the Senate floor, 17 of whom advanced through the committee process with no opposition whatsoever. Moreover, 11 of the pending nominees would fill seats designated as judicial emergencies – and more than half of the pending nominees are people of color, while 10 of them are women, who would bring badly-needed and long-overdue diversity to our judicial branch.

We write to you at a time when our nation faces numerous challenges that cry out for bipartisan cooperation, including major economic challenges and continued international threats. We strongly believe that the continued obstruction of nominations will poison the political atmosphere, needlessly heighten partisan tensions, and make it far more difficult for the federal government to serve the public interest in any respect. These consequences are all but certain to continue into the 112th Congress and beyond.

For these reasons, in the remaining weeks of the 111th Congress, we strongly urge you to work together in a bipartisan fashion to proceed with confirmation votes on the two dozen judicial nominees who remain pending on the Senate floor. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Justice

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association for Affirmative Action

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women

American Federation of Government Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Americans for Democratic Action

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian American Justice Center

Common Cause

Constitutional Accountability Center

Equal Justice Society

Families USA Foundation

Feminist Majority

Hispanic National Bar Association

Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary

Human Rights Campaign

Japanese American Citizens League

Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Lambda Legal

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of United Latin American Citizens

Legal Momentum

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Association of Human Rights Workers

National Association of Social Workers

National Black Justice Coalition

National Congress of Black Women, Inc.

National Council of Jewish Women

National Disability Rights Network

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Fair Housing Alliance

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

OCA

People For the American Way

Secular Coalition for America

SEIU

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sikh Coalition

 

PFAW

Secret Money in 2010 Election Doubled All Outside Group Spending in Last Midterm

The rapid growth and increased prominence of outside groups attempting to influence voters in the 2010 midterm election was apparent to all Americans who saw the deluge of campaign spending and TV ads this year. But the matter of who actually financed such groups is far less clear, as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made it much easier for groups to raise secret money from individuals and corporations to advance their political agendas. A new report by Public Citizen, Disclosure Eclipse, details how 2010 became a watershed moment for groups who do not publicly disclose the sources of their funding:

Of 308 outside groups, excluding party committees, that reported spending money on this year’s elections, just 116 (53.9 percent) provided any information about the sources of their funding, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data.

Of the 10 top spending groups, only three provided information about their founders. These top 10 groups – which collectively spent $138.5 million, equal to 52 percent of the $266.4 million spent by all outside groups in the 2010 to influence this years election – disclosed the sources of only 27.1 percent, of the money they spent.

Groups not disclosing any information about their funders collectively spent $135.6 million to influence this year’s elections. That was almost exactly double the $68.9 million grand total spent by outside groups in 2006, the most recent midterm election cycle.

Although the Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United lauded the virtues of disclosure, the effect that decision and the court’s earlier retrenchment of campaign finance regulations in 2007 has been less disclosure.



Such disclosure, [Justice] Kennedy wrote, would enable citizens to “see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

But, even for independent expenditures, no provision requires the type of disclosure that Kennedy discussed. The plain rules of [Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act] require such disclosures, but the FEC has gutted them.

In 2010, as mentioned above, only 70 percent of 30 top spending groups provided any information about their funding sources. These groups disclosed only 55.4 percent of their independent expenditures.

People For the American Way’s Citizens Blindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy report shows how undisclosed money is flowing into groups with a specifically pro-corporate political agenda. Members of Congress who supported measures to reform Wall Street and the health insurance system found themselves in the crosshairs of shadowy organizations which did not reveal their donors to the public. As this Public Citizen analysis demonstrates, Supreme Court rulings and the resulting FEC actions dismantled campaign finance rules to the point where secret money took off in the 2010 election, mostly to the benefit of pro-corporate politicians and causes.

 

PFAW

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

PFAW Joins Drop Fox Campaign, Makes it onto Glenn Beck’s Blackboard

You can imagine our delight here at People For when we finally made it on to Glenn Beck’s infamous conspiracy theory-promoting blackboard last night. You can watch the clip here:

Note that, contrary to Beck’s assertions, People For the American Way is not a 501c(3) group…and, moreover, 501(c)3 groups like People For the American Way Foundation are not allowed to participate in partisan political activity at all.

Beck is gradually expanding the reach of his broad conspiracy involving progressive groups to include as many as possible, it seems. But we’d like to think that our inclusion has something to do with the petition campaign People For and Media Matters have launched urging Fox News advertisers to drop their support of the network—because they are indirectly subsidizing Beck.

Beck, of course, has every right to criticize progressive groups on the air. But his rhetoric frequently verges on violent, and has led, on more than one occasion, to actual or attempted violence against those involved in the progressive movement.

Sign People For and Media Matters' Drop Fox petition here.

And read the full letter Tides Foundation CEO Drummond Pike sent to Fox advertisers last month after he was the victim of a Beck-inspired assassination attempt:

Dear Fox Advertiser,

I am writing to ask your company to take a simple step that may well save lives in the future. And it is not unimportant that taking this action will remove your company and its products from any connection to what could very likely be an unpleasant tragedy, should things remain as they are today. On behalf of my organization, and many others like it, I ask that you cease advertising on the Fox News Channel.

This is neither a hollow request, nor one rhetorically made. There is an urgency to it born of our own direct experience as the target of a would-be assassin inspired by Fox's Glenn Beck Show.

On July 19th of this year, I arrived at our San Francisco office to learn that a misguided person carrying numerous guns and body armor had been on his way to start a "revolution" by murdering my colleagues and me. The Oakland Police Department called to tell us that, following a 12 minute shootout with the California Highway Patrol, law enforcement officials arrested an assailant who had targeted the Tides Foundation, an organization which I founded and currently serve as CEO, and the ACLU for violence. To say we were "shocked" does not adequately describe our reaction. Imagine, for a moment, that you were us and, had it not been for a sharp eyed highway patrolman, a heavily armed man in full body armor would have made it to your office with the intent to kill you and your colleagues. His motive? Apparently, it was because the charitable, nonpartisan programs we run are deemed part of a conspiracy to undermine America and the capitalist system, which is hogwash.

Although not a political organization, the Tides Foundation has been a frequent target of misinformation, propaganda, and outright lies by Fox News' Glenn Beck. Since his arrival at Fox in early 2009, Beck has repeatedly vilified Tides, suggesting we are intent on "creat[ing] a mass organization to seize power." He accuses the foundation of indoctrination and says we are "involved in some of the nastiest of the nasty." Beck tells viewers that Tides has "funneled" money to "some of the most extreme groups on the left" and that our mission is to "warp your children's brains and make sure they know how evil capitalism is." In total, prior to the attempted rampage, Beck had attacked the Tides Foundation 29 times. On September 28th, more than a month after the shooting, Beck reiterated his focus on the Tides Foundation, warning, "I'm coming for you." In jailhouse interviews, the gunman confessed he views Beck as a "schoolteacher" who "blew my mind." My would-be killer admitted that Beck "give[s] you every ounce of evidence you could possibly need" to commit violence.

Beck is a self-described "Progressive Hunter" who relies on violent rhetoric. Do you really think that the millions of Americans who describe themselves as "progressive" need to be "hunted down"? If so, to what end?

For hours every day on radio and television, Beck pits American against American, telling his audience that our country is under attack by a demonic Nazi-like regime seeking to destroy all that is great about America while insisting it's up to his viewers to resist and revolt. He warned his audience that "these are the most dangerous two years of our republic. Because in the end, in revolutions, the real dangerous killers show up." Beck even compared our government to vampires while instructing his viewers to "drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers" and pretended to poison Speaker Pelosi on television. A few months later, Gregory Giusti was arrested for repeatedly threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- including threatening to destroy her home -- because he was upset over health care reform. The man's mother told a local news station he listens to those with "really radical ideas," adding, "I'd say Fox News or all of those that are really radical."

When I started the Tides organizations 35 years ago, I did so in the very American belief that ordinary citizens had a role to play in our democratic process. It was, I thought, the responsibility of everyone to become engaged in our civic life, and for years we've worked with thousands of Americans to do just that. And, while we support progressive values and goals, we respect the rights and voices of those with whom we disagree on issues. Never in our history have we tolerated employees or grantees that support those who would do harm to others. By supporting Fox News Channel, you and your company are risking your reputation and good standing because they are doing just this.

As you may know, a coordinated advertiser boycott by Media Matters and Color of Change, an online civil rights group, has caused Glenn Beck's Fox News show to lose over 100 sponsors. Despite the campaign's success, Fox insists it has had no impact on the channel's profitability because the overall demand for advertisements on Fox has remained stable. Companies are still paying to advertise on Fox News, but their ads are simply moved to a different time of day. Thus, businesses that pay to broadcast commercials on Fox News are subsidizing Glenn Beck's television show by continuing to pump money into the network. It has become clear that the only way to stop supporting Beck is to stop supporting Fox News.

I respectfully request that you bring this matter of your company's sponsorship of hate speech leading to violence to the attention of your fellow directors as soon as possible. I believe no responsible company should advertise on Fox News due to its recent and on-going deplorable conduct.

While we may agree to disagree about the role our citizens and our government should play in promoting social justice and the common good, there should be no disagreement about what constitutes integrity and professionalism and responsibility in discourse – even when allowing for and encouraging contending diverse opinions intelligently argued. This is not a partisan issue. It's an American issue. No one, left, right or center, wants to see another Oklahoma City.

The next "assassin" may succeed, and if so, there will be blood on many hands. The choice is yours. Please join my call to do the right thing in this regard and put Fox News at arm's length from your company by halting your advertising with them.

Sincerely,

Drummond Pike
CEO and Founder, Tides


 

PFAW

Supreme Court Considers Class Action Ban

Corporate interests already exercise an inordinate level of control over Americans' daily lives. This morning, in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that threatens to give yet another advantage to powerful corporations over individual Americans. AT&T is essentially asking the Court to take a wrecking ball to state consumer protection laws.

At issue is whether states have the right to protect consumers from contracts that are so unfair as to be unconscionable - where one party has so much bargaining power over the other that the weaker one has little choice but to agree to highly disadvantageous terms.

This case started when AT&T offered phone purchasers a "free" second phone, then charged the consumers for the taxes on the undiscounted price of the "free" phone. AT&T allegedly pulled this scam on thousands of its customers. One of its victims, the Concepcions, brought a class action suit against AT&T. However, AT&T had a service contract where consumers had to agree to resolve any future claims against the cell phone company through arbitration, rather than the courts. In addition, customers had to agree not to participate in any class action against AT&T. So AT&T asked the court to enforce the agreement it had imposed upon the Concepcions by throwing out the class action suit and forcing them into arbitration, one lone family against AT&T without the protections of courts of law or neutral judges.

However, the court denied AT&T's motion, determining that the "no class action" contractual provision was unconscionable under California law and, therefore, not enforceable. Moreover, the court rejected AT&T's claim that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts state law in this case, making the contract fully enforceable against the Concepcions. (The Federal Arbitration Act generally encourages courts to compel arbitration in accordance with the terms of arbitration agreements.) The Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court decision. However, hoping to get a different result from the corporate-friendly Roberts Court, AT&T appealed.

As countless Americans can attest, it is not at all uncommon for a giant telecommunications service provider to provide extremely complex monthly bills that are nearly impossible for the average person to understand. It is certainly not unheard of for such bills to hide relatively small charges for services never ordered, or mysterious taxes or fees that the company should not be charging. Unfortunately, the vast majority of consumers who are cheated in these situations don't even realize it. Moreover, because the amounts at issue are relatively little, there is little incentive for consumers to undertake the significant expenses of recovering their loss. Even when the company pays out to the tiny percentage of defrauded customers who go to the trouble to engage in lone arbitration against the company, the overall scheme remains profitable.

Class actions are a tool that allows the entire universe of cheated consumers to recoup their losses, making possible a potentially significant financial loss to the company that sets out to defraud its customers. If the Supreme Court rules for AT&T, it will devastate state-level consumer protections and essentially grant a permission slip for rampant corporate fraud against consumers.

As the Alliance For Justice points out in its excellent analysis of this case, it is not only consumer protections that are at risk should AT&T win this case. Class action suits have often been the only way for employees experiencing illegal discrimination to contest it without spending vast amounts of money and risking retaliation. Depending on how the Roberts Court rules, it may enable employers to easily cut off this avenue of anti-discrimination enforcement by simply refusing to hire anyone who does not agree to resolve future conflicts through arbitration, with a ban on class action.

As described in People For the American Way Foundation’s Rise of the Corporate Court report, the Roberts Court has not been shy in twisting the law in order to rule in favor of corporations and against average Americans. AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion may turn out to be another gift of power to the already-powerful.

PFAW

Meet the Senate's New Freshman Class!

A new People For the American Way video introduces you to the newly elected Freshman Class of senators:

Want to make sure these new senators don't implement their extreme agenda? Visit www.pfaw.org/FightBack.

 

PFAW

Big Victories for Young Progressives

This year People For the American Way Action Fund endorsed over eighty candidates of the age 35 or younger who were running for public office. Many of the candidates were already elected officials, while others were running for office for the very first time. The PFAW Action Fund helped provide young progressives with the resources to spread and bolster their messages of equality, justice, and good-government, and put them in the leadership pipeline to strengthen the progressive movement.

Of the candidates we endorsed for the general election, seventy-two of the eighty-six endorsed candidates won their races! Highlights from Tuesday include:

  • Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a solidly progressive State Representative and one of Time magazine’s 40 under 40, was elected to the State Senate.
  • Elena Parent of Georgia upset a conservative incumbent to secure a seat in the State House.
  • Ariana Kelly, a women’s-rights activist from Maryland, was elected to the House of Delegates.
  • Angie Buhl, a YP4 Fellow and Front Line Leaders Academy graduate, won a seat in the South Dakota State Senate.
  • We are also still waiting to hear the final results of Montana State Rep. Kendall Van Dyk, who is currently slightly ahead of his right-wing opponent in a competitive race for the State Senate.

Congratulations to all of the young candidates, and we hope you can support the efforts of the PFAW Action Fund to ensure a progressive future.

PFAW

Listen Live: What the 2010 Elections Mean For America

This afternoon at 4:00 PM Eastern, Peter Montgomery, a Senior Fellow at People For, will be on WBAI in New York discussing yesterday’s elections and how our 5 Election Day Stories to Watch are playing out.

You can listen live here.

And read People For President Michael B. Keegan’s full analysis, What the 2010 Elections Say About America: Stories People For the American Way is Watching, in the Huffington Post.


 

PFAW

In an Open Letter, People For Urges ABC to Distance Itself from Breitbart

Right-wing activist and noted smear concocter Andrew Breitbart announced Friday that he would be appearing on ABC News tomorrow as an election night "analyst." Faced with backlash from progressive groups, ABC News has said that Breitbart will appear only as a guest on an online town hall discussion. In an open letter to ABC News President David Westin today, People For's Michael Keegan responds that providing any sort of platform for Breitbart legitimizes his deceitful practices:

Dear Mr. Westin:

We at People For the American Way are deeply concerned to hear of your plans to host activist Andrew Breitbart as an ABC News election night “analyst” on Tuesday, and want to make sure you are aware of the implications of any association between ABC News and Breitbart’s history of deceptive mudslinging. Breitbart has proven time and again that he is willing to make up stories and smear the names of innocent people in order to draw attention to himself and advance his political causes. By associating with Breitbart, ABC News acknowledges the credibility of his dishonest tactics, and draws its own credibility as a news source into question.

We respect ABC News’ commitment to balanced analysis, and expect that any unbiased news source will seek to provide equal platforms to each side of any debate. However, part of the responsibility of providing balanced news is ensuring that those participating in the debate are approaching the issues honestly and dealing in facts.

Andrew Breitbart, far from dealing in facts, has a long history of fabricating smears in order to advance his own agenda:

  • He famously doctored a recording of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod speaking about overcoming racism in order to accuse her of racism. His smear led to Sherrod’s firing, but even more troubling, served to stoke existing racial resentment against the Obama Administration.
  • His pushing of a tape that supposedly showed an ACORN employee helping a pimp and prostitute to establish a brothel helped to drive the smear campaign that eventually brought down the respected community organization. Independent investigations  later found the tapes to be heavily edited and the storyline that Breitbart pushed to be far from the truth. Breitbart’s smear of ACORN helped to propel the right-wing media’s current fixation on the discredited fear of “voter fraud” resulting from minority voting.
  • Breitbart is currently engaged in another fishy media campaign in Alaska, where he has accused a local CBS affiliate of concocting a plot against Senate candidate Joe Miller…but the only evidence he has been able to produce is a fuzzy audio clip that hardly substantiates his claim.

Andrew Breitbart has every right to continue spewing his lies and conspiracy theories on the Internet, but his deceptive “analysis” has no place in an honest debate on an unbiased news program. Even including him in an online feature, as you have now said you will, lends a legitimate platform to his lies. And providing that platform makes ABC News complicit in Breitbart’s deliberate, excuseless smears.

We urge you to reconsider your invitation to Andrew Breitbart before providing a platform to harmful smears and putting your own reputation as a news source at risk.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan.
President, People For the American Way
 

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

Local Chambers Want No Part in US Chamber of Commerce’s Political Games

As the US Chamber of Commerce becomes less of a trade association and more of a pro-GOP political outfit, local chambers have become increasingly disillusioned with the national branch’s partisan turn. According to the Washington Post, the US Chamber of Commerce leads among non-party groups in campaign spending in the election: of the over $31 million so far spent by the Chamber, 93% of that money has benefited Republicans.

Many local chambers seek to distance themselves from the national Chamber and its fervent partisanship and controversial lobbying practices. People For the American Way has documented how Chamber President Thomas Donohue uses hefty contributions from big corporations to fund their massive lobby campaign and political spending. While local chambers tend to work with small businesses, the US Chamber of Commerce concentrates on promoting the interests of large corporations, including foreign-owned businesses. Daniel Denvir of AlterNet reports that local chambers are upset about how the US Chamber of Commerce’s aggressive pro-corporate and pro-GOP political work is damaging their own interests:

According to the Times, though the Chamber claims to represent 3 million businesses and 300,000 members, “nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors.” (According to an article in Mother Jones, the real number of business members is more like 200,000.)

For many local affiliates, the U.S. Chamber trades on their good name, and then besmirches it. Aggressive U.S. Chamber attack ads in Connecticut, Washington and New Hampshire have upset local chambers that rely on working relationships with members of both parties.

“I now have a standard e-mail saying we’re not a chapter of the U.S. Chamber that I have to send out a couple of times a week,” Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce president Timothy Hulbert told Washington Monthly.

Earlier this month, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire disaffiliated from the U.S. Chamber. Executive vice-president Jerry Mayotte told the Nashua Telegraph, “We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates. We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.”



The U.S. Chamber does not seem to mind alienating local chambers of commerce. A major opponent of campaign finance reform, the U.S. Chamber operates much like the post-Citizen’s United political system: one dollar, one vote.

“The truth be told is that the American political system is a pay-to-play system,” says Jaffe. “The only thing we require is disclosure: who’s behind the issues advocated by the U.S. Chamber? Who’s influencing their voice? Is it good for planet earth, good for small business? Or is it only good for one company that’s paying a lot of money to influence it?”
PFAW

Web Videos Show GOP Extremists In Their Own Words

People For the American Way has produced four new videos showing the extreme far-right views of four Republican candidates for US Senate: Ken Buck of Colorado; Rand Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Paul of Kentucky, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. These candidates promise to bring their dangerous agenda into the US Senate, and our videos show the candidates in their own words revealing their radical views on topics such as civil rights, LGBT and gender equality, climate change, the economy, and Social Security. You can find more information about all of the GOP’s extreme candidates for US Senate in People For the American Way’s The Rogues’ Gallery.

Ken Buck

Ron Johnson

Rand Paul

Pat Toomey

PFAW

American Action Network’s False Ad Yanked From Airways

Yesterday, Greg Sargent thoroughly debunked a new ad that is targeting Connecticut Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy from the pro-GOP American Action Network. The ad focuses on the recently passed health care reform law, and employs a number of the same misleading charges that other groups have used as detailed in a new People For the American Way report. But the American Action Network takes it one step further, and says that the reform law will mandate “jail time” for people who do not purchase health care insurance:

The ad claims health reform means "$500 billion in Medicare cuts." But Politifact found that "the law does not take $500 billion out of the current Medicare budget."

The ad claims health reform means "thousands of new IRS agents." But Factcheck.org pronounced that assertion "wildly misleading."

As for the claim of "jail time for anyone without coverage," the original bill passed by the House did provide for possible criminal prosecution of those who evade the tax imposed on those who don't get mandated coverage. But FactCheck.org says the Senate nixed that provision, and the final bill Obama signed said folks will not be subject to criminal prosecution.

Now, at least one Connecticut television station has pulled the ad from the air. This new false allegation even rivals the terribly deceptive claim of another American Action Network ad, which says that taxpayers will subsidize Viagra for sex offenders. Sargent reports:

FoxCT, the local Fox affiliate, informed the Murphy campaign that it would stop running the American Action Network ad after the Murphy camp sent the station a letter detailing the ad's falsehoods, the Murphy campaign confirms. "

We have verified that the ad in question is not accurate and will pull their schedule going forward," a FoxCT executive wrote to the Murphy campaign in an email sent my way. "I hope you have reached out to the other stations and they follow the same course."

I'm told other another Connecticut station may follow suit. If so, I'll update you.

All of which is to confirm -- yet again -- that the untold part of this story is that this national campaign bankrolled by secret cash is flooding airwaves across the country with an untold number of falsehoods and distortions. We'll probably never have a clear picture of this campaign's scope and reach, or the depth and extent of its mendacity.

Update:  The American Action Network's notorious "Viagra ad" has been pulled from the air in Colorado, according to CQ.

 

PFAW

PFAW on the air in Colorado

People For the American Way is on the air in Colorado to inform voters about the corporate special interest money that is being used to elect Ken Buck to the US Senate. Coloradans need to know that corporate-funded groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, and the First Amendment Alliance want Ken Buck in the Senate to push their agenda and block reforms. Corporations want to buy Colorado’s next Senator, and People For the American Way wants to make sure that voters in Colorado know “who’s controlling Ken Buck” and “what are they buying”:

 

PFAW

First Amendment Alliance: Energy Industry Front Group

The First Amendment Alliance is a 527 “Super PAC” that can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals for independent expenditures on the election, and the group is currently smearing Democratic candidates for Senate with negative ads in competitive races. So far, the First Amendment Alliance has spent over $800,000 running attack ads against Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Harry Reid of Nevada. 

On its website, the organization says “we communicate instances of waste, fraud, hypocrisy, and general disregard for standards of civility in society,” and its contact information only lists a mailbox in Alexandria, Virginia. Its President, Anthony Holm, works on the campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry and was tied to a GOP scheme to place a Green Party candidate on the ballot for governor in order to take away votes from Rick Perry’s Democratic opponent. But Holm is also a representative for GOP mega-fundraiser Bob Perry, who contributed $4.45 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and recently donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association.

According to a review of the group's recent FEC filings, it's clear that the First Amendment Alliance is a sham group for the energy industry whose office is a mailbox. Nearly every single donor, including businesses and individuals, has links to the energy industry. Of the 73 contributors, 39 are businesses and 34 are individuals, and 70 of the donors are clearly tied to the oil and gas industry. The group raised close to $1.1 million, and of that amount more than $300,000 came from businesses tied to the energy industry and over $600,000 came from individuals with energy connections.

Here is just a sampling of some of the group’s most generous donors: Oilman Russell Gordy contributed $150,000, Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy and Earl Rodman of Rodman Petroleum both donated $100,000. The Anschutz Corporation donated $50,000, and Melange Associates and Chisos LTD, which are both involved in oil and gas exploration, gave $25,000 each.  And of course, Bob Perry gave the group $50,000 this year.

The First Amendment Alliance has to disclose its donors according to FEC rules for “Super PACs,” but many political organizations that are 501(c) groups, like Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce, never have to disclose the sources of their funding. As a result of such disclosure rules, we now know who is behind the First Amendment Alliance’s attack ads in Senate races across the country.

Using those funds, the group launched an aggressive, and sometimes plainly dishonest, campaign aimed at defeating Democratic candidates for the Senate.

In addition to attacks against Senators Bennet and Reid, the First Amendment Alliance’s ad against Jack Conway was so misleading that one TV station pulled it from the airways. In the ad, the First group used information showing the increased numbers of meth-labs shut down by police officers as evidence that the number of meth-labs increased while Conway was Attorney General. In essence, it used statistics pointing to increased effectiveness by Kentucky law enforcement to deceptively claim that Conway was unsuccessful in fighting drugs. Conway actually presided over the largest drug-bust in state history, and the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police cited Conway’s achievements in cracking down on drugs as one of the reasons the group endorsed him. The Glasgow Daily Times reports that “Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton says law enforcement ‘would be lost’ in the war on drugs if it weren't for federal help, funding assistance opposed by Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.” Paul, Conway’s Republican opponent, also asserted that drug abuse was not “a pressing issue” in the state.

In its Delaware ad, the First Amendment Alliance accuses Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons of “bankrupting New Castle County,” even though the county under Coons’s leadership received a triple-A bond rating, which Moody’s Investors Services said “reflects the county’s strong financial operations bound by conservative policies.” Despite such proof of sound fiscal leadership, the First Amendment Alliance falsely claims that Coons is responsible for an “economic train wreck.”

With enormous backing from the energy industry, it is no wonder why the First Amendment Alliance wants to defeat progressives running for the US Senate.  Find out about the other pro-corporate groups spending tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to influence the election in People For the American Way's report, "After Citizens United: A Look Into the New Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics."

 

PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Ashcroft Appeal

The Supreme Court today agreed to decide if former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be personally sued for alleged abuse of his authority in the days after 9/11 attacks. According to Bloomberg News:

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider reinforcing the legal immunity of top government officials, agreeing to decide whether a man can sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft after being detained without charge for 16 days.

The justices will review a ruling that allowed a suit filed by Abdullah al-Kidd, a Muslim U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2003 and held as a material witness in a terrorism probe. Al- Kidd says the government classified him as a material witness because it lacked enough evidence to hold him as a suspect.

A panel of the Ninth Circuit held that Ashcroft was not immune from being sued personally for the illegal abuse of authority that was the subject of al-Kidd’s claim. Ashcroft, with the support of the Obama Administration, asked the Supreme Court to reverse this decision and not allow the lawsuit to go forward. In his brief urging the Supreme Court not to hear Ashcroft’s appeal, al-Kidd claims that:

The impetus for arresting [him and other] individuals was not to secure their testimony for a criminal proceeding. Rather, these were individuals whom the government viewed as suspects and wished to detain and investigate. But because the government lacked probable cause to arrest these individuals on criminal charges, it had them arrested as material witnesses, thereby circumventing the Fourth Amendment’s traditional probable cause standard and distorting the basic purpose of the material witness statute.

The Court will likely hear arguments in the case next year and issue an opinion by summer. Justice Kagan has recused herself.

This case is a reminder that in the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them. With Bush’s popularity at its height and few willing to oppose him and his administration publicly, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department’s multifaceted threats to liberty.

It will be interesting to see if all of those Tea Partiers who claim to oppose big government encroaching on individual liberties will take a stand against the excesses of the Bush years - and explain why they were silent at the time.

PFAW

Americans Still Oppose Court’s Citizens United Decision

Nearly ten months since the Supreme Court drastically expanded the ability of corporations to influence the political process, the public is still greatly troubled by the Court’s ruling in Citizens United. The majority Americans do not buy the absurd arguments of Congressional Republicans that Citizens United was as significant a step forward as the Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, as most people believe that corporations should not be allowed to spend unlimited sums from their general treasuries to fund political efforts. A Hart Research poll conducted on behalf of People For the American Way found that 77% of Americans want Citizens United to be overturned, and that corporations already have too much political power.

A recent “Constitutional Attitudes Survey” by Harvard and Columbia University professors found that while self-described liberals and conservatives all found Court decisions they agree with, Citizens United stands out as the most unpopular among all respondents:

One notable decision that stuck in respondents' respective craw, however, was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the January 2010 opinion that struck down a federal law prohibiting corporations from airing advertisements endorsing a political candidate.

Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents disagreed with the statement, "Corporations ought to be able to spend their profits on TV advertisements urging voters to vote for or against candidates." Only 40 percent agreed with the statement.

Additionally, an overwhelming 85 percent of respondents answered yes to the question, "Should corporations be required to get approval from their shareholders for expenditures related to political campaigns?" Indeed, Persily told the Spokane, Washington-based Spokesman Review that the Citizens United opinion is "very out of step with public opinion."

The survey's results are consistent with those of a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in February, shortly after the case was decided. A full 80 percent of respondents in that poll disagreed with the court's holding, and 65 percent labeled themselves "strongly" opposed. Surprisingly, that poll found that views of the decision did not split along party lines -- fully 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents, along with 85 percent of Democrats, disagreed with the decision.
PFAW

Survey Shows Obstacles to Justice in U.S. Courts

Dan Froomkin is reporting on a depressing new report that paints a frightening picture of just how difficult it is for ordinary Americans to receive justice in our courts. He discusses:

the finding[s] of a world-wide survey unveiled Thursday morning that ranks the United States lowest among 11 developed nations when it comes to providing access to justice to its citizens -- and lower than some third-world nations in some categories.

The results are from the World Justice Project's new "Rule of Law Index", which assesses how laws are implemented and enforced in practice around the globe. Countries are rated on such factors as whether government officials are accountable, whether legal institutions protect fundamental rights, and how ordinary people fare in the system. ...

But the most striking findings related to access to justice for ordinary people. ...

[The study] found a significant gap between the rich and the poor in terms of their use and satisfaction with the civil courts system.

Froomkin quotes from a World Justice Project news release:

[O]nly 40% of low-income respondents who used the court system in the past three years reported that the process was fair, compared to 71% of wealthy respondents. This 31% gap between poor and rich litigants in the USA is the widest among all developed countries sampled. In France this gap is only 5%, in South Korea it is 4% and in Spain it is nonexistent.

Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the wealthy and powerful are happier with our court system than are the rest of the American people. This is consistent with the analysis contained in a People For the American Way Foundation report released earlier this year. Citing Citizens United and numerous other cases, The Rise of the Corporate Court: How the Supreme Court is Putting Business First exposed the undue deference the Supreme Court has too often paid to corporations at the expense of the legal rights of individuals.

Making it even harder for average Americans victimized by powerful corporations to seek justice, one in eight seats on the federal bench is vacant. In fact, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared judicial emergencies in numerous circuits and districts where the vacancies have reached the crisis point. Yet Senate Republicans refuse to allow floor votes on qualified and unopposed judicial nominees to help relieve the overburdened federal judiciary.

The integrity of the entire judicial branch of the United States government is at risk.

PFAW

Members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network Honored in Time’s “40 Under 40”

Four members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network have been included in Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list of “the rising stars of American politics”.

At 36, Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, is the youngest mayor of a Top 50 American city. He’s been a member of the YEO Network since it’s founding, when he was a city councilman—he was elected mayor last year. In his first year in office, among other accomplishments, he sealed a multimillion dollar deal for alternative energy research in the city. You can read more about Julián in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile from May.

Hannah Pingree, 33, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, was also one of the original members of the YEO Network. Here’s what she had to say to Time about why she’s in politics:

"I love politics. Even in these times, politics is hard, the word 'politics' isn't popular, and politicians aren't the most poplar people. But being able to serve in the stage legislature, where a lot of the work we do is bipartisan, there are decent people on both sides of the aisle. You can make a difference. I've been able to pass a lot of bills or make an impact on the people I grew up with: fishermen in my district, people who need good housing, environmental policy that impacts kids' health. If I hadn't been able to do that in politics, I would have given up a long time ago. All the challenges and, sometimes, meanness and frustration you encounter in politics is worth it, if you can make good things happen."

Bakari Sellers became the youngest member of the South Carolina General Assembly at the age of 22. Now 26, he’s earned a law degree and continues to be a voice in the legislature for the ‘have-nots’ in his community. He told BET last year, "My goals again are relatively simple, representing a very poor and rural district. I want to ensure all South Carolinians access to a first-class education and ensure access to quality health care.”

Kyrsten Sinema, 34, is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Board of Directors as well as the YEO Network. A member of the Arizona House of Representatives, she’s running for a seat in the State Senate this fall. Kyrsten’s been a leader in Arizona on gay rights, responsible immigration policy, and economic development. Here’s her debate with Sherriff Joe Arpaio about Arizona’s draconian immigration law in April:
 

PFAW