public policy

Beck Asks Fans to Give Money to Big Business

As I mentioned earlier today, Glenn Beck has started asking his listeners and viewers to donate money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—yes, “populist” leader Beck is asking his fans to give their money to the Chamber of Commerce, the national association of large corporations that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to lobby Congress and support the election of candidates who will prioritize corporate interests. Jamison Foster at Media Matters sums up the absurdity:

Now, the Chamber of Commerce is not simply an advocacy organization pursing an ideological agenda, like the National Rifle Association or the National Right to Life Committee. It is a trade association representing some of the largest corporations you can think of. Its board of directors counts among its members executives from Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, US Airways, JPMorgan Chase & Co., IBM, and Verizon. It is The Establishment incarnate.

And Glenn Beck is calling on his hardworking listeners to donate money to the Chamber. He is literally asking American workers to give their hard-earned wages back to their employers, so their employers can use that money to advocate a public policy agenda that benefits the rich at the (again: literal) expense of everyone else. It’s incredible. It’s such a twisted scheme that it’s easier to believe as a piece of performance art meant to mock right-wing pseudo-populism. Though if it was art, it would be dismissed as overly broad and heavy-handed.

Beck tried to put a populist spin on his plug by conflating the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a national lobbying organization—with local chambers of commerce, many of which are members of the national organization but have little control over its policies. Last year, the Chamber got in trouble for making the same conflation, claiming that it had 3 million members (10 times as many as it really did), when that figure included the members of local chambers that have no role in shaping the national chamber’s agenda. Giving money to the lobbying efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a far cry from donating to a local chamber’s economic development programs. And Beck’s claim that the U.S. Chamber is pushing for a populist agenda is one of his most audacious deceptions yet.

UPDATE: Several days after Beck made his pitch, Chamber of Commerce ads appeared all over his web site... Beck asked his fans to give money to Chamber, then the Chamber gives a chunk of the money back to Beck in ad revenue. How sleazy.

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After Citizens United: Big Tobacco Aims for More First Amendment Rights

In the wake of the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court may choose to determine whether corporations have additional rights to free speech under the First Amendment. On June 24th, justices will meet to decide whether to hear a group of cases the government has brought against Big Tobacco, and the court will announce its decision the following Monday, the first day of Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings.. At issue are a host of First Amendment issues, namely a corporation’s right to make assertions that may be fraudulent, in the interest of trying to influence public policy. To say the least, the cases are complicated. According to a lawyer representing Big Tobacco,

 “Some law clerk at the Supreme Court is probably pulling his hair out as we speak,” said Jones Day partner Michael Carvin, who represents R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Brown & Williamson Holdings, Inc. before the Supreme Court. “It's like a jigsaw puzzle.”

These cases demonstrate the potentially far reaching effects of the Court’s radical decision in Citizens United, which first recognized a First Amendment right to speech for corporations in the form of independent expenditures on elections. Now, corporations are seeking even more free speech protections.

“Tobacco company briefs cite the Citizens United decision for the proposition that they too deserve First Amendment protection for statements they made about the health effects of tobacco, statements that helped form the basis of the government suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. In many of the tobacco company briefs, the First Amendment argument is the leading issue.”

The tobacco companies are responding to the DC Circuit’s finding that Big Tobacco’s advertising that claimed smoking was not harmful violated RICO. In contrast, documents presented to the court confirm that Philip Morris knew cigarettes were harmful, and released the advertisements in spite of this information.

The government presented evidence from the 1950s and continuing through the following decades demonstrating that the Defendant manufacturers were aware—increasingly so as they conducted more research—that smoking causes disease, including lung cancer. Evidence at trial revealed that at the same time Defendants were disseminating advertisements, publications, and public statements denying any adverse health effects of smoking and promoting their “open question” strategy of sowing doubt, they internally acknowledged as fact that smoking causes disease and other health hazards.

An added complication to these cases is that Elena Kagan, if confirmed as a Supreme Court justice will likely have to recuse herself from deliberations, because she was Solicitor General in February, when the United States filed its petition for the Supreme Court to hear one of the cases.

The cases, depending on how many the court chooses to accept, will likely turn on a test of equitable balance between the government’s interest in preventing fraud, and a corporation’s interest in defending itself.

 “This is an enormously powerful tool for the government,” said Carvin. “If you knock out corporations from public debate, that's pretty frightening stuff … The Washington Legal Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States have also filed briefs emphasizing the First Amendment issue among others.  But Crystal asserts that “you don't have a First Amendment right to commit fraud.” Carvin replies that “yes, you can stop someone from saying that his cereal stops cancer,” but the kind of statements at issue in the tobacco cases amount to “classic public policy speech” that deserve First Amendment protection.

Given the likely absence of Kagan on the bench, and the recent pro-business history of the Roberts Court, it’s fair to assume that corporations will find themselves with even more powers under the First Amendment. It is a truly scary notion for the average American, and something that further highlights the damage Citizens United will have on the rights of individuals in our democracy.
 

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More evidence that in Virginia, the Radical Right's in charge

The Washington Post reported today that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has sent a letter to the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities asking them to rescind policies that ban discrimination against LGBT people, stating:

"It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly."

Colleges that have included such language in their policies -- which include all of Virginia's leading schools -- have done so "without proper authority" and should "take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia," Cuccinelli wrote.

I posted last week on the new Virginia Governor's assault on LGBT Virginians, in his rush to carry out the agenda of the Religious Right. Clearly it's not just Gov. Bob McDonnell who poses a threat to Virginians’ rights. The Religious Right has spread its tentacles throughout the upper echelons of Virginia’s state government, and with its grip firmly on the levers of power, Virginians have a lot to be worried about.

More brutal evidence of the fact that elections matter... Progressives will have a lot of work to do fighting back the policies of McDonnell, Cuccinelli and right-wing state legislators in Virginia.

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Despite the Right's Objections, Maryland To Recognize Same-Sex Marriages from Other States

This morning, the Maryland Attorney General released a well-reasoned opinion that firmly establishes that the state may recognize same-sex marriages from other states (and countries). The Far Right, of course, wanted an opinion stating that Maryland would not recognize out-of-state marriages. Unfortunately for them, the law just wasn't on their side, and the Attorney General was not willing to twist it for their purposes.

Maryland law specifically prohibits same-sex marriage. But as the AG writes in detail, Maryland has a long history of recognizing out of state marriages that cannot be performed within the state. The only exception: During the dark era of Jim Crow, Maryland found out-of-state interracial marriages so repugnant to its public policy that its high court stated that they would not be recognized within the state.

As the AG opinion points out, Maryland has numerous laws that protect and respect the rights of same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians do not face a virulent and violent foe in the form of the state, as African Americans once did. So you'd have to bend legal precedent beyond the breaking point to say that Maryland cannot recognize the out-of-state marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

The Far Right will likely not be happy with this opinion, claiming that it violates the right of Maryland to decide this issue by itself, rather than have other states decide for it. But an opinion doing what they want would be based on animus, not principle.

Every day in this country, state officials choose to recognize lawful out-of-state marriages of the type that their own state legislatures have explicitly rejected.

For instance, fully one half of the states - twenty-five - prohibit marriages between first cousins, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nevertheless, cousins who marry in one of the other 25 states don't go from married to unmarried and back to married again every time they cross state lines. That's because across America, states recognize marriages performed in their sister states even if they themselves would not allow the marriage.

Yet we do not hear screeds from the Far Right on how this violates the people's [or state legislatures'] right to define marriage in their own states.

So don't be fooled by the Far Right's claimed fealty to respect for the rule of law or state sovereignty. That's not what this is about.

Do the Far Right groups demand that states revoke recognition of all out-of-state marriages that could not be performed within the state?

Of course not. Because this has nothing to do with state sovereignty. It has everything to do with animus against gays and lesbians. Statements against the AG's opinion should be recognized – and condemned – as such.

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A Good Day For Equality in Maryland

The Baltimore Sun is reporting good news on the marriage equality front in Maryland today, where a bill that would have prohibited the state from recognizing out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples was defeated in committee.

The state's Attorney General is currently making a legal determination as to whether Maryland law recognizes such out-of-state marriages. The bill would have short-circuited that determination.

Maryland's long-settled practice is to recognize marriages validly solemnized in other states that could not be solemnized in Maryland. However, the state has in the past made an exception to that rule: Maryland once refused to recognize out-of-state interracial marriages, calling them "repugnant to Maryland's public policy."

Today, legislators were asked to echo that ugly history by treating gays and lesbians' marriages in the same discriminatory way that interracial marriages were treated during the era of Jim Crow. Fortunately, a majority of members of the House Judiciary Committee chose not to go down this path.

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Justice Alito: Words v. Actions [VIDEO]

The media spent much of last week obsessing over Justice Samuel Alito's injudicious show of disapproval during the State of the Union. They went a bit overboard to be sure, but were it not for that, millions of Americans may have missed the Citizens United ruling entirely.

Citizens United, as you probably know, opened up elections to unlimited corporate spending. The 5-4 decision overturned a century of precedent and was made possible by Justice Alito -- President Bush's nominee to replace moderate Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sorely absent from last week's coverage was how far Alito's actions on the bench have departed from his words as a nominee. With that in mind I've pulled some relevant clips from the confirmation hearing.

Alito praised the principle of stare decisis (respect for precedent) throughout his hearing but hasn't let it prevent him back brashly overruling longstanding decisions. Here, in conversaton with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), he argued that the court should take limited actions and use its ability to overrule precedent sparingly:

HATCH: Does that mean that the Supreme Court should perhaps be even more cautious, even more self-restrained, since there is no appeal from any errors that they might make?

ALITO: I think that's a solemn responsibility that they have. When you know that you are the court of last resort, you have to make sure that you get it right. It is not true, in my judgment, that the Supreme Court is free to do anything that it wants. It has to follow the Constitution and it has to follow the laws. Stare decisis, which I was talking about earlier, is an important limitation on what the Supreme Court does. And although the Supreme Court has the power to overrule a prior precedent, it uses that power sparingly, and rightfully so. It should be limited in what it does.

Alito frequently said that his judicial philosophy discourages him from reaching overly broad decisions when a narrower ruling is possible. Yet he and the other conservatives went far out of their way in order to strike down as many restrictions on corporate influence in elections as possible. Here, still speaking to Senator Hatch, Alito praised narrow rulings and noted that court rulings on consitutional grounds often cannot be undone by Congress (indeed, we are coming up against that limitation now with Citizens United):

ALITO: Because a constitutional decision of the Supreme Court has a permanency that a decision on an issue of statutory interpretation doesn't have. So if a case is decided on statutory grounds, there's a possibility of Congress amending the statute to correct the decision if it's perceived that the decision is incorrect or it's producing undesirable results. I think that my philosophy of the way I approached issues is to try to make sure that I get right what I decide. And that counsels in favor of not trying to do too much, not trying to decide questions that are too broad, not trying to decide questions that don't have to be decided, and not going to broader grounds for a decision when a narrower ground is available.

Alito also made a good show of deference to the elected branches of government, arguing that the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not make public policy. He clearly disregarded these remarks to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) when he joined with four other judges to strike down decades of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President:

SESSIONS: But we really want the court to be more modest and to draw back from some of its intervention and policy issues that are causing much angst around the country. You want to comment on that? Otherwise, Mr. Chairman, I would yield my time.

ALITO: Well, Senator, I think your policy views are much more legitimate than the policy views of the judiciary because members of Congress are elected for the purpose of formulating and implementing public policy and members of the judiciary are appointed for the purpose of interpreting and applying the law.

PFAW

Progressives Make Significant Gains at the Local Level

Among the mixed results from high profile races last week, progressives had many reasons to celebrate last Tuesday with the election of young progressives at the local and state level. Several members of our Young Elected Officials Network (YEO Network), the first national program singularly-focused on providing a network of support to young progressive state and local elected officials age 35 and under, were re-elected to their posts while others were successful in their runs for elevated positions.

Among them:

  • City Commissioner Sean Becker was elected Mayor of Bozeman, Mont.
  • Tompkins County Legislator Nathan Shinagawa won re-election to his post with 91 percent of the vote.
  • Alderwoman Rebekah Gerwirtz beat her opponent handily. She received 76 percent of the vote to his 24 percent.

As results are still coming in from across the country, one thing rings true: support for young progressives, and the changes they seek, is growing in state and local races. Young Elected Officials are shaping public policy and promoting progressive values in congressional, gubernatorial [is that true?], legislative, and city and county commission seats across the United States.

The YEO Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation, brings together officials between the under the age of 35 to build professional relationships with other young progressive leaders who face similar challenges. The network provides an infrastructure for members to learn from each other and from policy experts how to be more effective leaders on issues that matter to their constituents.

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Building Progressive Power at a Dangerous Moment

The politics of Karl Rove are alive and well! As we near Election Day, we're seeing more smears and attempts at character assassination. The combination of win-at-all-costs politics and the growing financial crisis makes me nervous, because economic hardship has historically provided fertile ground for scapegoating vulnerable people.

People For is working hard to expose, refute, and defuse the kind of dangerous demagoguery the Right is pumping out. A number of pundits have blamed the housing market crash and subsequent drop in people's retirement savings on minority homebuyers who can no longer afford their predatory mortgages. They're trying to stir racial resentment and bigotry among voters who may already be uncertain about casting a vote for a black presidential candidate. The same candidate is falsely portrayed as a subversive Muslim extremist. Sarah Palin this week went so far as to accuse Barack Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists."

Sadly, these attacks work at whipping some people into a hateful frenzy. There were media reports, which were apparently serious enough that the Secret Service launched a threat investigation, that at that same speech Palin made her "terrorist" comment, a member of the crowd shouted "kill him" and another one yelled "treason" loud enough to be picked up by TV mics. It was unclear whether "kill him" was directed at Obama or William Ayers, to whom Palin was referring, but it really doesn't matter.

All of this shows what we are up against, and it shows that real progress means changing the culture as well as public policy. One of the main reasons I came to People For was that it wages the struggle for the heart and soul of America as fiercely as it fights for progressive policies. Two specific ways we'll do both are 1. winning at the ballot box, and 2. by sustaining a movement.

Winning at the polls: People For the American Way Voters Alliance is funding 24 progressive House candidates (all but one challengers) in close races against right-wing opponents in a very strategic way. The Voters Alliance issued a challenge on its ActBlue page pledging an additional $3,000 to the candidate who raises the most on that page by October 15. This encourages blogs to drive traffic to the site to support their favorite candidate, and it encourages the candidates to do the same for themselves (and it gives them the opportunity to ask for support in a different way). The page has already raised over $50,000!!! (Please consider a contribution to one or several of these great candidates and to the Voters Alliance, and spread the word!)

Sustaining the movement: People For the American Way Action Fund is using ActBlue to build the progressive movement's farm team by funding a group of bright young candidates for state and local office. The Right has engaged in similar efforts for decades — Sarah Palin is actually a graduate of GOPAC, the Right's primary candidate recruitment and training program. People For's Action Fund is running ads voiced by Rachael Maddow on Air America Radio starting next week in support of young progressives. Check out these candidates and again, consider a contribution (in these state and local races, a little bit can really go a long way).

THAT'S building progressive power.

Thanks to those of you who wrote in response to last week's note for the very warm and supportive e-mails. Keep the great feedback coming! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.
 

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People For Joins Members of Congress, SAVE to Open Dialogue on Student Voting Rights

Today, student voting rights took center stage on Capitol Hill as People For the American Way and the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) joined Congressional leaders including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn to call attention to the myriad of barriers to the polls that students will face between now and November. In addition to Majority Leader Hoyer and Majority Whip Clyburn, Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dennis Kucinich, Kendrick Meek, Tim Ryan, Susan Davis, Chris Van Hollen, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz were on hand to give remarks.

Tanya Clay House, Director of Public Policy, and Michele Jawando, Election Protection Campaign Manager, explained the challenges that are in play that could keep hundreds of thousands of students from the polls – deceptive practices, voter suppression and intimidation, voter ID laws, inequitable distribution of voting machines, long lines, and improper instructions on when to offer provisional ballots, among other common problems. 

What can you do?  Spread the word about People For Foundation’s voter ID toolkits.  Opponents of voting rights have always used ignorance as a weapon and information is the best defense.  Know your rights!

 

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