public policy

Rick Santorum: The Hapless Holy Warrior Starts Another Crusade

Former Senator Rick Santorum formally launched his bid for the White House today. Given that Santorum's last run for reelection resulted in a crushing 17-point defeat, and given that his poll numbers are still in the low single digits in spite of his having been running a de facto campaign for the past year and a half, it would seem that Santorum's race is mostly a sign of the self-deceiving wishful thinking that overtakes people who believe they are meant to be president -- or in Santorum's case, who believe God truly wants them to be president.

Indeed, Santorum's campaign has already won him enough mockery that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman recently dubbed him "the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics," saying he gets "as little respect as support."

Part of Santorum's problem is simply that he comes across to many people as annoyingly self-righteous. Norman writes, "His biggest problem is that he reminds everyone, including Republicans, of the annoying kid in Sunday school who memorizes all 66 books of the Bible so he can recite them in reverse order for the old ladies at church." In 2009, as Santorum's plans to run were becoming more apparent, journalist Matthew Cooper wrote, "My favorite Santorum anecdote actually comes from Bob Kerrey. After Santorum denounced Sen. Mark Hatfield, the Oregon Republican, for his opposition to the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the Nebraska Democrat was asked what he thought. 'Santorum, that's Latin for a--hole.'"

Fans on the Far Right

In spite of Santorum's huge negatives, he has his cheerleaders among right-wing activists and pundits who think he could still emerge from the unimpressive GOP pack.

Last month, right-wing Catholic activist Keith Fournier published a column that was essentially a mash note, declaring Santorum the winner of the South Carolina debate, calling his demeanor "Kennedy-esque," and gushing that Santorum's "courage to lead" is "what this Nation needs."

In February, columnist George Will praised Santorum as a "relentless ethicist" and said the GOP needs someone who can energize social conservatives who "are feeling neglected and are looking for someone like Santorum." To those who thought his loss would make him unelectable, Will asks, "Well, was Richard Nixon defunct after losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962?" I wonder if Santorum welcomed that comparison.

In January, when Santorum was criticized for slamming Obama's support for abortion in racial terms -- saying, "I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people'" -- The National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez praised Santorum for raising the issue of abortion in the black community.

The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody also praised Santorum back in January, before Brody's crush on Donald Trump burst into full flower.

Love him or hate him, let's be clear about Rick Santorum. He doesn't hold back. He doesn't mince words and conservative Christians and Catholics find this quality to be his best attribute. If and when he dives into the 2012 GOP mosh pit, he's going to be the guy that won't hold back and in the process he'll put some of these other 2012 contenders on the spot by bringing up issues that everybody whispers about but rarely talks about in public.

Hard Right Record

Santorum's far-right rhetoric and policy positions are what keep hope alive among some of his supporters. He is campaigning as a hard-right candidate who can appeal to every stripe of conservative. And he certainly has the record to back up that claim.

Speaking to a Tea Party gathering in February, Santorum embraced an extreme view of the constitutional separation of powers and the role of the federal judiciary, reportedly saying that Congress has the power and the right to declare what is constitutional or not. He said Congress has the power to disband the federal courts and that "I would sign a bill tomorrow to eliminate the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals]. That court is rogue. It's a pox on the western part of our country." He told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February that "America belongs to God" and the judiciary has no right to "redefine" life or marriage.

He's a fierce critic of federal health care reform legislation, saying it will "destroy the country," portraying it as the equivalent of drug dealing and telling a group of Christians that getting hooked on health care would make them "less than what God created you to be." He has said that "if Obamacare is actually implemented," then "America as we know it will be no more."

Today, after he announced his candidacy, Santorum declared that American troops at D-Day had been fighting for Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to effectively end Medicare. "Those Americans risked everything so they could make that decision on their health care plan," he said.

He pushes the Tea Party's small-government ideology, saying the problems in the housing industry will be resolved by "getting regulators to back off" and letting the markets work their magic. Similarly, he says the answer to creating jobs is to get rid of all the government intervention that he believes is strangling businesses -- health care reform, financial regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

In a bid to salvage his sinking 2006 reelection campaign, Santorum turned to bashing immigration reform and "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

Santorum has a social issues record to make the Religious Right cheer. He made a name for himself on the national scene with his attacks on gay rights, most notably in a 2003 interview comparing gay relationships with "man-on-dog" sex. (In the same interview he argued that the Constitution does not protect a right to privacy. Recently he said that allowing loving gay couples to adopt children is "trying to defy nature" and should be illegal, as should gay marriage. He says that the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court meant that the "free exercise of religion will be eviscerated."

Although, while in the Senate, Santorum supported the occasional pro-choice Republican, he calls Roe v. Wade a "monstrosity" and supports criminalization of abortion, which he says is the reason Social Security is in trouble. He backs right-wing attacks on funding for Planned Parenthood's family planning services, actively taking part in the right-wing propaganda campaign against Planned Parenthood. Santorum has slammed the Griswold decision, in which the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to privacy and overturned a state ban on contraception, as a "constitutional wrecking ball."

Santorum gave Religious Right activists a powerful tool for pushing religion into public school classrooms when he sponsored an amendment to the "No Child Left Behind" law that encouraged the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. The amendment, written in part by the creationist Discovery Institute, became a force behind creationists' bogus "teach the controversy" strategy. Santorum wrote in 2002 that "Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." Scientists and courts disagree.

Santorum has been a severe critic of Islam from his perch at the "America's Enemies" program at the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center. He says Islam is incompatible with western civilization because Shariah is both a civil code and a religious code. But he also says of Christians that "it is our obligation" to make civil law in America "comport with God's laws."

Santorum has tried to get attention to his desire to be the second Catholic president by slamming the first, saying he was "appalled" by John F. Kennedy's "radical" support for the separation of church and state - a centerpiece of Kennedy's vision of America. Speaking of the Kennedys, Santorum criticized church officials for praising former senator Ted Kennedy at his funeral, saying there was "no excuse" for it and arguing that it was harmful to send the message that it was okay for Catholic politicians to dissent from church teachings.

Although Santorum has been quick to slam progressive Catholics for not hewing closely enough to the doctrine of Church hierarchy, he's shown no compunction in casting aside Church teaching when it conflicts with his extreme ideology, as he did when repeatedly supporting "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding -- which has been clearly labeled "torture" and "an intrinsic evil" by the Catholic Church.

Santorum blamed the church's sex abuse scandal on the liberal political culture of Boston:


Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.


Obama as Enemy

At least one columnist has suggested that Santorum is angling for a VP spot, where he would serve as the GOP campaign's attack dog. He has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to savage President Obama in the most extreme terms. Obama he says, does not have "a love of this country and an understanding of the basic values and wants and desires of its people." If Obama is reelected, he says, "Democracy and freedom will disappear." Santorum says Obama's talk about his faith is "phony" because the president, like other liberal Christians, has "abandoned Christendom" and has no "right to claim it." In fact, he says, Obama and "the left" are actively seeking to "destroy the family and destroy the Church" because that is the only way they can "be successful in getting socialism to be accepted in this country and that's what their objective is." During the 2008 campaign, Santorum was declared one of Keith Olbermann's "Worst Persons in the World" for continuing to spread the right-wing lie that Obama "won't wear the American flag pin."

When President Obama criticized cable news, Santorum ridiculously portrayed it as a prelude to tyrannical censorship: "This reminds me of what Hugo Chavez is doing down in Venezuela, trying to shut down the voice of opposition in the media." He says Obama "doesn't believe in the foundational principles that made this country great, which is limited government and free people." He said his own grandfather came from fascist Italy to a country that would allow him to be free: "That's the kind of change we need in Washington, DC."

In an April 28, 2011 foreign policy speech at the National Press Club, Santorum declared that "unlike President Obama I believe we were a great country even before the Great Society Programs of the 1960s." He went on to say, "Freedom has been our watchword, our anchor and our moral guide for nearly every cause both here and abroad. But today we have lost this mission because our president doesn't believe in it." After another (now-GOP-requisite) slam on Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism, Santorum slammed Obama for not doing more to support protesters in Iran: "We sided with evil because our president believes our enemies are legitimately aggrieved and thus we have no standing to intervene." Last year Santorum reportedly told a Pennsylvania crowd "that Obama seeks to make the United States like Europe, a continent whose citizens have turned their backs on faith and grown selfish, and where governments bestow rights upon the citizenry, rather than a place where all are born with God-given rights."

Violating Reagan's 11th Commandment

One reason Santorum might not be very popular in spite of his reliably right-wing record is that he is a habitual violator of Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment. Santorum seems quite happy to speak ill of his fellow Republicans. He has slammed Romney as "Obama's running mate" (a reference to Romney's support for health care reform in Massachusetts) and criticized Newt Gingrich for criticizing Paul Ryan.

During the 2008 campaign, he repeatedly criticized John McCain. After pledging that he would never support McCain, he tepidly endorsed him after Sarah Palin joined the ticket. Santorum even wrote a snide column after McCain's loss predicting (wrongly) that McCain would seek historical redemption by leading the charge in Congress to help Obama move his agenda.

One of Santorum's less-successful slams on a fellow Republican came when he criticized Sarah Palin for not attending the Conservative Political Action Conference and suggested that her duties as a mom to five kids may have made her too busy. Palin in turn suggested that Santorum might be a "knuckle-dragging Neanderthal."

God's Candidate?

Santorum sees politics in spiritual terms. He says that government gets bigger and more intrusive without a "moral consensus" to guide society. In 2008 he told faculty and students at right-wing Ave Maria University, "This is not a political war, it is not a cultural war; it's a spiritual war." Santorum suggested that his opponents were agents of Satan: "The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on -- a good, decent, powerful, influential country: the United States of America." He warned the students that if they signed up for God's army, "you'll be ridiculed and you'll lose most if not every one of your battles. But you know who's going to win in the end, so you warrior on happily."

The Campaign Limps Along

Last spring, Santorum said he saw "an opening for someone who can unite the various primary factions -- economic libertarians, party establishment types and cultural conservatives," according to CBS News' Marc Ambinder. But after more than a year of campaigning, Santorum is polling at just two percent among Republicans.

Santorum is unfazed, saying that his poor showing in national polls is only because he's focusing on important early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where he won a GOP straw poll earlier this year. Though to keep that win in perspective, Santorum was the only candidate to show up to the GOP dinner and took 150 votes out of the 408 cast.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

It's hard to predict what could happen in the GOP primary, but at this point, Santorum's barely-limping-along campaign seems in need of divine intervention.

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agenda items:

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

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

PFAW

Ohio Governor Signs Union-Busting Bill But The Fight Isn't Over

Welcome to Ohio 2011, the state that has become the new laboratory for various right wing bills aimed at destroying Ohio’s middle class, and communities of color. And it just got worse for Ohio workers. Last week, Governor John Kasich, ignoring the overwhelming majority of Ohioans, signed into law a bill that all but eliminates collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers across Ohio. This law, couched as a way to close the state’s budget gap, is nothing more than an outright attack on working families. Kasich even predicted this day in March 2009 when telling a Republican audience on the campaign trail, “we need to break the back of organized labor in the schools."

Ohio’s new law, SB 5, will:

  • Limit collective bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters.
  • Give elected officials the authority to resolve contract disputes with public employees.
  • Eliminate binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes.
  • Prohibit strikes by public employees.

Also, in a burst of equal-opportunity gay-bashing to accompanying its union bashing, the bill also includes provisions prohibiting the state from passing marriage equality legislation, including, apparently, the recognition of marriages in other states and possibly even the enactment of domestic partnership laws.

This politically driven law is very unpopular in Ohio. According to a poll released by Public Policy Polling on March 15, 2011, 63% of registered Ohio voters believe that public employees in Ohio should have the right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working environment rules.

However, Ohio voters will have the last word in protecting the state’s working families. Ohioans from all corners of the state are already gearing up for our upcoming ballot battle. We will gather approximately 231,000 Ohio voter signatures for a November 8th referendum to overturn this legislation. And we will be victorious!

We must move quickly. Stay tuned for weekly updates on how you can become involved in helping to overturn this law!

PFAW

The Right's Use of Records Requests to Chill Dissent and Attack Academics

In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.

Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.

Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.

It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.

This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.

Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.

People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.

Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.

That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.

So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.

The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:

The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.

We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.

That is the American Way.

PFAW

Women in Congress Speak Out on Attacks on Women's Health

Last night, as the House debated an amendment from Rep. Mike Pence that would strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, some women in Congress responded with personal stories.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California revealed that she had had an abortion for a troubled preganancy, telling her anti-choice colleagues: "I lost the baby. And for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous":

And Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin spoke of her own experience with unplanned preganancy and raising children in poverty. "The public policy has treated poor children and women who have not had the benefit of planned parenthood with utter contempt," she said:

Earlier this week, People For President Michael Keegan called efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and similar organizations "a blatant attempt to play politics with women's health"

“This is a shameless attempt to stir up a Right Wing “culture war,” whatever the collateral damage-- in this case, critical healthcare for millions of low-income women. If the House GOP is really interested in preventing unintended pregnancies, it should embrace organizations that provide affordable contraception. If it’s interested in public health, it should be interested in helping women defend themselves against disease. If these bills become law, millions of American women will lose access to critical family planning and reproductive health services. This move is not fiscally responsible or socially responsible—it’s a blatant attempt to play politics with women’s health.”

 (h/t Huffington Post and RH Reality Check)

PFAW

More Voices Call For a Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United as Ruling’s Anniversary Approaches

Friday is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which helped unleash massive corporate spending in the 2010 elections, and more voices have emerged to denounce the Court’s wrongheaded and extreme ruling. The decision’s impact on public policy debates became more apparent today as the House of Representatives prepares to vote to repeal the health care reform law after pro-corporate groups spent handsomely to discredit the law with bogus charges and attack Congressmen which supported reform.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea, have launched Business for Democracy, “a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “members of ‘Business for Democracy’ believe ‘the decision is inconsistent with the basic ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’" and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

In today’s Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed how the vast corporate spending to influence the midterm elections was “just an experiment” compared to how corporations plan to sway the 2012 election. But despite the push by pro-corporate groups to keep spending by businesses in elections unchecked, the efforts for legislative remedies and the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United persevere:

According to Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate, Citizens United spending - that is, spending that was only made possible by the court's ruling - accounted for 15 percent of the roughly $4 billion spent on the 2010 midterm elections. Eighty-five million dollars of Citizens United money was spent on U.S. Senate races alone. Worse, 30 percent of all spending by outside groups was funded by anonymous donations, an illegal action prior to the ruling. Forty million of the dollars spent on Senate races came from sources that might never be revealed.

But as striking as these consequences might be, the 2010 election was just an experiment, the first opportunity to test the new law. In future elections, corporations and shadowy organizations will have a clearer understanding of the boundaries they are operating within, a reality that is sure to translate into more undisclosed cash. And the savvier corporate players know that the mere threat of a corporate onslaught of funding for or against a candidate is enough to win legislative favor, in effect blunting prospects for sound regulation, consumer protection and fair tax policies. As former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), himself a victim of Citizens United spending, said, "It is going to be worse in 2012 unless we do something - much worse."

Yet even as we lament this decision, we should recognize the opportunity it presents. Justice Roberts and his allies overreached so brazenly that they have created an opening for genuine reform.



The clearest and boldest counter to the court's ruling would be a constitutional amendment stating unequivocally that corporations are not people and do not have the right to buy elections. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced such an amendment to counter Citizens United during the last session of Congress and views it as the only sure way to beat back the court. "Justice Brandeis got it right," she noted last February. " 'We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.' "

Campaigns for constitutional amendments demand a great deal of patience and tenacity. But as Jamie Raskin, a Democratic Maryland state senator and professor of constitutional law at American University, notes, "American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies." Not only is a push for an amendment a worthy act, it also provides a unique opportunity to educate the broader public, raise the profile of this important issue and force elected officials to go on record as to where they stand. The campaign could create enormous pressure on state legislatures and Congress, prompting changes to campaign finance even before an amendment is ratified.

Success will require a coalition that transcends party. In this case, there is promising news. An August 2010 Survey USA poll found that 77 percent of all voters - including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents - view corporate spending in elections as akin to bribery. Broad majorities favor limiting corporate control over our political lives. A coordinated effort, executed right, could unite progressives, good-government reformers and conservative libertarians in a fight to restore democracy.
PFAW

Groundswell of Support for Overturning 'Citizens United' Continues

The latest polling on the Citizens United decision reflects the growing public support for overturning the Roberts Court’s ruling. According to a new Public Policy Polling analysis, 46% of Americans agreed that “Congress should consider drastic measures such as a constitutional amendment overturning the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections,” while 36% disagreed and one-in-five had not formed an opinion.

A large majority of Americans across party lines disagree with the Citizens United decision, according to poll after poll after poll after poll. Members of both the House and Senate have already introduced constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling and reaffirm Congress’s right to limit corporate spending in elections. As Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the chief sponsor of one amendment in the House, told the Huffington Post:

A lot of progressives are not accustomed to using the mechanisms of the Constitution. The right has used-- has tried to do that an awful lot of times on a whole range of different things in state legislatures and across the board. And as progressives, we're not accustomed to doing that, and this is one instance, though, where the populist demand is there, and our energy and our policy has to match that demand and a Constitutional amendment does that.

People For the American Way and Public Citizen joined together this election year to support candidates who pledged to back a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United, and are continuing the fight for both constitutional and legislative remedies by advancing bills such as the DISCLOSE Act. Americans are increasingly speaking out against the Court’s far-reaching pro-corporate bent, and calling on Congress to make sure that corporations don’t dominate the political system and drown out the voices of individuals.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.
 

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.
 

PFAW

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!

 

PFAW