senate

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

The Voter-Fraud Fraud: And On It Goes

As we get closer to Election Day, the cacophony over "voter fraud" grows louder. Here are just a few of the items we're seeing:

  • Fox News hypes the conspiracy theory that the Justice Department is sending out poll monitors to facilitate voter fraud.
  • Republicans are motivating their base by trotting out their baseless charge that Al Franken stole the Minnesota 2008 Senate election.
  • Georgia GOP groups and candidates are helping Tea Party groups access precincts as poll watchers to fight "voter fraud."
  • Rep. Keith Ellison calls out Minnesota "anti-fraud" group for voter intimidation. The "dead voter" cited by a Republican candidate to attack voter fraud last week is, in fact, quite alive.
  • Nevada’s Secretary of State thoroughly debunks Republican allegations of voter fraud and voting machine tampering.

It is important to remember why the Right puts so much energy into the Voter-Fraud Fraud, screaming and yelling and working overtime to tackle a mostly non-existent problem. While they don't root out the voter fraud that was never going to happen in the first place, they do intimidate people, often people of color and likely Democratic voters, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate.

PFAW

Rise of the One-Man PACs

Now that FEC rules allow political organizations to raise unlimited amounts of funds from individual and corporate donors, just a single individual or a handful of donors can finance their very own 527 Political Action Committee. But this is no longer a hypothetical matter as we are currently witnessing so-called Super PAC’s emerge with just one or a couple of wealthy donors. For example, the Concerned Taxpayers for America has spent close to a half a million dollars attacking incumbent Democratic Congressmen this election year. And according to FEC reports, it raised it’s $500,000 budget from just two donors:

Daniel G. Schuster Inc., an Owings Mills, Md., concrete firm, gave two donations to the group totaling $300,000, new disclosure records show. New York hedge fund executive Robert Mercer gave the group $200,000.

And that's the extent of the financial support reported by Concerned Taxpayers, which says it was formed in September "to engage citizens from every walk of life and political affiliation" in the fight against "runaway spending."

While the Concerned Taxpayers for America just has two individual donors, the 527 organization RightChange.com has only one. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “Fred Eshelman, the chief executive officer of North Carolina-based pharmaceutical research firm Pharmaceutical Product Development” donated $3.38 million to RightChange.com, which is “almost the entirety of the money the group has raised this year.” So far, RightChange.com has spent $3 million in ads supporting Republicans and attacking their opponents in competitive House and Senate races across the country.

And if you don’t want to funnel your money into a 527, you can just spend the money as an individual directly. In Tennessee’s eighth congressional district, Robert Kirkland spent close to $1.5 million on an independent expenditure campaign supporting his brother Ronald Kirkland in the Republican primary. Unfortunately for him, Ronald Kirkland won less than 25% of the vote and lost to Christian singer and farmer Stephen Fincher.

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

The Voter-Fraud Fraud

"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.

When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:

Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."

Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.

First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has

analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.

Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that

[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.

Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:

  • In Illinois, Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk inadvertently disclosed his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to two predominately African-American neighborhoods of Chicago and two other urban areas of Illinois with significant minority populations "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
  • In Houston, Texas, Tea Party poll watchers claiming to be preventing voter fraud have been accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway. The most aggressive poll watching has been at African American and Latino precincts. The Department of Justice is investigating.
  • In Wisconsin, Tea Party groups, the pro-corporate Americans for Prosperity, and the state GOP have been involved in a vote caging operation that seeks to challenge the eligibility of minority and student voters. In addition, dozens of billboards are being put up showing people behind bars with an ominous warning that voter fraud is a felony.
  • The West Virginia Republican Party plans to send "ballot security teams" to all of the state's fifty-five counties in search of "illegal activity" at the polls.
  • In Minnesota, a coalition of Tea Party and other right wing groups is offering a $500 reward for information leading to voter fraud convictions, an inducement that may encourage voter harassment.
  • In Indiana and elsewhere, Republicans and allies are photographing voters at early voting locations.
  • Michelle Malkin went on Fox News to discuss what the far right media outlet described as "reports of voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office." Malkin poured oil on the fire by claiming that "We are all voter fraud police now," accusing progressives of trying to win elections "by any means necessary."

This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.

These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.

Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.

Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.

Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.

In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.

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

The Mugging of Democracy in Alaska

The latest example of Tea Party violence making the news - Rand Paul’s county campaign coordinator stomping on the head of a pinned-down MoveOn activist - highlights just how completely outside the American norm these Tea Party candidates and their followers are. The actions of Paul’s goon squad also refocuses attention on a similar event in Alaska last week.

In Alaska’s Joe Miller, we have a candidate for Senate who not only refuses to open himself to press inquiry, he surrounds himself with an aggressive group of bullies who rough up a reporter who dares ask questions of the candidate.

As PFAW President Michael B. Keegan wrote in the Huffington Post, this is not acceptable behavior in a democratic society. It’s not even a close call.

History has proven time and again that democracies are fragile. The civil compact underlying a democratic society must be monitored and renewed constantly. Part of that contract is that candidates for public office don’t have private goons squads who use physical force against reporters or anyone else they perceive as a threat to their ambitions.

Another requirement is that when a candidate goes so far over the line against the norms of a democratic society, his supporters recognize the danger, put their country’s welfare first, and withdraw their support. Again, this is not even a close call.

So this is a moment of truth for the Republican Party, as it has to choose between the values of the Tea Party and those of the United States Constitution.

The GOP should not only loudly condemn this assault on democracy, it should stop funding Miller’s campaign and urge Alaskans to vote for someone else. Since Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator who Miller defeated in the primary, is already engaged in a write-in campaign to keep her seat, it’s not like the party doesn’t have an alternative, corporate-friendly candidate to easily turn to. Polls have shown her nearly even with Miller.

Continuing party support for a thug whose behavior undermines the foundations of our free society is a canary in a coal mine, another dangerous indication of the contempt for democracy held by a Republican Party under the sway of the Tea Party.

Should the voters of Alaska reward Miller and the Tea Party with a victory on November 2, America will have crossed a line: The tactics of Miller and his bully boys will no longer be considered quite so far beyond the norm, and we can expect to see more of the same.

And that should concern all patriotic Americans.

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

LGBT Community Speaks Out Against Gold’s Gym

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Gold's Gym!

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

Once again, thank you, Gold's Gym.

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

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

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

 

PFAW

Michael Steele’s ‘Disclosure’ Meltdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

PFAW

Timothy Egan Calls Out the Corporate Court

A classic claim of pro-corporate shills regarding Citizens United is that campaign finance reform is the equivalent to banning books and government censorship. As Chief Justice Roberts said, “we don’t put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats.”

But what Americans are experiencing this election year is the emergence of political organizations with secret sources of funding, an increase in corporate “Astroturfing” through front groups, and an avalanche of money to run misleading advertisements across the country.

In the New York Times, Timothy Egan points out how the astronomical amount of money poured into this election is actually drowning-out the voices of citizens and distorting the democratic process. Egan writes that the Court’s decision in Citizens United “will go down in infamy” for giving corporations the right to easily and secretly fund political groups “to bludgeon the electorate” by flooding the airways with deceptive ads:

Here’s what’s happened: Spending by interest groups in this fall’s senate races has gone up 91 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. At the same time, spending by political parties has fallen 61 percent.

So corporations, whose sole purpose is to return money to shareholders, were given the legal right to be “natural persons” in our elections and are now overwhelming them. But political parties, which exist to promote ideas and governing principles, have seen their voices sharply diminished.

If the hell of Colorado’s current election season is what those isolated, black-robed kingmakers on the high court had in mind, you certainly didn’t see it in the nonsense of their decision.

“We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in his concurrence of Citizens.

I can’t find any celebrating in Colorado, except by broadcasters cashing the checks of big special interest groups. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, by a large majority in the polls, agree on this: outside groups should not be allowed to dominate election spending.

The court missed the reality of what would happen once the floodgates were opened to the deepest pockets of the biggest players. They turned back a century of fine-tuning the democracy, dating to Teddy Roosevelt’s 1907 curbs, through the Tillman Act, against Gilded Age dominance of elections. They focused on a fantasy.

“The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox or the lonely pamphleteer,” wrote Justice Roberts.

Come to Colorado, your honor. You will see that those iconic individuals don’t have a prayer in the post-Citizens-United world, let alone some broadcast time for the soapbox.

Here was the court’s prediction: “The appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” Really? Perhaps the top complaint this year about the barrage of outside attack ads is that nobody knows who is behind them, which promotes the exact opposite of what the Roberts court predicted.

Celebrating yet? Get used to it. Though Republican-leaning special interests are currently outspending the other side by a 9-to-1 ratio, Democrats will soon follow Karl Rove’s lead and learn to bundle and hide wealthy contributors.

As ugly as 2010 has been, the next election cycle, for president in 2012, will bring us a John Roberts’s America that will make this year look like a town hall meeting from a Rockwell painting.
PFAW

Alexi Giannoulias Makes the Case for Overturning Citizens United

Illinois Democrat Alexi Giannoulias discussed the need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, which he called “a dangerous decision,” in a debate with rival US Senate candidate Mark Kirk. His Republican opponent, who has a habit of distorting and lying about his record, spoke in favor of greater campaign disclosure laws. However, Kirk voted against the DISCLOSE Act, which would have made sure that political organizations disclose their donors and make their funding sources more transparent. Giannoulias, on the other hand, has signed the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy, which calls on candidates for Congress to overturn Citizens United.

Crossroads GPS, which does not disclose its donors, has spent over $3 million in ads attacking Giannoulias, and its sister “Super PAC” American Crossroads has spent over $1 million to smear Giannoulias. Two groups which do not disclose their donors and are backed by corporate entities, the New Prosperity Foundation and the US Chamber of Commerce, spent around a half-million dollars each in ads to help Mark Kirk.

Watch:

 

PFAW

Republicans Benefit From Benefactor Who Said Women Should Enjoy Being Raped

As I was reading Brian's blog post on the "First Amendment Alliance" - the energy industry front group that has already pumped nearly a million dollars to purchase elect a Republican Congress - I came across a familiar name: Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy has donated $100,000 to the front group.

Anyone who was living in Texas in 1990 remembers Clayton Williams. He was the GOP candidate for governor who lost to Ann Richards that year - and who said that women should enjoy getting raped, a remark for which he was forced to apologize. As the New York Times reported at the time:

Mr. Williams made the remark on Saturday while preparing for a cattle roundup at his West Texas ranch. He compared the cold, foggy weather spoiling the event to a rape, telling ranch hands, campaign workers and reporters around a campfire, "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it."

By any standard, the remark was over the line, and the uproar over it contributed to his losing the election.

In 2008, John McCain insisted that a fundraiser at Williams' house be moved after he got worried about guilt by association ... but still took advantage of the $300,000 that Williams helped bundle.

The entire “First Amendment Alliance,” as if it weren't sleazy enough already, is particularly tainted by the participation of Clayton Williams. So, too, are the campaigns of Republican Senate candidates profiting from this dirty money, including Ken Buck of Colorado, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, and Sharron Angle of Nevada.

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."

 

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Right-Wing Group to Nevada Latinos: “Don’t Vote”

Republican-affiliated groups have been getting less and less subtle in their attempts to prevent those likely to be Democrats from voting. There was the voter-caging operation in Wisconsin that sought to scare young and minority voters away from the polls in the name of preventing the proven non-problem of “voter fraud.” There was Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk suggesting that poll watchers be sent to predominantly black districts, “where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers.” But enough of the dog whistle. A Republican-affiliated group called “Latinos For Reform” has made an ad simply telling Latinos in Nevada: “Don’t Vote." Here's the English transalation:

 The organization’s president, conservative Unavision pundit Robert Desposada, has acknowledged that Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle would do nothing to advance immigration reform. "I can't ask people to support a Republican candidate who has taken a completely irresponsible and bordering on racist position on immigration," he told Politico.

For someone who thinks Angle’s positions are “irresponsible” and “bordering on racist,” he seems awfully interested in getting her elected.

Update: Univision has refused to air the ad.

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Alaska’s New Super PAC: Brought to you by Federal Government Contractors

After extremist Republican Joe Miller upset incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, many Alaskans panicked over the prospect of having a Senator that wants to greatly diminish the federal government’s role in Alaska. After Senator Murkowski announced a write-in bid to take on Miller and the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, a new organization emerged to back the incumbent: Alaskans Standing Together.

Alaskans Standing Together is a “Super PAC” which can raise unlimited amounts of funds from individuals and corporations, and must disclose its donors to the FEC. The group is solely dedicated towards supporting Senator Murkowski’s reelection campaign and criticizing both of her opponents. So far, Alaskans Standing Together has reported having nine donors: Native American Corporations that have contributed over $800,000 to the group. But these Native American Corporations are also federal contractors, and many of them openly claim that they receive much of their federal money as a result of the legislative efforts of Lisa Murkowski. The corporations say that such money is needed since outside organizations like the California-based Tea Party Express are running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads promoting Joe Miller.

But as the Miller and Murkowski squabble over the non-party groups backing their campaigns, only Scott McAdams directly pointed to an important reason for the massive downpour in campaign cash:

The Democrat in the race, Scott McAdams, took a different approach, blaming the U.S. Supreme Court for opening up politics to unlimited corporate donations. If he's elected, McAdams said, he'd move to pass a campaign finance law backed by Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Barack Obama. He also seized on a claim the White House has been hammering in recent weeks: that unlimited corporate money has the potential to give foreign-owned corporations a say in U.S. elections.

"As a small state, Alaska can't afford to allow its elections to be overtaken by corporate spending," McAdams said. "Unfortunately, Sen. Murkowski has voted to allow corporations, including foreign corporate money, to continue to influence elections."

Outside independent expenditure groups are playing a major role in the Alaska Senate race -- and those across the country. In previous elections, such contributions wouldn't have been legal, but the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows corporate and union donors to inject unlimited amounts of money into politics.

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Extremely Extreme Extremism Update

With Election Day fast approaching, tens of millions of dollars from corporations flooding the airwaves each week and seemingly endless news stories about apathy in the Democratic base, right-wing candidates are getting more brazen -- advancing ever more extreme positions and spreading outright lies.

Sharron Angle, the Republican running to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, told a crowd that Dearborn, Michigan and a town named Frankford, Texas are under Islamic Sharia Law. Utter nonsense. The statement earned her a strong rebuke from the Mayor of Dearborn and it turns out that Frankford, TX doesn't even exist!

Rand Paul, running for Senate in Kentucky, now supports ending the income tax in favor of a more regressive national sales tax that would hit the poor and middle class far more harshly than the income tax. After saying a few months back that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and making controversial statements about mining and the BP oil spill, Paul's handlers have tried hard to keep his extremism under wraps. But for someone as "out there" as Rand Paul, that's hard to do for very long.

In a debate on Wednesday night, Tea Party favorite and Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, perpetuating an attack that has been thoroughly discredited, accused her Democratic opponent Chris Coons of being a Marxist, based on Coons' tongue-in-cheek comment in an article he wrote as a student. On a roll, O'Donnell launched into a rant that included attacks on Coons for things he never said and completely fabricated declarations about the "tenets" of Marxism.

These are just some of this week's salvos from the right-wing Rogue's Gallery of Senate candidates -- let's not forget some of the past gems from Tea Party candidates. Sen. Russ Feingold's opponent in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, is such an extreme pro-corporate ideologue that he tries to push the notion that global warming is caused by sunspots in order to cover for corporate polluters... he also wants to drill for oil in the Great Lakes and even fought against protections for victims of child abuse on the grounds that it would be bad for business.

But the worst of the bunch has to be Colorado's GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck. When he was a county D.A., he refused to prosecute a rape that the accused essentially admitted he had committed. Instead, Buck chose to blame the victim, calling her charges a case of "buyer's remorse." Perhaps most disturbingly, it appears his statement and inaction might have been retribution for what some claimed was an abortion the victim had a year before (despite the victim's claim that she had a miscarriage). Keep in mind this is a man who is against legal abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and apparently agrees with Sharron Angle that rape victims who become pregnant as a result of their assault should make "lemonade" out of "what was really a lemon situation."

If this weren't enough, this week an interview from March reemerged in which the "get rid of government no matter what the cost" Buck actually came out in favor of privatizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Imagine the CDC privatized -- the profit motive being the sole determination for whether the Center might act to save millions of lives... or let millions suffer or even die.

This is what extremism looks like. These could be the new people making our laws.

But it's not too late. We can Stamp Out Extremism. Please, this election, dig deep, speak out and get involved.

The latest poll numbers have progressive Democrat Joe Sestak ahead of pro-corporate extremist Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race for the first time... Colorado is a very tight race and our endorsed candidate Michael Bennet is in position to defeat Buck with enough of our help... the progressive Senate candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, is running very close and could actually beat Republican Rand Paul because of his extremism... and we are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate and stop the radically right-wing Ron Johnson. We are in the process right now of producing ads for all of these states and more, and finalizing our field plan to get out the vote.

Please stay tuned for more on those products and activities, and, in the meantime, help spread around our resources, like our "Rogues Gallery" report, which calls out the GOP's extremist Senate candidates, and our "After Citizens United" report, which exposes the corporate front groups that are trying to buy this election for the Republicans.

UPDATE: Jed Lewison at Kos highlights right-wing candidates attacks on the miminum wage:

As Joan McCarter (here, here, and here) and DemFromCT (here) have documented, in the past few weeks leading Republican candidates have come out against the minimum wage, either calling for it to be lowered or for eliminating it altogether because they think it's unconstitutional. And now West Virginia GOP Senate nominee Joe Raese is once again vowing to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act which established the minimum wage.

The key thing about the GOP position is that it's not just the minimum wage that they want to get rid of. They want to nuke virtually every law and regulation that protects workers. And that includes another provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act: overtime pay.

UPDATE 2: Tea Party House candidate in California's 11th Congressional District, David Harmer, wants to abolish public schools. Sharron Angle and others want to do away with the Department of Education, but Harmer's position could be an even more extreme attack on public education. Harmer is leading progressive incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in the polls...

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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.

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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:
 

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