Supreme Court

Obama Speaks Out, Again, on Citizens United

While addressing a fundraiser in Connecticut for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is running against self-funding multimillionaire Linda McMahon, President Obama laid into the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and its devastating consequences. With the possibility of the Senate passing a new version of the DISLCOSE Act, which would mitigate the Supreme Court’s ruling by requiring political organizations to publicly disclose its financial backers, President Obama reminded us again on why Citizens United is so dangerous to democracy:

This is a tough election season. People are hurting and they are understandably frustrated. And a lot of them are scared. And a lot of them are anxious. And that means that even when people don't have ideas, if they've got enough money behind them, they may be able to convince some folks that, you know what, just cast a protest vote, throw the bums out. That's a mentality that has an appeal. And you can't blame folks for feeling that way sometime. But that's not a future for our country, a country that's more divided, that's more unequal, that's less dynamic, where we're falling behind in everything from investment in infrastructure to investment in R&D. That's not a vision for the future.

And if that's not a future you accept for this nation, if that's not the future you want for your kids and for your grandkids, then we are asking you for help in this election.


Because if you don't think the stakes are large -- and I want you to consider this -- right now, all across the country, special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates. Because last year, there was a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United. They're allowed to spend as much as they want without ever revealing who's paying for the ads. That's exactly what they're doing. Millions of dollars. And the groups are benign-sounding: Americans for Prosperity. Who's against that? Or Committee for Truth in Politics. Or Americans for Apple Pie. Moms for Motherhood. I made those last two up.


None of them will disclose who's paying for these ads. You don't know if it's a Wall Street bank. You don't know if it's a big oil company. You don't know if it's an insurance company. You don't even know if it's a foreign-controlled entity. In some races, they are spending more money than the candidates. Not here because here the candidate is spending a lot of money. They're spending more money than the parties. They want to take Congress back and return to the days where lobbyists wrote the laws. It is the most insidious power grab since the monopolies of the Gilded Age. That's happening right now. So there's a lot of talk about populist anger and grassroots. But that's not what's driving a lot of these elections.


We tried to fix this, but the leaders of the other party wouldn't even allow it to come up for a vote. They want to keep the public in the dark. They want to serve the special interests that served them so well over the last 19 months.


We will not let them. We are not about to allow a corporate takeover of our democracy. We're not about to go back to the days when special interests took advantage of Main Street families. We're not going to go back to the days when insurance companies wrote the rules that let you languish without health care because you had a preexisting condition. We're not going to go back to the exact same agenda we had before I took office.

PFAW

PFAW Sends Letters to GOP Leaders Urging them to Denounce Fischer, Skip Values Voter Summit

People For's President, Michael Keegan, sent the following letter today to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, all of whom are scheduled to appear this weekend at the Values Voter Summit, alongside the virulently anti-Muslim and anti-gay Bryan Fischer.

Dear ________:

I am writing to express my concern about your appearance this weekend at the upcoming Values Voter Summit. Among the participants this weekend will be Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. We urge you to publically denounce Fischer’s record of hate speech and extremism, and reconsider appearing beside him this weekend.

People For’s RightWingWatch.org blog has tracked Fischer’s career over the past several years. His long and prolific record of hate speech and extremism includes the following recent statements. Just in the past year, Fischer has:

I am attaching the names of over 6,500 concerned citizens who have signed the following letter regarding your participation in the summit:

Values Voter Summit Participants:

Reasonable people can, and do, have reasonable differences of opinion. Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, is not a reasonable person.

By sharing a stage with Fischer at this year's Values Voter Summit, public figures acknowledge the credibility of his shameless anti-Muslim and anti-gay propaganda. Any candidate thinking seriously of running for president in 2012 should think twice about standing alongside a man who has called for the deportation of all Muslims in America; insulted Muslim servicemembers; claimed that brave Americans died in vain because Iraq was not converted to Christianity; and called gay people deviants, felons, pedophiles and terrorists. Bryan Fischer is no mainstream conservative. And neither is any person who shares a platform with him while refusing to denounce his hate-filled propaganda.

We urge you to denounce Fischer's extremism and separate yourself from his comments.

For more background on Fischer’s extreme rhetoric, please click here.

Fischer’s appearance with conservative leaders such as yourself lends his extreme hate speech credibility. We urge you to publicly denounce Fischer’s record and to think twice about sharing the stage with him.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan
President, People For the American Way

 

PFAW

Women Are Not WorthLess

With time running short in the 111th Congress, National Women’s Law Center wants the Senate to know that Women Are Not WorthLess.

National Women’s Law Center produced this new video as part of their ongoing efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which People For the American Way supports, along with American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, National Committee on Pay Equity, and hundreds of other organizations and countless advocates nationwide.

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the Supreme Court’s devastating Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – as the first major milestone of the Obama Administration. Still, this new law cannot on its own do the job of eliminating the wage gap. Additional tools are necessary to bring equality to the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. Especially in this unsteady economy, people who are struggling to pay their bills shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are being discriminated against in the workplace. We need the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join National Women’s Law Center and Women Are Not WorthLess in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

The Citizens United Fallout Reaches Ohio

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, state-level laws regulating corporate election spending have been crumbling. Today, yet another bit the dust:

An agreement between Ohio elections officials and an anti-abortion group voids a state ban that kept businesses and unions from funding pre-election broadcast ads in support of specific candidates.

The Wednesday agreement in U.S. District Court in Columbus settles part of a 2008 lawsuit brought by Ohio Right to Life Society Inc. against the Ohio Elections Commission and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. It follows a January U.S. Supreme Court decision that strikes down a similar federal ban.
 

PFAW

Is “Eagerness to Obstruct” a Requirement for New GOP Senators?

Yesterday, former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte narrowly defeated Tea Party insurgent Ovide Lamontagne in the state’s Republican senate primary.

Ayotte is hardly a political moderate—Sarah Palin has anointed her a “Mama Grizzly”—but that didn’t keep her from being attacked from the right. One of Lamontagne’s charges against her? Ayotte said that if she were in the Senate she would have voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Lamontagne’s full-on attack on Ayotte for conceding that Sotomayor was qualified to sit on the Supreme Court helped to propel him to within 2,000 votes of the much better-known, better-funded Ayotte. In addition to a lengthy screed on “Obama Judges” on his website, Lamontagne got a leg up from the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which spent $50,000 on an ad campaign attacking Ayotte for her Sotomayor support.

Never mind that in 2009, a full nine Republican senators voted to confirm Sotomayor—including New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, who said of the nominee, “Her views and decisions, although strongly stated, are certainly not out of the mainstream of American jurisprudence or political thought."

Cooperating with the president to put moderate judicial nominees on the bench is apparently no longer a legitimate GOP position. Gregg (who is vacating the seat Ayotte is seeking) was one of only five Republicans to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan this spring. But the Kagan vote was an example of outright bipartisan bonhomie compared with the GOP’s stand on lower court nominees. Fewer Obama nominees have made their way through the Senate than under any president since Nixon—in a large part the result of the GOP’s unified refusal to vote on even those nominees with no Republican opposition.

By the time the Kagan nomination came around, Ayotte had learned her lesson on moderate judicial nominees, and issued a statement panning the Solicitor General. Ayotte’s struggle shows the enormous amount of energy the Right is spending on obstruction as a strategy in itself—and the danger for those who occasionally try saying something other than “No.”

 

 

PFAW

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Is Held Unconstitutional

Yesterday in a California courtroom, the already decaying edifice of anti-LGBT discrimination crumbled just a little bit more: U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that Don't Ask Don't Tell violates the United States Constitution. Specifically, she held that DADT violates servicemembers' Fifth Amendment due process rights and their First Amendment speech rights.

With regard to the due process aspect, Judge Phillips cited Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case where the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law criminalizing consensual sex between two people of the same sex. In Lawrence, the Court held that intimate consensual sex is part of the fundamental constitutional right to privacy.

Since a fundamental constitutional right is at stake, Judge Phillips analyzed DADT using a higher level of scrutiny than rational basis: In order for DADT to stand, (1) it must advance an important governmental interest, (2) the intrusion on constitutionally protected intimate conduct must significantly further that interest, and (3) the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest.

Recognizing that judicial deference to Congress is traditionally highest in the context of legislation regulating the military, Judge Phillips correctly noted that "deference does not mean abdication." She carefully examined the evidence provided by the government and found that the Administration failed to demonstrate that DADT significantly furthers the government's interests in military readiness or unit cohesion, the second prong of the constitutional analysis.

Furthermore, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs demonstrated that DADT actually frustrates military readiness and unit cohesion: Qualified servicemembers are discharged under DADT during wartime troop shortages (the same shortage that pressures the military to ramp up "moral waivers" to admit far less qualified convicted felons); servicemembers with critically needed skills and training are discharged; DADT hurts recruiting efforts; and DADT diminishes the otherwise merit-based nature of the military.

Judge Phillips also cited damning evidence that the military doesn't believe its own propaganda about DADT:

Defendants routinely delayed the discharge of servicemembers suspected of violating the Act's provisions until after they had completed their overseas deployments. . This evidence, in particular, directly undermines any contention that the Act furthers the Government's purpose of military readiness, as it shows Defendants continue to deploy gay and lesbian members of the military into combat, waiting until they have returned before resolving the charges arising out of the suspected homosexual conduct. If the warrior's suspected violation of the Act created a threat to military readiness, to unit cohesion, or to any of the other important Government objectives, it follows that Defendants would not deploy him or her to combat before resolving the investigation.

Judge Phillips is right: DADT makes no sense and it violates the Constitution. The House of Representatives has already voted to consign this discriminatory policy to the ash heap of history. It's time for the Senate to do the same and send a bill to the President's desk.

PFAW

Alabama County Brings the Voting Rights Act to Court

An 87% white county in Alabama is arguing that some of the anti-discrimination protections in the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary…and its case might end up in the Supreme Court.

Shelby County is protesting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties with a history of discriminatory election practices to run new election rules by the Justice Department.

"For Congress to continue to interfere with Shelby County's electoral autonomy in 2010 based on conditions that existed in 1965 is both arbitrary and without constitutional justification," according to one of the county's written arguments in the case.

Shelby County's complaint is that Section 5 of the law -- which says the Justice Department has to make sure election-related changes don't discriminate against minority voters -- is no longer necessary and that complying with the law is a significant legal expense for county taxpayers.

The county, however, does not provide any details about the "taxpayer dollars, time and energy" it has spent over the years asking the federal government to pre-approve things like new district lines or polling place changes. The U.S. Justice Department, the defendant in the lawsuit, argues the claim about expenses is vague and unsupported by evidence.

A number of African American residents of Shelby County disagree that voter discrimination is an outdated problem, and have tried to stop the county’s suit from going forward. They have some concrete examples to back them up. Just in 2008, a redistricting plan for one city in Shelby didn’t pass Justice Department muster because it eliminated the city’s one majority-black council district.

Shelby County’s argument recalls some of the right-wing objections to the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland said of the 1965 bill, "It was set up to be temporary, just to get things to where they should be," he said. "And if you look at the results we have here in Georgia, I think you can see that it's worked. Its time has passed."

If only it had.
 

PFAW

Corporate Groups take aim at Hodes in New Hampshire

What happens when a principal leader in the fight for greater corporate accountability runs for higher office? He becomes the target of a tremendous and misleading assault by new corporate-backed groups that have gained new prominence in the wake of Citizens United.

As one of the first leaders to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Citizens United, New Hampshire Congressman and Senate candidate Paul Hodes understands the risks posed by swelling corporate power. He has also signed the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy, which asks candidates to give Congress back the right to curtail electoral spending by corporations.

Pro-corporate organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the American Action Network have started to pummel Hodes with ads in order to tear down his run for the open Senate seat vacated by Sen. Judd Gregg, one of Wall Street’s champions in Congress. The Chamber of Commerce, which has pledged to spend $75 million altogether in the 2010 elections, has already committed $1 million to criticize Hodes over the airwaves. Political Correction describes the Chamber of Commerce’s anti-Hodes advertisement as “deeply dishonest” and responsible for employing grandiose and embellished allegations regarding health care reform.

The American Action Network has spent $500,000 against the Congressman, which is unsurprising since the organization is led by a mix of Wall Street moguls and their advocates. Their ads in the New Hampshire race have come under such scrutiny that even a former Republican state senator who is supporting GOP frontrunner Kelly Ayotte co-wrote an op-ed which claims that the group’s ad campaign against Hodes is filled with “gross inaccuracies” that “corrode public confidence in the political process, and are completely contrary to the national interest.”

According to Democracy 21, even though these groups are spending large sums attacking progressive champions like Paul Hodes, they have not disclosed their donors to the FEC. Kenneth Doyle of the good-government group writes that the Chamber “provided no information in their FEC reports about where they get the millions of dollars used to pay for their political advertising.” Like the Chamber, the American Action Network “provided no information about any donors supporting the group’s campaign efforts.” Consequently, New Hampshire voters may never know which corporations or individuals are behind the enormous endeavor to vilify Paul Hodes and his effort to rein in corporate clout in government and abuses on Wall Street.

PFAW

Joe Miller’s Dangerous Views on Women’s Rights

After his dramatic upset win, Alaska Republican Joe Miller took a stunningly distasteful route when tweeting about his opponent: Senator Lisa Murkowski. Rumors in Alaska were flying that Murkowski, who is trailing Miller with vote totals without absentees and early-votes counted, would run in the general election even without the Republican nomination. Miller responded with this mind-boggling post about his rival:

Of course, Miller’s campaign promptly removed the Tweet and denied that the candidate was the author. Facing criticism, the campaign released a statement claiming that the author was referring to Alaska’s Libertarian Party, not the Senator.

But in light of this sexist outburst, no matter who wrote it, it’s worth asking what Miller’s attitude is towards women when it comes to writing laws.

The answer is that the Tea Party-loved, Sarah Palin-backed “small government conservative” has a very intrusive view of the government’s role in women’s lives and family decision-making: He opposes a woman’s right to choose in nearly all cases, believing that an abortion should be legal only when a woman’s life is endangered. He does not support exceptions for rape and incest, and is a staunch supporter of Measure 2, a referendum that passed with 55% of the vote, which forces minors to obtain the consent of their parents in order to have an abortion. In the case of sexual assault by a family member, minors can receive a “judicial bypass” from the Supreme Court, but can only petition the Court with the authorization of an adult family member or a law enforcement officer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of Social Workers and the YWCA all opposed the law, citing the lack of protections for girls who are homeless and the victims of abuse, incest, or rape. According to the Juneau Empire: “a girl who is struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, and is suffering abuse at home (maybe even the awful damage of incestuous rape),” because of Measure 2, “would be forced to either deal with the consequences of revealing this pregnancy to an abuser, or relive the abuse in a written statement before she is psychologically ready to do so.”

Miller is the preferred candidates of the right-wing Alaska Family Council, whose mission is to “to hold our public officials accountable to a higher law - the law of God.” He also strongly opposes comprehensive sex-education and stem-cell research, while a champion of the “global gag rule,” or the prohibition of US funding to family planning services and the groups that promote them.

The more combative Tea Party-style of campaigning by candidates such as Joe Miller, who previously paraded with assault weapon-wielding supporters, promotes a cold political agenda that sees government with little-to-no role in helping or protecting the elderly and disabled, low-income families, the unemployed, the uninsured, or victims of hate crimes. However, Miller believes in a severely expansive and invasive role for government when it comes to decisions over women’s bodies.

PFAW

48 Congressional Candidates have signed the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy—Find Out Where Your Candidates Stand

Last month, we started asking candidates for Congress to sign a pledge to support a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, and stop unlimited corporate spending in elections.

Today, we’re announcing the first batch of signers. 48 House and Senate candidates from across the country have signed the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy—you can find out who’s signed, who’s refused and who’s on the fence using our handy candidate map. Then you can call the candidates in your state who haven’t signed yet and urge them to fight against corporate influence in elections.

Public Citizen, our partner in the campaign, put together this video about the pledge and why it matters:
 

PFAW

Disclosure Laws Under Attack

Even after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision rolled back longstanding state and federal laws that attempted to limit corporate influence in democracy, opponents of any type of campaign finance rules have redoubled their efforts to weaken transparency in elections. Two right-wing political organizations and a business group recently sued to block the state of Minnesota from enforcing campaign disclosure and donation laws. They are seeking an injunction to prevent the implementation of the state's rule for corporations to disclose their political activities. In addition, they "seek to overturn prohibitions on corporations contributing directly to campaigns and parties." Currently, as a result of Citizens United, corporations can fund advocacy groups who can support and oppose certain candidates, but not the candidates themselves. If their lawsuit is successful, corporate financing of campaigns would expand to even greater levels.

Due to the state's current disclosure rules, donations from companies such as Target and BestBuy to the right-wing group MN Forward came to light. Without the DISCLOSE Act, organizations involved in federal elections are already able to conceal their donors, and President Obama recently warned against "a flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names." "They don't want you to know which interests are paying for the ads," Obama said; "The only people who don't want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide."

If the plaintiffs in Minnesota (which includes a for-profit business and two conservative non-profits: the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life) are successful, not only would corporations be allowed to hide their political financing from the public, but may even be able to directly contribute to the campaigns of candidates for public office.

It is already extremely difficult, especially without the DISCLOSE Act, to discover corporate financing of political groups. As a report by the Washington Post explains:

Long-standing IRS regulations require some groups to reveal their donors, and that is why the agency suddenly finds itself with what some might see as a more crucial watchdog role, stepping in to monitor disclosure in the absence of the FEC. But the IRS rules also have long-standing loopholes and, with limited resources and enforcement tools, the nation's tax collector is not set up to be a campaign regulator.

"The chances of the IRS being able to catch a violation of the tax law around campaigns is virtually nil," said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale who directed the agency's tax-exempt organizations division for 10 years. "Certainly if it happens, it's going to be well after the election has already ended."

As the assault on the remaining campaign disclosure laws intensifies, spending in elections is about to climb to new heights. Borrell Associates predicts that the Citizens United decision will lead to $400 million in new ads this election season, and that "political ad spending will reach $4.2 billion this year, double the $2.1 billion the firm estimated was spent in 2008."

But the most serious opponents of the effort to shed light on corporate financing in elections are obstructionists in the Senate: the Republicans who vote lock-step to prevent the DISCLOSE Act from coming up for an up-or-down vote. President Obama's call for the Senate to reconsider the DISCLOSE Act, which already passed the House, reminds us that the fight against the enormous corporate clout in our democracy is not over:

PFAW

The Price of Justice

The Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a startling report today on the skyrocketing cost of state Supreme Court elections. The amount of money spent on state judicial races in the 38 states that have them has more than doubled in the 2000-2009 decade compared to the decade before, the report finds—and most of it has come from big spenders with big agendas, such as the Chamber of Commerce and trial lawyers’ groups.

The sway of big money over judicial elections, the report argues, is only likely to intensify in the post-Citizens United world, where big spenders will be able to pour more money into judicial races while “using shell organizations to keep their role out of the public eye.”

Take the case of Louis Butler, a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who was nominated to fill a vacancy in the court in 2004, and four years later ran for a full term. Shortly after losing the election in 2008, Butler described his experience in a panel discussion at Georgetown. NPR reports:

"Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce decided at that point that: 'OK, we've had this court for all these years, we never had to worry about how the court voted. We get this new guy on the court, and all of a sudden we lose these three cases,' " Butler said. " 'He's gotta go.' "

And go he did, with the help of ads that tried to portray Butler, a former public defender, as soft on crime. One ad sponsored by the manufacturers and commerce group, the state's largest business lobby, began this way: "When our children go to school, they need to be safe. In our homes and neighborhoods, we need to be safe. Our sheriffs and district attorneys are on the front lines, protecting us. And you know what? Our judges need to know they also must protect us."

Executives at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business advocacy group, say they were only protecting themselves when they spent $1 million on television ads against Butler. James Buchen, an executive at Wisconsin Manufacturers, said the court under Butler had ruled to expand punitive damage awards and malpractice claims under a fragile 4 to 3 majority.

President Obama has since twice nominated Butler to a federal judgeship—and Senate Republicans have twice sent his nomination back.

Corporate courts—whether elected or appointed—don’t happen by accident. And after Citizens United, the fight to keep courts from having pro-corporate biases has become even harder.
 

PFAW

We’re on the Air in Iowa

One of the more baffling lines Republican lines of attack against Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her Senate confirmation hearings was the accusations of guilt-by-association with civil rights hero Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Many of Marshall’s critics tried to backtrack after realizing that criticizing the man who led the effort to desegregate American schools, and eventually became the first African American Supreme Court Justice, wasn’t exactly wise. But we don’t think they should be allowed to bury their attacks.

This week, People For went on the air in Iowa with a radio ad about Sen. Charles Grassley’s participation in the GOP’s anti-Marshall crusade. You can listen to it here.

And for more on why Grassley’s attacks on Marshall were so off-base, read People For board member Julian Bond’s op-ed in the Des Moines Register: “GOP attacks on Marshall echo anti-civil rights message of 1960s.”

PFAW

Corporate Spending Run Amok in Florida

One week before the Florida primary, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum have spent a combined $51.2 million in the fight for their party’s nomination for governor. Rick Scott, the former head of the HCA/Columbia hospital conglomerate, already spent close to $38 million on his gubernatorial bid. In order to compete with Scott’s massive self-financed war chest, Bill McCollum, a former congressman and Florida’s current attorney general, has reached out to corporations to back his campaign.

Two political action committees have emerged to support McCollum’s campaign: the Sunshine State Freedom Fund and the Florida First Initiative. The Sunshine State Freedom Fund has received tens of thousands of dollars from corporations, including a $25,000 donation from the car dealership chain AutoNation.

The McCollum-allied Florida First Initiative obtained even more money from corporate backers, receiving $100,000 from Progress Energy and $50,000 from the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield. Most noticeably, the League of American Voters Inc. donated a whopping $600,000 to the Florida First Initiative. But as Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald point out, the League of American Voters “does not have to disclose its donors under federal tax law because it is a 501(c)4 nonprofit activist group.”

However, the reporters found out that the “secretive political committee” received a large amount of its funding from U.S. Sugar Corp. In fact, according to Bousquet and Caputo, U.S. Sugar Corp. is spending around $1.1 million altogether to prop up McCollum’s campaign for governor. U.S. Sugar Corp’s enormous funding to back Attorney General McCollum is especially troubling considering that the State of Florida is currently purchasing land from the same corporation, a project that involves the Attorney General’s office and the state’s future governor.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we may see Florida-like levels of corporate involvement elsewhere. Already in states like Minnesota, where barriers to corporate electioneering came down following the Citizens United ruling, corporations have dramatically increased their role in supporting particular candidates for office. Because of Citizens United, the enormous amount of corporate election spending witnessed in Florida may become the norm in other races across the country.

PFAW

What Citizens United has to do with Rod Blagojevich

Last night, a federal jury in Chicago convicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on just one of 24 counts of political corruption. On the rest of the counts, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked.

Scott Turow, the bestselling novelist who started his career as a US Attorney prosecuting political corruption cases in Chicago, writes in the New York Times that whatever the fuzziness of fact in the Blagojevich case, what is even fuzzier is the way our legal system deals with political corruption. The influence of big money is everywhere in our political process—and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the door for less showy, but equally problematic, versions of the corruption that Blagojevich is accused of.

Indeed, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court decided that such organizations could spend as much as they wished at any time, assuming there was no direct coordination with the candidate. In doing so, the court overturned its own precedents and refused to distinguish the free speech rights of corporations and unions in any way from those of actual people.

The problem with this logic is that corporations have a legal duty not to spend money unless it is likely to improve profits. Unions, too, are expected to make only contributions that will benefit members. As a result, no idealistic patina of concern about good government or values-driven issues can burnish these payments.

The future of other campaign finance restrictions looks bleak. Thirty-four years ago, when the Supreme Court first declared in Buckley v. Valeo that the First Amendment protected election spending, it nonetheless approved contribution limits “to prevent ... the appearance of corruption.” In Citizens United, the Roberts Court gave short shrift to any concern about appearances. Limits on direct contributions to candidates appear likely to be the next campaign safeguard to fall.

In any case, the bevy of ways in which donors can get around current spending laws, combined with the Supreme Court’s elastic approach to the First Amendment, have left our campaign finance system as little more than a form of legalized influence-buying. Only those as naive as Wanda Brandstetter or as crass and ham-handed as Rod Blagojevich find themselves subject to prosecution, while others wise enough to say less out loud find snug protection in the First Amendment, no matter how bald their desire to influence government actions.

We see daily examples of this sort of dynamic happening in elections—take the Florida governor’s race--where any causal relationships between campaign cash and policy decisions can never be fully sorted out. It’s a dangerous thing for democracy…and one, as Turow points out, we aren’t going to fix without a Constitutional amendment.
 

PFAW

Senators Set the Record Straight on Just Who the “Activist” Justices Are

A recent PFAW poll revealed that the vast majority of Americans are intensely concerned about the growing corporate influence in our country and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Judging from numerous remarks made during last week’s Senate hearings on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Court, it seems that many of our elected representatives feel the same way. Though Republicans attempted to vilify Kagan (and Thurgood Marshall!) with accusations of judicial activism, Democrats fired back, pointing out that in fact it is the conservative Court majority that has employed such activism in going out of its way to side with corporate America. Senators used the floor debate to decry the Roberts Court’s record of favoring corporations over individuals and its disregard for Congressional intent and legal precedent:

Senator Schumer:

The American people are reaping the bitter harvest from new laws that have been made and old precedents that have been overturned. Put simply, in decision after decision, this conservative, activist Court has bent the law to suit an ideology. At the top of the list, of course, is the Citizens United case where an activist majority of the Court overturned a century of well-understood law that regulated the amount of money special interests could spend to elect their own candidates to public office.

Senator Gillibrand:

Narrow 5-to-4 decisions by a conservative majority have become the hallmark of the Roberts Court. These decisions have often been overreaching in scope and have repeatedly ignored settled law and congressional intent. For example, in the Citizens United case, the Court not only disregarded the extensive record compiled by Congress but abandoned established precedent.

Senator Franken:

[A]bove the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court are four words, and four words only: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ When the Roberts Court chooses between corporate America and working Americans, it goes with corporate America almost every time, even when the citizens of this country, sitting in a duly appointed jury, have decided it the other way. That is not right. It is not equal justice under the law.

Senator Leahy:

It is essential that judicial nominees understand that, as judges, they are not members of any administration . . . Courts are not subsidiaries of any political party or interest group, and our judges should not be partisans. That is why . . . the recent decision by five conservative activist Justices in Citizens United to throw out 100 years of legal developments in order to invite massive corporate spending on elections for the first time in 100 years was such a jolt to the system.

Senator Whitehouse:

On the Roberts Court, one pattern is striking, the clear pattern of corporate victories at the Roberts Court. It reaches across many fields—across arbitration, antitrust, employment discrimination, campaign finance, legal pleading standards, and many others. Over and over on this current Supreme Court, the Roberts bloc guiding it has consistently, repeatedly rewritten our law in the favor of corporations versus ordinary Americans.”

Senator Cardin:

Well, this Supreme Court, too many times, by 5-to-4 decisions by the so-called conservative Justices, has been the most activist Court on ruling on the side of corporate America over ordinary Americans.

Senator Dorgan:

What I have seen recently and certainly in the case of Citizens United—and I believe it is the case in Ledbetter v. Goodyear—the Supreme Court too often these days divides into teams. By the way, the team that seems to be winning is the team on the side of the powerful, the team on the side of the big interests, the team on the side of the corporate interests. That ought not be the way the Supreme Court operates.

 

PFAW

New Poll Shows Americans Want Less Corporate Influence in Politics

Last month, we commissioned a poll asking people across the country what they thought of corporate influence in elections and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to expand that influence. The results were staggering.

A whopping 85% of voters surveyed said they thought corporations already have too much influence in our political system. 95 % agreed that “Corporations spend money on politics mainly to buy influence in government and elect people who are favorable to their financial interests.” 77% supported a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to limit the amount corporations can spend on elections, and 74% said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who shared that view.

Yesterday, MoveOn.org released the results [PDF] of a new poll on corporate money in politics, and guess what?

The MoveOn poll found:

  • “79% of voters polled, including 72% of Republicans and 75% of Independents, believe that it’s important that a candidate commit to reducing the influence of corporations over elections”
  • “Almost two out of three voters (60%) disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. Sixty-seven percent of those would be more likely to support a candidate who backs a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.
  • “Seventy-seven percent of voters overall (including 70% of Republicans Independents), view corporate election spending as an attempt to bribe politicians rather than an expression of free speech that should not be limited.”


No matter how you cut the numbers, the pattern is clear. Americans want voters, not corporate money, to own our democracy.

Speaking of which…have you asked your elected officials and candidates to sign the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy?
 

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Citizens United and State Laws

The Citizens United decision didn’t merely overturn nearly a century of federal laws and precedents; it also threw state campaign finance laws into turmoil. Before Citizens United, 24 states restricted corporate spending in elections. After the Supreme Court invalidated the federal laws governing corporate influence in political campaigns, states started scrambling to prepare for their own campaign finance laws to be struck down. And none too soon: as we’ve mentioned before, legal challenges have already started to bring down some of these state-level laws.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s attorney general formally announced that the state’s campaign finance laws would have to be repealed. A local news station reported that lifting these restrictions could lead to an increase in campaign spending from $30 million last year to $90 million this year. It remains to be seen whether Wisconson, like many of the other states affected by the Supreme Court decision, will enact disclosure laws to lessen the impact of corporate money on elections.

The conservative majority on the Roberts court didn’t just invalidate the anti-corruption measures enacted by our democratically elected Congress. It also limited the ability of state governments to decide for themselves how to regulate their own elections. Wisconsin’s election laws are just the latest casualty. To keep track of what’s happening in other states, go here.

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Julian Bond: In the Kagan Hearings, Echoes of the Past

Last month, Republican senators turned to a surprising strategy in their questioning of Supreme Court nominee (and now Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan. They attempted to smear Kagan by connecting her with a figure who most of us don’t see as a liability—the revered civil rights leader Justice Thurgood Marshall. The attacks Senators Charles Grassley, Jon Kyl, and Jeff Sessions levied at Marshall rang a bell for former NAACP member and People For board member Julian Bond. Bond writes in today’s Des Moines Register:

These attacks didn't surprise me because they're completely consistent with a party locked in the past, echoing the anti-civil rights message of those who opposed Justice Marshall's own confirmation in 1967.

Grassley, Sessions and their fellow Republicans roasted Solicitor General Kagan with the same attacks used against Marshall four decades earlier. Then, the late Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina complained about the likelihood that Marshall would be "a judicial activist," which he defined as someone "unable to exercise the self-restraint which is inherent in the judicial process when it is properly understood and applied, and who is willing to add to the Constitution things that are not in it and to subtract from the Constitution things which are in it."

When Ervin spoke of adding rights to the Constitution, there was no doubt that he was referring to the court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which he had fervently opposed. Ervin went on to join with 10 other southern Senators in voting against Marshall's confirmation.

Faced with the inevitable backlash for their attacks, today’s senators have tried to equivocate by saying they have no problem with Justice Marshall, just with his “judicial philosophy.” As Bond makes clear, that’s not a new—or convincing--argument.

For a refresher, take a look at the compilation of Marshall attacks Talking Points Memo put together after the first day of the Kagan hearings:
 

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Target apologizes, but will stay in politics

Why would two companies that received 100% ratings from the Human Rights Campaign's 2010 Corporate Equality Index give a combined $250,000 to a group backing a candidate with extreme anti-gay views? According to Target's CEO, the company was only trying to advance "policies aligned with our business objectives" when it contributed $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group whose sole purpose is to support the candidacy of State Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota.

MN Forward is a creation of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, and its top priority is, of course, lowering the corporate tax rate. In fact, MN Forward is led by Brian McClung, who previously served as "government affairs director for the Twin West Chamber of Commerce" and ran the "group's political-action committee." Benefiting from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the organization already raised $1.1 million, much of it from corporate donors like Hubbard Broadcasting, Red Wing Shoe Co., Federated Insurance and Davisco Foods. Ultimately, MNForward hopes to obtain $2 to $5 million in order to run advertisements across the state promoting Emmer.

It's not a surprise that big business has rallied around Emmer, who repeatedly voted against consumer protection laws, such as "good faith" requirements for insurance companies, and raising the minimum wage. In fact, Emmer was rewarded with a perfect 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce for his 2010 voting record. But Emmer is not only a consistent defender of corporations in the State House, but is also a leading opponent of gay rights.

He voted against a bill that would permit same-sex domestic partners to have rights over the burial of their deceased partners, and also opposed allowing domestic partners of state employees to collect health insurance. Emmer even voted against legislation that would mandate anti-bullying policies in public schools to protect LGBT youth. When a local Christian rock band's lead singer called the execution of gays "moral," Emmer refused to condemn the band, and instead called them "nice people."

While Emmer declined to denounce the viciously anti-gay rock band he has financially supported, he did take the opportunity to blast critics of corporate influence in elections as enemies of free speech.

In the end, faced with an outcry from shareholders and a boycott from consumers, Target's CEO apologized for the donations. However, the company did not say that it would stop making contributions; instead, it will create a review board to oversee future contributions.

No word yet from BestBuy and other companies who have financially backed MN Forward.

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