Fighting the Right

PFAW Panel on Constitutional Amendment at Take Back the Dream

At this week’s “Take Back the American Dream” conference, Representative Keith Ellison, Missoula City Councilman Jason Weiner, Rev. Barry Hargrove, and Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamie Raskin joined PFAW’s Marge Baker for a panel discussion entitled “Overturning Citizens United: A Movement Mandate,” to discuss the growing grassroots momentum at the local, state and federal levels for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision.

The standing-room only audience heard about a groundbreaking statewide ballot initiative in Montana calling for overturning the Citizens United decision by amending the Constitution, as well the pending Supreme Court decision on whether to hear the Montana State Supreme Court case giving the high court the opportunity to reconsider its decision. Panelists discussed the underlying need for amending the Constitution as the only effective way to reverse the harm caused by the Supreme Court in Citizens United. As put by Jamie Raskin, who is also a PFAW Senior Fellow, “For the sake of ‘We the People’ and our democracy, all corporate money is foreign money.”

The panel examined how this fight has galvanized the progressive movement as a whole, from jumpstarting voter registration drives to increasing general interest in politics and civic engagement.

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Waking up from the Nightmare

Although the DREAM Act seemed to remain a dream after being blocked by Senate Republicans in 2010, the Obama administration has recently taken steps to make staying in the United States a reality for thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

Last Friday, President Obama announced a new policy directive to allow undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 to apply for a two-year, renewable work permit if they met an array of criteria, including arriving to the United States before the age of 16, and are in high school, graduated from high school, or were honorably discharged from the armed forces. The plan doesn’t grant amnesty or a road to citizenship; but as the president stated, it is a “temporary solution” and “the right thing to do.”

This decision will positively impact up to 800,000 law-abiding, hard-working Americans who have until now lived in constant fear of deportation. One such DREAMer is 26 year-old Mohammad Abdollahi, who immigrated to this nation at the age of three from Iran. His family’s visa soon expired and was not renewed. Not only has Mohammad had to live the majority of his life in fear of deportation, but the price of being sent back to Iran was incredibly high. Mohammad is openly gay and due to Iran’s policy of capital punishment towards gay individuals, his deportation could be a death sentence.

With his life literally on the line, and running out of options, Mohammad became one of the first students to come out as undocumented in an attempt to pressure congress to pass the DREAM Act in 2010. Although the act didn’t pass, he hasn’t given up the fight. When President Obama made this historic announcement last week, Mohammad was occupying an Obama re-election office in Deerborn, Michigan as a symbolical plea directed towards the president to take action. This change in policy ends this nightmare for Mohammad and so many other DREAMers like him.

In his address in the Rose Garden, President Obama stated, “We are a better nation than one that expels innocent young kids.” Sadly, it seems many Republicans in Congress don’t share this value. After the announcement, Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas claimed, "President Obama's decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people…It also blatantly ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy.”

Not only is Rep. Smith just flat wrong to claim that the plan grants “amnesty,” he appears to believe that the foundation of our democracy requires ridding our nation of young, productive and patriotic members of society. Republicans should wake up and embrace this change as an opportunity to finally be a part of a more permanent solution.

PFAW

Context for the Effects of Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is commonly criticized by good government advocates because it has led to countless wealthy individuals and corporations making unlimited contributions in unprecedented amounts to groups attempting to sway electoral outcomes, often anonymously. As a result, those with means are able unfairly amplify their voices above that of average Americans.

To appreciate the magnitude of the ruling’s anti-democratic effects, it is important to consider the sheer amount of money that it takes to be a player in the Super-PAC game.

Sheldon Adelson, one of the world’s richest men with a far-right personal political agenda, plans to contribute upwards of $71 million in this election cycle, according to the Huffington Post. He is so determined to unseat the president that, after sinking $21.5 million on Super PACs supporting Newt Gingrich’s failed run, he is ready to refocus his efforts and spend similarly astronomical sums to support groups in favor of Mitt Romney and Republican congressional candidates.

His influence is real – $71 million can buy a lot of TV advertising, and ads funded by Super PACs and 501c4 groups can be particularly nasty because they are not officially “accountable” to a candidate. Average Americans, even those who can afford to contribute toward their preferred candidate, simply cannot compete on this scale. According to a friend of Adelson, “We think ‘$100 million, wow!’ But it’s a meaningless amount of money to him.”

In an interview with Forbes, Adelson acknowledged the reality that his extraordinary wealth allows him to influence elections in ways he otherwise couldn’t, in ways which ordinary Americans cannot. He doesn’t even think it’s a good thing, but that hasn’t stopped him: "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections," he said. "But as long as it's doable, I'm going to do it."

The only way to make hijacking our elections no longer “doable” is with a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. To anyone without a spare $100 million, the need couldn’t be clearer.

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ALEC's Desperate PR Strategy

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has created damage-control web site, “I Stand With ALEC,” asking people to submit a letter to members of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board and member legislators in support of the ultra-conservative, secretive organization. The form letter is here:

Stand With ALEC

Dear [Decision Maker],

As our economy continues to struggle, the need for strong leadership that promotes free markets and free enterprise is more crucial than ever. It's through limited government and a stronger private sector that we can create jobs and grow our economy. As a member of ALEC, I expect you to work on these types of solutions.

But I've seen in the news that these values, and groups that support them, are under attack by extremists. Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are important defenders of these free market ideals. You should know that this is exactly the kind of organization I expect you to work with. Don't let extremists sway you any other way.

It is through free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles that we can get the states and whole nation back on the right track. As a customer, I'll be watching closely to ensure that you represent those views in your decisions.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

[Your Address]

[City, State ZIP]

After the massive outrage sparked by revelations that ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force was responsible for the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws in the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin, ALEC tried to disavow that committee and claimed that it was “refocusing [its] commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles.”

ALEC’s portfolio of harmful policies goes much farther than that, including model bills that disenfranchise voters, destroy public education, block access to healthcare, damage the environment, weaken public safety and harm working families. So far, 19 corporations, 4 non profit organizations and 54 state legislators have left the organization for these reasons.

If ALEC thinks it can repair its reputation by asking the American people to send reassuring letters to its members, it should think again. A petition drive and phone campaign led by People For the American Way Fundation, Color of Change and other organizations has already directed over 500,000 signatures and calls to ALEC’s corporate members demanding that those companies end their ALEC memberships immediately. The American people have already spoken on this one, and they don’t stand with ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

Citizens United Continues to Stack the Deck

Two short paragraphs from a Wall Street Journal article about billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s political contributions vividly illustrate the damage to democracy done by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision:

Mr. Adelson has told friends that he intends to give at least $100 million to conservative causes and candidates this election cycle. He contributed some $250,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who just won against a labor union-forced recall election there.

But he has also told his friends and colleagues that he would prefer to keep his contributions under wraps in order to avoid controversy, and will likely focus donations mostly on non-profits affiliated with political PACS, which don’t have to disclose the names of donors. He is expected to donate to the conservative non-profit Crossroads GPS, which was founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, a longtime friend of Mr. Adelson, according to Republican fundraisers.

The article was prompted by recent revelations that Mr. Adelson donated $10 million – the largest amount single donation so far – to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney.

Adelson is credited for single-handedly keeping Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign afloat (for a while, at least), and he has long been pressured by Republican fundraisers to support Mr. Romney. Thanks to Citizens United, one very wealthy individual has the power to donate unlimited amounts to super PACS that are unaccountable to the public. And, as is the case with special interests who try to use their enormous wealth to skew elections, Adelson would prefer to keep his activities a secret so no one even knows who’s buying the race. Thanks to Citizens United, he can do exactly that.

PFAW

Johnson & Johnson Leaves ALEC

This afternoon, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would discontinue its membership in ALEC, making it the 19th corporation to do so.

The running tally of organizations and legislators leaving the American Legislative Exchange Council, as of today:

• Corporations: 19

• Non-profits: 4

• State Legislators: 54

ALEC’s agenda is as secretive as it is extreme, but the American people are sending a loud and clear message that legislation drafted by corporate lobbyists has no place in our statehouses.

PFAW President Michael Keegan said the following after Johnson & Johnson’s announcement:

“The extreme ALEC agenda harms all of us on a daily basis. It’s disturbing that so many American companies still have a hand in advancing legislation that suppresses the right to vote, impedes access to health care, weakens public education and jeopardizes public safety. I commend the persistence of the hundreds of thousands of activists who have demanded accountability from corporations supporting the ALEC agenda. Johnson & Johnson’s departure from ALEC is a big victory, and the other corporate funders who have yet to leave ALEC should take note.”

PFAW Foundation

Allen West's "American Way'

Congressman Allen West (R-FL) is out with a new ad this week. Set to soaring, dramatic music, the Congressman tells the story of his upbringing and how describes how his father gave him the opportunity live the American Dream. He runs through typical Republican talking points calling for tax cuts and slashing services, and laments the failings of Washington. It’s standard campaign-ad fare, and he concludes by stating “I’m just getting started; that’s the American Way.”

However, West’s record suggests that his notion of the “American Way” is rather at odds with the Constitution’s promise of freedom and equality for all.

The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religion for all Americans, and Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” But West thinks that Representative Keith Ellison (D-MI), a practicing Muslim, represents the "antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established." He also harbors some vehemently anti-Islamic ideas.

America is a country that values free speech and open debate. Yet West has a habit of resorting to calling his colleagues who disagree with him Communists. Liberals, he said, can just “Get the hell out of the United States of America.” 

Freedom of the press doesn’t seem to be high on his list either. He once called for censoring American news agencies for publishing information about the government’s activities.

West believes America is a land of opportunity – something to which he owes his own success – but “equality” and “fairness” somehow fly in the face of liberty. Marriage equality, he says, is not only un-American but will destroy society as we know it.

Congressman West may have produced a slick ad, but the agenda he pushes in Congress would increase inequality, harm working families, destroy core constitutional liberties and cripple Americans’ ability to address pressing problems through government. That’s not the American Way.

PFAW

Registration drives to resume in Florida

With the worst of the “Voter Suppression Act” blocked, pending litigation, community groups are set to get back to registering voters.
PFAW Foundation

Election Day Registration takes center stage in California

Seeking to increase turnout, the California Assembly has voted in favor of Election Day Registration.
PFAW Foundation

Massachusetts working toward positive electoral reforms

Where other states have placed obstacles between voters and the ballot box, Massachusetts is working on making the process easier.
PFAW Foundation

PFAW Helps Get Out the Vote in Wisconsin

PFAW staff, members and activists have been very busy in Wisconsin working to turn out every last progressive vote in the final days leading up to the June 5 recall election.

Here's PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager at a field office with our great partners at Voces De La Frontera, who headed up canvassing efforts in the Latino community:

Here he is giving a radio interview:

And canvassing door to door with volunteers from Voces:

These are just a few images from GOTV weekend... as members of our team return home and things become less intense, we'll have more pictures to share with you from various activies and events from our Recall the Right campaign in Wisconsin.

 

PFAW

Recall Foes Resort to Cheating

Opponents of Wisconsin's recall elections have resorted to one of the Right's favorite dirty tricks to suppress the vote: deceitful robocalls.

Wisconsin voters are reporting that last night, the day before the recall election, a wave of vote-suppressing calls are being made around the state, targeting voters likely to oppose Governor Scott Walker. The call allegedly tells voters that if they signed the recall petition, there was no need to actually vote: "If you signed the recall petition, you do not have to vote because that would be your vote." 

Unfortunately, the deceitful robocall tactic is not new in Wisconsin. Last summer, a group told Wisconsin Democrats not to vote on election day and instead wait for an absentee ballot. 

Wisconsin voters, be aware. It seems that the folks who pretend to be so concerned about voter fraud are in fact trying to steal the election themselves.

PFAW

Texas Voter Purge Endangering the Status of Hundreds of Thousands of Voters

While Florida’s local election supervisors are rebelling against a flawed voter purge championed by Gov. Rick Scott, the Houston Chronicle reports that Texas is holding its own voter purge that could jeopardize the status of hundreds of thousands of registered voters. As noted in the People For the American Way Foundation report, The Right to Vote Under Attack, faulty purge programs “can effectively disenfranchise large numbers of eligible voters” and have been frequently used to accomplish partisan agendas, and the Chronicle has already found many instances of people being wrongfully purged from the rolls:

More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 - often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data.



Statewide, more than 1.5 million voters could be on the path to cancellation if they fail to vote or to update their records for two consecutive federal elections: One out of every 10 Texas voters' registration is currently suspended. Among voters under 30, the figure is about one in five.

Texas voter registration rates are among the lowest in the nation, but Texas pays nearly twice as much to cancel voters - 40 cents per cancellation - as it does to register new ones at 25 cents.

State and federal laws require the nation's voter rolls be regularly reviewed and cleaned to remove duplicates and eliminate voters who moved away or died. But across Texas, such "removals" rely on outdated computer programs, faulty procedures and voter responses to generic form letters, often resulting in the wrong people being sent cancellation notices, including new homeowners, college students, Texans who work abroad and folks with common names, a Chronicle review of cancellations shows.
PFAW Foundation