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.
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.
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.
Wal-mart announced yesterday that it is ending their membership in ALEC, making it the 18th corporation to do so. The company also joins 4 nonprofits and 54 state legislators who have severed their ties to the organization.
Wal-Mart had been a member of ALEC since 1993, was a member of ALEC’s Corporate Board and was the co-chair of the recently-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force – the committee responsible for advancing dangerous gun legislation like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law around the country. Even as the nation’s largest seller of guns, Wal-Mart decided that the ALEC agenda is too extreme, going far beyond the free-market principles the organization claims to focus on:
"Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC's decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission 'to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets," Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government relations, said in a May 30 letter addressed to ALEC's national chairman and executive director.
"We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC."
Wal-Mart’s task force participation also included Health and Human Services, Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development, and Tax and Fiscal Policy, according to documents obtained and released by Common Cause. These committees are responsible for developing model bills that undermine workers rights, insurance mandates, capital gains taxes for the wealthy and deregulating certain industries.
People For the American Way’s President and Director of African American Religious Affairs spoke out about Wal-mart’s decision in a statement released this morning:
“Wal-Mart’s decision confirms the growing consensus in the business community that ALEC does far more harm than good,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “The 18 corporations that have stopped supporting ALEC’s dangerous agenda have made the right choice. Customers don’t want their paychecks going to support laws that disenfranchise and endanger their families and communities.”
“I commend Wal-Mart’s decision to listen to the thousands upon thousands of American voices who believe Wal-Mart had no place in an organization that tries to suppress the right to vote, promote discrimination and presents dangerous gun laws that are harmful to all,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action. “When we stand together to make our voices heard, the movement we build cannot be ignored. ALEC’s extreme and undemocratic agenda has motivated a diverse movement that is growing stronger every day. One by one, our efforts are helping make our communities better for all families and especially those most vulnerable – those with special needs, our children and our elders.”
People For the American Way is happy to congratulate Mary E. Gonzalez on her win last night in a Democratic primary in El Paso, Texas. She will run unopposed in November for District 75’s seat in the Texas State House of Representatives. Gonzalez, endorsed by PFAW Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressive program will be the only current openly gay member of the Texas state legislature.
Gonzalez won her primary with a decisive victory and garnered 52% of the vote. She has spent the past few years working in higher education with the University of Texas at Austin and Southwestern University. Additionally, she’s shown great leadership with her work as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for Texas’ Queer People of Color organization.
Once elected, Gonzalez will join former State Representative Glen Maxey as the only two openly LGBT members to have served in the Texas House. Her election may show a cultural shift in what is still a largely conservative state and gives the Texas LGBT community a voice in the Texas state government. Her addition to the Texas State House of Representatives cuts the number of state legislatures without an LGBT official to 16.
In total, the candidates in the 2008 presidential election spent just over $1 billion on their campaigns. Just four years ago, President Obama raised $750 million, primarily via small donations from grassroots supporters. But the landscape looks pretty different in 2012: that amount will be surpassed by just a handful of GOP patrons and super PACs alone.
Made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, dark money organizations like Restore Our Future and American Crossroads will raise and spend virtually unlimited amounts to prop up Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican ticket. Politico notes that American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, a Karl Rove brainchild, is expected to spend up to $300 million. That’s almost as much as John McCain spent on his entire 2008 run.
The bulk of campaign expenditures go to advertising – and $1 billion certainly buys a lot of airtime. Thanks to Citizens United, this elite group of financiers can buy the loudest, most far-reaching voice in the 2012 elections. The amount collected by Super PACs and 501 c(4)s dramatically dwarfs traditional party and direct-campaign fundraising, which is the mechanism by which the grassroots are able to contribute to the process. The contrast is stark:
Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, spent twice as much on the air as the campaign did in the thick of the primaries: Through March, the campaign had put $16.7 million into TV, while ROF shelled out $33.2 million.
In Florida, the super PAC outspent the campaign, $8.8 million to $6.7 million. (The campaign can get more spots per dollar because of more favorable rates.) In Michigan, it was $2.3 million to $1.5 million. In Ohio, ROF outspent the campaign, $2.3 million to $1.5 million.
The Citizens United decision has granted the 0.01% more leeway to try to buy our democracy than ever before. The sheer numbers make the need for constitutional remedies to overturn that decision and restore the balance of influence in our elections to everyday Americans is more apparent than ever.
If there was any question that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United skews the balance of influence in our elections to the rich, an analysis by Rolling Stone shows that the real beneficiaries of the decision are really the very very rich. This profile of the 16 donors who have given at least $1 million to super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, including hedge fund managers, hotel tycoons, oil barons and of course, William Koch, reveals who is making the biggest impact in the presidential election.
In a democracy, we should be electing those who represent vast swaths of the American people. But one thing is clear: the special interests propping up Romney’s campaign have very little in common with average Americans. As Rolling Stone notes:
Most of the megadonors backing his candidacy are elderly billionaires: Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney's pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy – and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent. Romney has firmly joined the ranks of the economic nutcases who spout the lie of trickle-down economics.
How are these individuals able to throw so much of their wealth into the race? Essentially, Citizens United allows individuals and corporations to skirt the caps on contributions to campaign treasuries by funneling money through entities like Super PACs and 501c4 organizations:
Under the new rules, the richest men in America are plying candidates with donations far beyond what Congress intended. "They can still give the maximum $2,500 directly to the campaign – and then turn around and give $25 million to the Super PAC," says Trevor Potter, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. A single patron can now prop up an entire candidacy, as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson did with a $20 million donation to the Super PAC backing Newt Gingrich.
It’s unlikely that these donors are throwing so much money into the race solely for bragging rights – they certainly have agendas of their own. Most of the individuals profiled in the article stand to benefit from Romney agenda: more tax cuts to the rich, lax regulation of Wall Street and other industries, a hamstrung E.P.A, lucrative government contracts – and their outsized contributions demonstrate their belief that money buys influence. Citizens United exacerbated this unfortunate reality. At least that can be fixed by the people, with an amendment to the Constitution.
The most recent spate of companies fleeing from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been from the education and retail sectors, but yesterday ALEC got a rebuke from the healthcare industry as well. Medtronic, the medical technology company, has informed the Center for Media and Democracy that they did not renew their ALEC membership. Medtronic is the 17th corporation to leave the organization.
ALEC’s “healthcare” agenda is much less about helping sick people than about enriching healthcare corporations. To do so, ALEC advocates for policies that put quality care out of reach for many people by privatizing Medicare and Medicaid and repealing important laws that expand public access to care, including ObamaCare. They also push for the deregulation of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and seek to limit accountability for drug companies that produce faulty medications that can cause injury or death.
The ALEC agenda is extreme, and when it comes to public health, it’s downright dangerous. Medtronic now joins Blue Cross Blue Shield in doing right by their customers and patients by getting out of ALEC.
Wisconsin has enjoyed a rich tradition as a state of opportunity, a state welcoming social innovation and embracing progressive values. However, today communities across Wisconsin today are bracing for our June 5th gubernatorial recall election in response to a divide and conquer legislative strategy that rejected compromise and moderation.
Over the last year and a half, Wisconsin has reversed course to become a petri-dish for a radical, corporate social agenda. Growing evidence illustrates a strong influence by ALEC in promoting an economic and social attack on Wisconsin workers and their families.
Although the assault on workers’ rights to collectively bargain is perhaps the most widely publicized of these legislative efforts, it was is just the tip of the iceberg. Wisconsin’s middle class is being hurt by massive funding cuts to K-12 public education, fewer restrictions on for-profit schools, greater restrictions on voting, debilitating funding reductions to technical schools, reduced water and air pollution protections, massive corporate tax giveaways, an unparalleled attack on women’s health and reproductive rights, defunded public transit, reduced access to life-saving state safety-net programs, and fewer consumer protections.
Despite the extraordinary legislative efforts of Senate Democrats and countless hours of debate by Assembly Democrats calling for negotiations and moderation, the Republican majorities in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate were unwilling to check the Governor’s brutal attack on workers and their families. This attack on workers has left Wisconsin mired in a sluggish economy, leaving Wisconsin dead last in the nation for job growth.
With the Wisconsin legislature not scheduled to return to the Capitol until January, all eyes are on the electoral process. The Governor’s seat and control of the State Senate will be decided on June 5th. The success or failure of these recall elections will likely determine the policy direction Wisconsin will take, and will have a ripple effect in legislative houses across our nation.
Chris Larson is a Wisconsin State Senator and a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to take full advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to push its right-wing agenda, according to its president, Tom Donohue. As reported by USA Today, Donohue told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor earlier this week that under that decision, the Chamber can and will run “an aggressive program” and will not disclose its donors.
Donohue also suggested that estimates that the business group would spend $50 million on the 2012 elect were too low. Thanks to Citizens United, individuals, corporations and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce can make unlimited, often anonymous expenditures on ads supporting or attacking candidates. Until that decision is overturned, disclosure rules would at least shed light on the process and give Americans insight into who is using their wealth to disproportionately influence elections.
But that’s not how Donohue sees it: “The disclosure thing…is all about intimidation.” While requiring disclosure might makes sense on the surface, he said, “in this instance you become a target.”
Americans deserve to know who’s trying to buy their elections. Even far-right Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia knows that "Democracy requires a certain amount of civic courage." Donohue’s demand that corporate entities be allowed to pour money into elections without having to show their faces makes his agenda perfectly clear: it’s not about democracy or free speech, it’s about maximizing corporate profits by any means necessary.
Two more educational organizations, the for-profit Scantron Corporation and the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, have ended their association with the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
Scantron, the educational testing company that produces standardized test forms (those ubiquitous bubble sheets), is the 15th corporation to sever ties with ALEC. The company was a member of ALEC’s Education Task Force, having first joined ALEC in late 2010. Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit foundation claiming to have invested assets in excess of $1 billion, makes grants to think tanks and other organizations with the goal of enrolling more Americans in college.
Scantron and Lumina join the growing list of educational organizations distancing themselves from ALEC’s education policies – an agenda that consistently prioritizes corporate profits over the needs of kids and communities. Other educational organizations to cut ties with ALEC include the for-profit Kaplan and the non-profit National Association of Charter School Organizers and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Transferring public resources to private hands is a major component of the conservative agenda. An extensive profile of the push to weaken public schools and transfer wealth to private academies through tax credit programs is the subject of an extensive profile in today’s New York Times, which highlights how conservative legislators, school privatization advocates and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council are helping secure tax dollars to bolster private school systems. Disguised as programs to help needy children gain access quality education, in reality these programs simply channel money to individuals who don’t need the assistance and boost profits for private schools, often at great cost to students and communities.
Across the country, state legislatures are adopting tax credit programs, which allow individuals and corporations to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax refund for donations to private school “scholarship funds.” In Georgia, for example, a couple can donate up to $2,500 to a nonprofit scholarship fund to be used to send a needy child to a private school. In turn, the donors can subtract their donation from their Georgia tax bill. But according to school administrators, needy children hardly benefit from the practice, with the majority of the funding benefitting children that already attend private schools:
“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”
The result is a system in which gives selected students a taxpayer-funded education at a private school. Around the country, the Times notes, similar programs have redirected nearly $350 million from public budgets. This “tuition” money may go to the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups or even to recruit star athletes – only a small portion goes to needy kids. Politics pervades the entire process, and it is glaringly evident that tax credit programs are more about making money than educating children:
Some of the programs have also become enmeshed in politics, including in Pennsylvania, where more than 200 organizations distribute more than $40 million a year donated by corporations. Two of the state’s largest scholarship organizations are controlled by lobbyists, and they frequently ask lawmakers to help decide which schools get the money, according to interviews. The arrangement provides a potential opportunity for corporate donors seeking to influence legislators and also gives the lobbying firms access to both lawmakers and potential new clients.
Organizations such as ALEC have been instrumental in spreading such programs around the country:
“ALEC is a huge player in pushing forward a conservative agenda based on the premise that the free market and private sectors address social problems better than the government,” said Julie Underwood, dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has been critical of ALEC’s education agenda.
ALEC promotes a “Family Education Tax Credit Program” similar to the program adopted in Georgia. The organization promotes a number of other methods of transferring public education dollars to private hands. In addition to numerous voucher and scholarship programs, ALEC promotes its “Education Accountability Act,” which allows a state to override the elected school board and declare schools to be “educationally bankrupt” and divert funds to private schools. Perhaps the boldest plan is the “Virtual Public Schools Act,” which permits online education companies to receive the same per-pupil funding as a brick-and mortar school providing classrooms, athletic facilities, lunch and transportation services.
Politics also makes its way into the classroom. Because the tax credit system allows the money to stay in private accounts – from donors to scholarship funds to schools – the effect is a loophole that creates a legal fiction that they are not being supported with government funds. So state governments are funneling taxpayer money to religious education and political indoctrination of children, insulated from court review. Republican Arizona Representative Trent Franks, who is credited with the idea to insulate private schools from court challenges for constitutional violations this way, bragged that the teachers’ union called the scheme “fiendishly clever.” As a result, the public is forced to foot the bill for a curriculum that would be unacceptable for a public school:
Frances Paterson, a professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia who has studied the books, said they “frequently resemble partisan, political literature more than they do the traditional textbooks used in public schools.”
Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., confirmed that his school used those texts but said they were part of a larger curriculum.
“You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” Mr. Arnold said. “Not only do we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things, we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”
ALEC, corporate lobbyists and conservative activists are pulling the rug out from beneath American kids and communities. Tax credit programs, vouchers and other “scholarships” are being used to promote profits and politics above education. All children deserve access to a quality education – instead of taking money out of public schools, we should make sure they work for everyone.
A major component of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s agenda is shielding corporations from liability by removing consumer protections and limiting the people’s ability to seek justice in a court of law. At their meeting last week in Charlotte, N.C., ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force considered legislation that would hamstring some of the mosteffective consumer advocates: state attorneys general.
Common Cause recently released some 4,000 of ALEC’s internal documents, including task force agendas, participants and model legislation. The documents revealed ALEC’s “Attorney General Authority Act” under consideration at the task force meeting, which seeks to limit state AGs from bringing suits against corporations. ALEC’s explanation of the bill reads in part:
Just as a private attorney cannot bring a suit on behalf of a client without the client agreeing and authorizing such action, and then only within the guidelines allowed by the client, so it should be with the attorney general. Rather than an attorney general deciding on his or her own what authority the office may have to bring a lawsuit, the authority should be defined by the state as reflected by the specific decisions of the legislature via statute. The legislature, not the attorney general, is best positioned to balance the competing concerns that go into the decision of whether to allow a cause of action and under what circumstances.
Put simply: this act would prohibit the attorney general from bringing a suit in the public’s interest unless the state legislature specifically authorizes it.
As the Minnesota Post astutely points out, a legislature that enacts such a provision to protect corporations is unlikely to subsequently grant the attorney general the authority to prosecute them. The consequences are significant: "This legislation would have prevented [an attorney general] from suing tobacco manufacturers in the ‘90s for tobacco-related health costs associated with the Medicaid program,” said Mike Dean, head of Common Cause of Minnesota. “It is easy to see why corporations would want to stop these types of lawsuits because tobacco manufacturer were forced to pay $6.1 billion in a settlement to the state of Minnesota."
This law doesn't just help ALEC-member corporations, it helps ALEC. After recently filing a whistleblower complaint with the IRS alleging that ALEC abused its tax-exempt status by failing to report lobbying activities, Common Cause is calling on state attorney generals to investigate ALEC for tax fraud in all 50 states. What better way to derail investigations into ALEC than by advocating for legislation that removes the attorney general’s ability to investigate ALEC?