PFAW staff and supporters welcomed home the Nuns on the Bus as they arrived in Washington, DC following a two-week tour through nine states. The Catholic sisters went on tour to stand in solidarity with those living in poverty and to push back against the Ryan Budget, which further enriches the wealthiest Americans while slashing vital programs that help our neediest citizens.
The nuns drove through nine states to help spread the word about how the Ryan Budget, which passed the House this year, harms the most vulnerable American families, and does so -- in the words of the nuns -- in violation of Catholic teaching.
Speakers at this afternoon’s rally condemned those in Congress who voted to perpetuate a political system that benefits the privileged few at the expense of the many, limits participation in our democracy in order to maintain an established system that protects the powerful and fails to show compassion for all people. They coined the slogan “Reasonable Revenue for Responsible Programs – the Faithful Way Forward” to illustrate the priorities they would like to see adopted by Congress to help make our communities and country more just for all.
At their annual conference in Orlando, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate and special interest spending on elections. Citing Justice John Paul Stevens and the dissenters in the Citizens United case, the mayors’ resolution declares the need to “broaden the corruption rationale for campaign finance reform to facilitate regulation of independent expenditures regardless of the source of the money for this spending, for or against a candidate.” Finding compelling “fundamental interests” in “creating a level playing field and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard,” the Conference of Mayors resolves that corporations should not receive the same legal rights as natural persons and that “urgent action” be taken to reverse the impacts of Citizens United in opening the door to unlimited independent campaign expenditures by corporations that undermines “free and fair elections and effective self-governance.”
The resolution calls on other communities, jurisdictions and organizations to pass similar resolutions. So far over, over 250 municipalities have already passed resolutions calling for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases and returning the power to influence our elections to the people. And more than 1600 public officials have gone on record in support of constitutional remedies to overturn the decision. More than 100 organizations have come together under the umbrella of United For the People to press for amending the Constitution to address the harm caused by Citizens United and related cases.
Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, prompting a walkout of 108 Democrats who wanted to make clear that the vote was a baseless political stunt aimed at tarnishing the Attorney General and the Obama Administration.
But a bombshell new report released on Wednesday, June 27th makes perfectly clear how hollow attacks on Holder’s handling of the “Fast and Furious” program really are. Investigative reporter Katherine Eban, writing for Fortune Magazine, recounts in exhaustive detail how the scandal unfurled into a political circus, in a tale of “rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.”
Eban reports how a key player in the botched operation, former Marine David Voth, fell victim to a swirl of false accusations by disgruntled former-ATF agents with ulterior motives.
“Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA 49), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been in pursuit of additional documents pertaining to Fast and Furious, in addition to floating dubious conspiracy theories regarding the operation. Eban notes how the increased scrutiny of the ATF has made it more difficult for the agency to execute one of its core missions: arrest and prosecute the people who traffic illegal guns.
“Issa's claim that the ATF is using the Fast and Furious scandal to limit gun rights seems, to put it charitably, far-fetched. Meanwhile, Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF's three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%.”
Eban’s reporting unearthed absolutely no evidence that the tactic of “gun walking”, which Rep. Issa and his allies continue to put front and center, was ever actually in play. “The ATF's accusers seem untroubled by evidence that the policy they have pilloried didn't actually exist”.
Predicated upon erroneous and misleading information, the Fast and Furious ‘scandal’ is heavy on political intrigue, yet light on substance.
On Thursday, President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The blatantly political move by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was the culmination of a multiyear plan by right-wing activists and politicians to undermine the nation’s top law enforcement official. Let’s recall how we got here.
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.
Incredibly, the very same politicians who condemned Holder were supportive when President Bush asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented and expansive way to conceal potentially illegal activity by government employees. On the other hand, Holder and the Obama administration have gone to great lengths to accommodate the often unreasonable demands of Republicans in Congress:
Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.
Holder and the Obama administration only asserted executive privilege when Republicans demanded documents that would put the agents fighting gun violence at risk. This is yet another irony.
As Right Wing Watch reported, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Holder’s chief inquisitor, has been pushing a conspiracy theory for months that Obama and Holder intentionally allowed gun-smuggling to Mexico in order to boost violence and use it as the justification for an assault weapons ban here. It’s such a completely unhinged and baseless argument that it’s hard to take seriously. But Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA and even elected officials like Issa have aggressively pushed this lie and whipped their base into fever pitch.
While Holder is taking it on the chin for protecting agents working to keep us safe, the right wing is saying that the Obama administration intentionally let people, including an American border patrol agent, get killed as part of some gun control conspiracy. In reality, Mexico is awash with American guns. And the right-wing created the extremely lax gun control system that makes it possible.
In the Republican House of Representatives, where up is often down and black is white, the people working to prevent gun violence are smeared as having blood on their hands. That’s why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called the contempt vote a “heinous act” and “unprincipled.” Sadly, a full 17 House Democrats were successfully pressured by the NRA to part ways with Pelosi and condemn Holder.
It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that we’re up against people who will say just about anything to win. We should expect more nonsense heading into the election. But ultimately the best way to beat back their lies is going to the ballot box.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.