Fighting the Right

How the Weakened House Version of VAWA Hurts Immigrant Women

Yesterday, we wrote about the House GOP’s effort to gut the Violence Against Women Act in response to a Senate reauthorization of the act that expands protections for gay and lesbian victims, Native Americans and immigrants. In the Daily Beast today, Michele Goldberg looks at some of the way the House-passed version of VAWA not only doesn’t expand protections for vulnerable groups, but removes existing domestic violence protections for immigrant women:

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, has been representing immigrant victims of domestic violence for 15 years. In all of the hundreds of cases she has worked on, she says, “I’ve never had a case where the abuser did not use his immigration status as a tool.” Often an abusive American citizen or permanent resident with an immigrant wife will threaten her with deportation, which could separate her from her American children. Or he’ll begin the paperwork to sponsor his spouse for a green card but threaten to withdraw it. “You have no rights in this country,” an abuser will tell his victim, says Ruiz-Velasco.

The Violence Against Women Act offers these women some protection. But on Wednesday, House Republicans passed a reauthorization bill that significantly weakens it, claiming that VAWA facilitates immigration fraud. “For those of us who’ve been in the antiviolence movement for the last 30 years, some of the biggest victories are being completely turned on their head by what’s going on,” says Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough, a human-rights organization that has worked closely with immigrant victims of violence.

GOP opposition to the VAWA reauthorization is mind-boggling The sponsor of the House Republican’s bill, Florida’s Sandy Adams, claims that defending victims of domestic violence is a sort of zero-sum game. “Once you start listing out groups or listing in groups, then you’re excluding groups,” she told MSNBC today.

Needless to say, there is no evidence that making it easier for immigrant women to escape abusive relationships or making sure gay and lesbian victims are served by VAWA grantees or letting Native American women seek legal recourse through the tribal court system will hurt women who seek protection through the existing parts of the bill.

Each time Congress has reauthorized VAWA it has worked to improve it, to make it work better for more victims. This time is no different. Except, it seems, for the identity of the victims.

PFAW

A Look at Citizens United in Practice

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, election watchers have predicted that the influx of unaccountable and often anonymous election spending would lead to a dramatic increase in dirty, dishonest attack ads. A report by the New York Times confirms those fears. High-profile Republican strategists for a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts created a proposal titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” which lays out an aggressive character attack against the President. Focusing on his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the ads will seek to portray the President as unfit to lead because of his formative experiences – a strategy that his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, refused to authorize. Even Mitt Romney has avoided such attacks, believing that they would backfire – but unaccountable super PACs are not necessarily taking it off the table:

“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”

How can one person’s extreme opinion make its way to aerial banners flying over the Democratic Convention, outdoor advertisements and television screens across the country?

“Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election in both the presidential race and Congressional races,” said Brian Baker, the president and general counsel to Mr. Ricketts’ super PAC, called the Ending Spending Action Fund. “He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand.”

Thanks to his wealth and Citizens United, he can do just that. Unfortunately, average Americans don’t have this luxury, and our democracy suffers greatly as a result.

Following the outcry in response to today’s article, Mr. Ricketts issued a statement claiming he had never approved the plan and disavows the type of politics it represents, saying that the proposal “was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.” Nonetheless, the critical harm posed by Citizens United is clear. Just because Mr. Ricketts chose not to run this attack ad doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. The need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United to protect our democracy from the lopsided influence of wealthy special interests is even more clear today.

PFAW

New CMD Report Reveals ALEC's Influence in Wisconsin

The Center for Media and Democracy released a new report today detailing the American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence in Wisconsin’s laws. At a time when ALEC members are jumping ship thanks to increased exposure of the ALEC agenda – 14 corporate members and 45 legislative members so far – this report serves as yet another window into ALEC’s shadowy, undemocratic method of ushering an extreme, pro-corporate agenda into law.

With the loyal help of Governor Scott Walker and a slew of complicit state legislators, ALEC has successfully implemented much of its corporate wish list in the state, including union-busting and corporate tax giveaways. According to the report, in Wisconsin:

• 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin's 2011-2012 legislative session;

• 21 of these bills or budget provisions have passed, and two were vetoed;

• More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations since 2008;

• More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period for his state campaign account;

• At least 49 current Wisconsin legislators are known ALEC members, including the leaders of both the House and Senate as well as other legislators holding key posts in the state. Additionally, the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Administration, and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission are ALEC alumni; and

• At least 17 current legislators have received thousands of dollars of gifts cumulatively from ALEC corporations in the past few years, in the form of flights and hotel rooms filtered through the ALEC “scholarship fund” (complete “scholarship” information is not available).

People For the American Way Foundation has contributed to similar reports covering ALEC’s influence in Ohio and Arizona, and work continues to shine light on how ALEC paves the way for a state-by-state corporate takeover of our democracy.

PFAW Foundation

Educators Dismiss ALEC

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) will not renew their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization said in a statement released on Tuesday. NACSA is the third major educational organization to drop their association with ALEC, joining Kaplan and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Both ALEC and NACSA support charter schools, but NACSA appears to have decided that ALEC’s extreme vision for charter school systems – which place corporate profitmaking above the needs of students, parents and communities – is out of touch with its mission to “advance excellence in public charters schools as a way to improve public education for all children.”

Rather than proposals designed to improve our public education system, ALEC’s model bills instead transfer public education funds into the hands of private corporations. Such proposals include voucher programs and publicly funded subsidies for religious and other private schools. ALEC’s Education Accountability Act would allow a state to override the elected school board and declare schools “educationally bankrupt,” then divert its funds to private schools. Of course, ALEC’s assault on public education wouldn’t be complete without attacks on teachers, school personnel and basic educational standards.

Just as important, there was never a legitimate reason for NACSA to support an organization that promotes legislation that attacks working families, rolls back consumer rights, blocks access to courts of law and disenfranchises thousands of eligible voters.

It’s not surprising that NACSA and other educators have concluded that ALEC is far more trouble than it’s worth.

PFAW

All of a Sudden, House GOP Doesn’t Like “Issues that Divide Us”

 The National Journal today reports on the rocky progress of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time this year has become an object of partisan dispute. Why? The Democratic-backed reauthorization includes new protections for LGBT people, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. That bill passed in the Senate despite 31 no votes – all from Republican men.

In response, the House GOP put together an alternate bill that not only axes the new protections recommended by Democrats but eliminates some protections that are already in the bill. Yesterday, the White House threatened to veto the House bill.

Now, the House GOP is playing the victim, accusing Democrats of trying to make them look bad by including things like help for gays and lesbians and undocumented immigrants in the bill:

The Senate version would expand current protections to gay, bisexual, or transgender victims of domestic abuse, subject non-Native American suspects of domestic abuse occurring on reservations to the jurisdiction of tribal courts, and increase temporary visas for victims who are undocumented immigrants. The House bill was amended on Tuesday to allow illegal immigrant “U visa” recipients to receive permanent residence if the perpetrators of the crimes against them are aliens, are convicted of the crimes, and are deported to the visa holders’ home countries.

But Republican leaders have accused Democrats of adding those hot-button issues to intentionally create a fight for political advantage—and lash out at House Republicans for waging a “war against women.” House GOP leaders—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia—say they want to stay away from “issues that divide us.”

That’s right. House Republican leaders – who threatened to shut down the government to stop Planned Parenthood funding, who won’t even consider cutting tax loopholes for giant corporations, who continually go out of their way to express their opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians – are now worried about “issues that divide us.” Like, apparently, protecting gay people, Native Americans and immigrants from domestic abuse.

One “issue that divides us” apparently didn’t turn off some House Republicans. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia offered an amendment to the bill that, according to the National Journal, would provide “help for convicted domestic abusers who want their gun-ownership rights back.” That one, at least, didn’t make it past the Rules Committee.

PFAW

Virginia Rejects Openly Gay Judicial Nominee After Campaign By Far-Right Activists

Virginia’s House of Delegates yesterday rejected the nomination of a state prosecutor to serve as a judge – just because he is openly gay.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran who has been a prosecutor in Richmond for 12 years, enjoyed bipartisan support in the House of Delegates until, at the last minute, he came under attack from far-right Delegate Bob Marshall and the right-wing Family Foundation. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports:

A late-hour lobbying offensive by social conservatives prevailed in the House of Delegates early Tuesday to torpedo bipartisan support for the judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor.

After a lengthy discussion, the GOP-controlled House of Delegates defeated the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, Richmond's chief deputy commonwealth's attorney. He would have been the first openly gay judge elected in Virginia.

Thorne-Begland received 33 votes, and 31 delegates voted against him. He needed a majority of the 100-member House -- 51 votes -- to secure the judgeship.

….

In an email blast to supporters late last week, the Christian conservative Family Foundation questioned Thorne-Begland's fitness for the bench given his support for gay marriage, which is not legal in Virginia. Thorne-Begland and his partner, Michael, live together and are raising twins.

Marshall, too had charged that Thorne-Begland pursued an "aggressive activist homosexual agenda.

Opponents of gay rights, in their effort to keep LGBT people out of the public square, have in the past few years gone after several openly gay judges and judicial nominees. Supporters of California’s discriminatory Prop 8 tried to get a federal judge’s ruling against them thrown out because the judge is openly gay. Another judge issued an epic takedown of their argument.

A number of Republican delegates in Virginia, as well as the state’s socially conservative governor Bob McDonnell backed Thorne-Begland’s nomination until Del. Marshall began his onslaught.

Del. Marshall is the one who claimed in 2010 that disabled children are God's punishment for abortion. On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a policy that Thorne-Begland worked to end after his distinguished career in the Navy – Marshall said openly gay troops would distract their fellow servicemembers: "It's a distraction when I'm on the battlefield and have to concentrate on the enemy 600 yards away and I'm worried about this guy whose got eyes on me." Once Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, Del Marshall tried to get gay Virginians banned from the state’s National Guard.

Marshall later told the Washington Post that he objected to Thorne-Begland’s brave coming out in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

I would guess — law of averages — we’ve probably nominated people who have homosexual inclinations,” Marshall said. Marshall faulted Thorne-Begland for coming out as a gay Naval officer on “Nightline” two decades ago to challenge the military’s now-repealed ban on gays openly serving in the military. He said that amounted not just to insubordination, but to a waste of taxpayer dollars, since it resulted in his dismissal from the Navy. “The Navy spent $1 million training him,” Marshall said. “That’s cheating the country out of the investment in him.”

In the end, it was Del. Marshall’s arguments that won out in the effort to halt the career of a dedicated Virginia public servant.

PFAW

WI Recall: In film, Walker talks of 'divide and conquer' union strategy

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (emphasis added):

A filmmaker released a video today that shows Gov. Scott Walker saying he would use "divide and conquer" as a strategy against unions.

Walker made the comments to Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who has since given $510,000 to the governor's campaign -- making her Walker's single-largest donor and the largest known donor to a candidate in state history.

...

In the video shot on Jan. 18, 2011 -- shortly before Walker's controversial budget-repair bill was introduced and spawned mass protests -- Hendricks asked the governor whether he could make Wisconsin a "completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work" state. The Republican donor was referring to right-to-work laws, which prohibit private-sector unions from compelling workers to pay union dues if the workers choose not to belong to the union.

Walker replied that his "first step" would be "to divide and conquer" through his budget-adjustment bill, which curtailed most collective bargaining for most public employee unions.

More proof that Walker is working to serve the billionaire ideologues who want to bulldoze every institution set up to protect the public interest against rapacious corporate interests. And this shows, in his own words, how Walker sought to divide Wisconsin workers against each other with his unconscionable smear campaign last year against public employees.

This is why we're going to recall him on June 5!

UPDATE: Here's some video:

PFAW

Beverage Giant Diageo Drops Heartland Institute

Joining the scores of corporations that have recently dropped their support of ultra-conservative organizations that represent shady, undemocratic and disingenuous practices, the London-based beverage giant Diageo, which owns brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnny Walker and others, announced that they will no longer fund the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank. General Motors also discontinued their support for the organization earlier this year.

The decision came after the Heartland Institute ran an unsavory billboard ad showing a picture of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, with a caption that read, “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

In addition to the Unabomber, the Heartland Institute’s ad campaign also compares climate change scientists and advocates to murderers such as Charles Manson and the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and the organization believes that "The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society," a statement reads. "This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

The Institute, which receives funding from the Koch Brothers, has also posted an impassioned defense of the American Legislative Exchange Council on their blog: “The Heartland Institute stands with ALEC in support of free enterprise, limited government, and federalism, and asks that you do so as well.” Apparently, this includes a blatantly disingenuous and hateful ad campaign that calls those who oppose their pro-oil, pro Koch-brothers agenda, even scientists, “murderers” and “tyrants.”

While Diageo should be commended for severing ties with the Heartland Institute, the corporation unfortunately has not joined a number of other corporations, including The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsi and Kraft Foods, who have severed their ties with ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

Right Wing Watch Research Exposes Extremism of Capitol Event

Last week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch reported that a who’s who of Religious Right activists had recently gathered in the Capitol, with the endorsement of Speaker John Boehner, for a George Washington-themed prayer event.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on the event, drawing heavily from Right Wing Watch research to expose the extremism of its participants:

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

 Right Wing Watch  uncovered video of Lou Engle claiming that marriage equality would “unleash” a “sexual insanity”; Engle praying against health care reform with Sen. DeMint and then-Sen. Brownback; Jim Garlow saying that Satan is attacking the U.S. with marriage equality; David Barton claiming that AIDS can’t be cured because it’s God’s punishment for being gay; and the head of Alveda King’s group saying that supporting abortion rights is akin to supporting terrorism.

Here at People For the American Way, we spend a lot of time monitoring right-wing figures who seem far out of the mainstream. And then the Speaker of the House invites them to the Capitol.
 

PFAW

Mitt Romney Caved to the Religious Right and This is the Thanks He Gets

Last week, in response to pressure from the Religous Right -- much of which was documented by PFAW's Right Wing Watch -- the Romney campaign forced out an openly gay spokesman who had been on the job for less than two weeks.

While the Romney campaign attempted to deny that right-wing pressure led to the spokesman's resignation, news reports suggested that that is exactly what happened.

But Romney's effort to appease the anti-gay right didn't even work. Right Wing Watch caught a clip of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, the leading critic of the candidate's decision to hire an openly gay spokesperson, criticizing Romney for listening to him. "How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?" Fischer demanded.

Earlier this week, Lawrence O'Donnell played and discussed the Fischer clip on his show. Watch:

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

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Rally Against the Recall

Over the weekend, Republicans and right-wing activists gathered for a rally in Oshkosh, WI. The Oshkosh Northwestern filmed the event, and our friends at We Are Wisconsin PAC clipped some highlights (below).

The rally seems to have consisted of right-wing politicians spewing one distortion after another about the Walker administration’s policies and their opponents’ intentions. The interviews with the audience members unfortunately show a typical “tea party” misunderstanding of the issues, and that Republicans’ talking points about collective bargaining and teachers’ health benefits have taken root with at least the party’s avid supporters.

Some of the highlights included in the video above show U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde angrily railing against public unions (and completely rewriting the history of Scott Walker’s union busting in the process), a downright bizarre song-and-dance number mocking the protests against the Walker administration’s anti-middle class policies and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch noting the national importance of the recall elections. (Kleefisch begins 1:54 into the video.)

You can support PFAW’s Recall the Right campaign to send Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his right-wing cronies packing on June 5 here >>

 

 

 

PFAW

UPDATE: “Gut and go” used to move up proof of citizenship in Kansas

A Kansas Senate committee put the brakes on efforts to move up proof of citizenship for voter registration – until a backdoor maneuver known as “gut and go” brought it back to life. As of May 8, it’s one step closer to Governor Brownback’s desk.
PFAW Foundation

More good news on the voting rights front, this time in Louisiana

Judge Jane Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled in Ferrand that the National Voter Registration Act requires public assistance agencies to offer all clients the opportunity to register to vote, including those that have remote contact, not just those that seek services in-person.
PFAW Foundation

Push for voter ID marches on in Missouri

Though a court ruled against SJR 2, Representative Shane Schoeller wants to make sure that voter ID makes it on the Missouri ballot in November.
PFAW Foundation

Walker's Millions and the Right's "Special Interests" Lie

On Wednesday, PFAW president Michael Keegan sent the following message to PFAW members:

Scott Walker is truly the worst governor money can buy. In 2010, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, Walker shattered state fundraising records in his campaign to be Wisconsin’s next governor. Now, faced with a recall election, he’s doing it again -- and then some.

It was reported this week that in the last three months, Scott Walker raised $13.1 MILLION to beat back his recall challenge. And that figure does not include the money being spent by right-wing Super PACs to support him and bash his opponents. To put this feat in perspective, Walker’s two leading Democratic challengers, Kathleen Falk and Tom Barrett -- currently locked in a primary in which they are spending resources against each other -- have raised $977,000 and $750,000 respectively.

Walker has milked his “golden boy” status among the ideological mega-funders of the right-wing movement. His aggressive attacks on workers’ rights, funding for important social programs and equal rights protections have made powerful corporate interests like Koch Industries and activists like Grover Norquist eager to host fundraisers for him around the country, from Oklahoma to New York. Amazingly, the Right continues to accuse our side of being fueled by “special interests” (as always, mischaracterizing “special interests” as people willing to stand up for their rights).

Many have called the Wisconsin recall election the second most important election battle of 2012 (second only to the presidential race), and it’s certainly shaping up to be the most emblematic of the crossroads at which America finds itself post-Citizens United. This recall battle is definitively one of Big Money vs. the People.

Mark Hanna, William McKinley’s right-wing millionaire campaign manager in 1896, famously said, “There are two things that matter in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” We MUST prove him wrong in Wisconsin ... we must prove that People Power can win the day.

With the help of Hanna and the robber barons of the era, McKinley won his race with only 51% of the popular vote after outspending his Democratic opponent 23 to 1. It’s up to us to make sure 2012 is not a repeat of 1896.

We won’t be able to outspend them, but what we do have we will spend smarter to help turn out the people’s vote. With your help, we’ll outwork Walker and his billionaire allies and RECALL THE RIGHT in Wisconsin.

Thank you for standing with us in this fight. Please stay tuned for more important information about the Wisconsin recall elections and People For the American Way’s campaign the Recall the Right.

Sincerely,
Michael Keegan, President

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Wisconsin this week campaigning for Scott Walker and said, “For the next five weeks, America is going to find out the answer to what is more powerful, the people or the money and special interests from Washington, D.C. Wisconsin will answer that question."

Republicans are really going all in on the claim that the big money being spent in the recall election is coming from the Walker’s opponents. Jaw-dropping chutzpah considering Walker has already spent $20 million in his own defense, has another $25 million on hand and is being supported by outside groups with limitless funding from wealthy corporate interests. Meanwhile, the amount of money raised and spent both by the Democratic candidates and outside groups opposing Walker (including unions – the so-called ‘special interests’ to which Chris Christie was alluding) is hardly a fraction of Walker’s behemoth war chest. Oh, and for all the Republicans' handwringing about out of state money fueling the recall effort, it was reported a few days ago that two-thirds of Walker's money has come from outside of Wisconsin.

There's no question this race is a question of the grassroots versus big special interest money, but Scott Walker isn't the on the side of the grassroots.

PFAW

New Lawsuit Challenges Voter ID in Pennsylvania

This week, voting rights supporters in Pennsylvania filed suit against HB 934, claiming that it deprives citizens of their basic and fundamental right to vote.
PFAW Foundation