Last week New York became the 17th state to formally call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This landmark achievement came as the result of a multiyear collaborative campaign involving several advocacy groups including People For the American Way.
On behalf of the 156,000 PFAW members who live in New York, Government By the People Campaign Manager Rio Tazewell spoke at the state capitol in Albany on Wednesday to help commemorate this significant victory. After remarks from activists, organizational leaders, and lawmakers, a strategy session was held to discuss what comes next for democracy reform organizing in the state of New York.
Over twenty municipalities from across the state including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.
People in this country want a government that represents them and their interests. In New York and across the nation, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. Not only does this win help affirm the hard work and value of partnerships on the ground between activists, organizations and lawmakers, it helps drive a national narrative that the days of Citizens United are numbered.
Today the people of New York scored a significant victory for democracy in the United States by officially becoming the 17th state on record in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This decision, among others, has created an out-of-balance system that allows powerful corporations and other wealthy interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy access and influence to advance their political agenda at the expense of everyone else.
This landmark accomplishment in New York comes as the result of a multi-year effort to encourage legislators in the state Senate and Assembly to sign onto a formal letter calling for such an amendment. Because of the work of dedicated activists and a broad coalition of organizations, lawmakers from both parties, representing a majority of each house of the legislature, have joined to represent the will of the people. Over twenty municipalities from the state of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.
This victory represents the results of collaborative campaigning, with a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to educate, organize, and apply the political pressure necessary to win. On behalf of our more than 156,000 New York members, People For the American Way is proud to have been one of several national organizations to play a role in advancing this effort. Since the start of this campaign several years ago, our members have signed petitions, written letters, called their legislators and shown up to advocate and protest in person.
In New York and across the country, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. And with this historic win, the people of New York have contributed to the momentum of a growing national movement calling for a constitutional amendment to remedy a system that is tilted in the favor of wealthy special interests. If history is any guide, it’s not a question of whether unaccountable money in politics will be addressed, it’s a question of when. Since our founding, this country has been on an uneven but ultimately forward-moving path towards creating a government that is truly of, by and for all the people. New York has just helped the nation take yet another step in making this promise a reality.
As the Democratic and Republican platform drafting committees gear up in advance of the party conventions, PFAW joined other national democracy organizations this week in submitting letters calling for the committees to include a comprehensive package of reform measures to fight big money in politics in the platforms.
Specifically, the groups called for the policy reforms outlined in the “Fighting Big Money” agenda — which was released by 13 reform organizations last year — to be incorporated. These measures include: a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing, a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, increased disclosure of political spending, and stronger enforcement of existing campaign finance rules.
The letters note that the presidential candidates have talked about the need to reform our big money system throughout their campaigns, and polling consistently shows that voters of all political backgrounds agree. With an overwhelming majority of Americans frustrated with our out-of-balance political system, incorporating a comprehensive reform agenda within the party platforms is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
It’s no secret that the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates for an influx of money into our elections. But a new report released today by PFAW and six other organizations highlights what else it did: energize a movement to fight big money in politics that’s made real progress in the six years since the decision was handed down.
As the report notes, since 2010:
As the 2016 presidential race sees an increasing focus on the problem of big money in politics, the magnitude of our country’s current crisis can make progress seem unlikely, or even impossible. But as this report outlines, change is already happening in cities and states across the country, as people organize in their own communities for solutions to make sure that our democracy is working for everyone – not just for billionaires and corporations.
You can read the full report here.
In an interview released last week with Susan Peters of KAKE-TV, the ABC affiliate in Wichita, Kansas, Charles Koch shared his top factor in supporting 2016 candidates:
Koch said, “The number one thing I would look at in supporting anyone in politics: Are they for the first amendment? Are they for freedom of speech?”
“So, do you consider your donations freedom of speech?” [Peters] asked.
“Absolutely, they are,” he said.
That the number one criteria of a man whose network plans to spend hundreds of millions on next year’s elections is whether they are “for the First Amendment” – that is, a radical reinterpretation of the First Amendment to prohibit Americans from effectively addressing the corrosive effect of money on our democracy – speaks volumes about the way the power of those already on top is preserved and expanded in our country. Koch, one of the wealthiest people in the country, already holds unparalleled influence in politics through the extraordinary sums of money flooding our elections from the Koch-led network, Koch Industries, and the Kochs themselves. And now, Koch’s top priority for whether he will bankroll future candidates is, in effect, whether they support his ability to continue to spend unlimited sums of money to buy elections.
This exchange is Exhibit A on the extent to which our campaign finance system is utterly broken. With our lawmakers unable to set commonsense limits on money in elections in the wake of decisions like Citizens United, Charles Koch is free to pour unlimited amounts of cash into our democracy. And he’s free to make a condition of his financial support a commitment to perpetuating that broken system.
It’s no wonder that 85 percent of Americans think we need a complete overhaul of our country’s campaign finance system. Without it, a handful of billionaires can continue to set the agenda for all of us – even when it’s an agenda targeting the rights and interests of most Americans.
Following an outcry from a range of local and national leaders, including PFAW president Michael Keegan, Connecticut legislators withdrew a plan yesterday that would have cut funding for the state’s clean elections law.
Connecticut’s landmark program is a model for the country, one that has allowed people to run for office and become elected officials even if they don’t have access to special interest money or wealthy backers. When the proposed attack on clean elections was announced, the pushback was swift. A cohort of young Connecticut lawmakers, many of whom are members of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, spoke out against the proposal in a letter. They highlighted the clean election program’s success in allowing young people to compete in the state’s elections “based on policy positions and ideas” rather than “who has access to the biggest donors.” PFAW members in Connecticut made calls to their state legislators and asked them to reject any plan to undermine clean elections. State groups like Common Cause Connecticut and ConnPIRG rallied against it, and former Gov. Jodi Rell, who signed the landmark reform into law, spoke out against attempts to “turn aside” the program “many of us worked so hard to put in place to prevent political corruption scandals.”
That the proposal was withdrawn after just three days is a win not only for the state of Connecticut, but for the national movement to fight big money in politics. From clean elections victories in Seattle and Maine earlier this month to yesterday’s win in Connecticut, it’s clear that policies to help lessen the influence of big money in politics are popular, valued, and people will fight for them.
It’s not just secret money and front groups for the Koch Brothers this election season. Sometimes, the Kochs are up front in their attempts to sell their toxic agenda — like when they decide to send Koch Industries Chief Communication and Marketing Officer, Steve Lombardo, to St. Anselm’s Institute of Politics to pitch a softer side of Koch.
A group of about 10 activists from People For the American Way and Granite State Progress gathered Tuesday outside the Institute of Politics to hold signs that read “#KOCH PROBLEM” and “PR Stunt” — among other messages.
The event was brazenly titled, “Beyond the Political Spin: How Koch is is Driving Freedom, Fairness and Prosperity."
The Kochs — no strangers to attempting to buy support at college campuses through stipulations about hiring and coursework — are planning on spending up to $900 million in this year’s election cycle through their secretive network of organizations.
When asked if the Kochs will acknowledge that the candidates they back are beholden to them, Lombardo failed to explain a difference between other forms of “crony capitalism” the Kochs like to decry and the political work done by the Koch network.
Question: “In a recent interview with the Wichita Eagle, Charles Koch claimed that politicians are ‘beholden to corporations and cronies who get them re-elected’ and deemed this ‘welfare for the wealthy.’ The Koch network has poured millions of dollars into our political system—do the Kochs agree that the candidates they back are beholden to them?”
Lombardo: “Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m going to answer it the way Charles has recently answered that. And that is – beholden is the wrong word. Charles is frustrated right now, to be honest with you, he’s very frustrated that a lot of the candidates that the network that he’s a part of, along with a lot of other donors, hundreds of donors, thousands…have not done a lot of things that they said they were going to do, okay. And he’s quite frankly very frustrated and we have not at this point in time, supporting any presidential candidate. And Mr. Koch believes- is worried right now that none of them are going to do what they say they’re going to do. So the folks that we supported in 2014 frankly a lot of them have not lived up to the things that I’ve been talking about in terms of fighting corporate welfare, in terms of supporting criminal justice reform among other things. Beholden is wrong. We all, everybody who votes for someone or contributes money to them, contributes $5 — you’re hoping that they’re gonna do what they said they were gonna do. Now if you call that beholden you can call that beholden, but to me, it’s I give $5 to a candidate because I think — they said they were gonna do something, and I go ‘wow, I agree with that, I want them to do that, I’m giving them $5.’ Now you can call that beholden, or $500 million or whatever it might be…I don’t think it’s the same way but we are expecting them to do the things they say they were gonna do, and frankly a lot of them aren’t.”
The Kochs clearly expect a lot in return for the amount they’re spending on politics — so yes, the candidates that they back are beholden to them, and much more so than they would be to any small donor. Downplaying their own effectiveness doesn’t change the fact that they are blatantly attempting to buy influence, with their network expected to spend as much as, or more than, either political party.
When CNN asked for input from the public on topics for last night’s Democratic debate, they were flooded with hundreds, possibly thousands, of questions about getting big money out of politics. But none of the moderators asked a single question about it, either unaware of or indifferent to the groundswell of people who wanted to hear more from the candidates on this issue.
Even without a question posed, money in politics was a pervasive theme throughout the night. Jim Webb kicked off the debate by acknowledging that “people are disgusted with the way that money has corrupted our political process” and painting himself as a leader who hasn’t been “coopted” by the system. Bernie Sanders wove the issue throughout his comments, connecting it to everything from climate change to Wall Street regulation. He brought up the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens Uniteddecision more than once, saying that Americans rightly “want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens United.”
The candidates are not only right to bring up the big-money takeover of our democracy -- they’re smart to do so. Polling consistently shows that this is a top issue for voters and that Americans are looking for leaders who will fight for reform. More than nine in ten voters want to see their elected leaders work to lessen big money’s influence in elections.
But we want to hear more from candidates about how they will actually make reform happen. The leading candidates have laid out agendas on money in politics reform that include a range of solutions, from a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United, to disclosure of secret political spending, to small donor empowerment measures. The CNN moderators missed a ripe opportunity to ask the candidates how they would put these plans in place if they become the next president.
At the next debate, it’s time to move from talking about the problem of big money to talking about the solutions.
This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
Ninety-five years ago today, we added an amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying that women have a right to vote in our elections. While today women's suffrage seems like a no-brainer to everyone -- except maybe Ann Coulter -- it was not an inevitability that simply fell into place. Women were not "given" the right to vote. It was an amendment that women fought for, tooth and nail, for more than 70 years in every state across the country
In a 2010 piece about the suffrage movement, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote that "behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time." It was a painstaking process of organizing, state by state, that ultimately led to the 19th Amendment.
It's not a fast process to amend the Constitution -- just ask Susan B. Anthony, who organized for decades and didn't live to see the passage of the women's suffrage amendment. It shouldn't be easy to change our country's guiding document. But we have a history of passing amendments, when necessary, to make our democracy more inclusive, and often to correct serious harm done by the Supreme Court. The women's suffrage amendment overturned a 1875 decision that held women didn't have a right to vote. In all, seven of the 17 constitutional amendments adopted since the Bill of Rights have reversed damaging Supreme Court decisions that threatened popular democracy.
Today we're facing another serious threat to our democracy: Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United.
In the wake of decisions allowing unlimited spending to influence elections, money has inundated our political system like never before. 2014 was the most expensive midterm in history, but with fewer donors than in past elections. The 2016 presidential election is already on its way toward eclipsing all previous records. We're seeing more and more money from fewer and fewer donors, and it's taking a real toll on the functioning of our system.
There is a nationwide movement pushing for a constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and take our political process back from the tremendous influence of big corporations and moneyed interests. Like the women's suffrage movement, it's a slow process of building support city by city, state by state, one conversation at a time. So far 16 states and 650 cities and towns have gone on record in support of an amendment, and momentum continues to build.
The campaign for an amendment, like the Democracy For All amendment being considered in Congress, is grounded in simple ideas: we should be able to set reasonable limits on money in elections. The size of your wallet shouldn't determine the strength of your voice. Our elected officials should be paying attention to the needs and priorities of everyday Americans rather than following a political agenda set by wealthy special interests.
On Women's Equality Day we celebrate the expansion of political rights almost a century ago. It was an expansion based on the recognition that our political system is for all of us. But as the foundation of representative democracy is threatened by an overwhelming influx of money in elections -- to the point where all of us can no longer be heard in our democracy -- we are called to amend the Constitution again.
There’s no denying it: the destruction of our campaign finance laws has created an out of control system that poses a serious threat to our democracy. The announcement that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has raised over $114 million, along with the fact that the Koch brothers plan to spend almost $900 million, feeds into the fears of many that the U.S. is turning into an oligarchy, where the views of wealthy donors are the only ones that matter. A huge majority of Americans think the campaign finance system needs reform, and this is an issue that presidential candidates can’t ignore.
This week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, an outspoken opponent of big money in politics, pledged to introduce legislation at the start of the next session that would provide public financing for elections. Hillary Clinton has also stated her support for small-donor public financing. A bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) attempted to level the playing field by providing voters with $25 to spend on elections and to match small individual donations to a candidate 6 to 1 with public money, which would turn into a 9 to 1 match for candidates that rejected large donations altogether.
In addition, both Sanders and Clinton have expressed their support for a constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, as has Sen. Lindsey Graham. These two solutions, public financing of elections and an amendment to get big money out of politics, are both highlighted as measures needed to fix the broken campaign finance system in “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Reform Agenda,” released by PFAW and other campaign finance reform proponents. As the agenda makes clear, for lasting change we have to move beyond “individual statements or even individual solutions” toward a comprehensive set of policy solutions.
Three out of four Americans are in support of a constitutional amendment, and over 5 million people have signed a petition in favor of it. Many other political leaders at the state and local level from both major parties want to put an end to the post-Citizens United big donor arms race.
As Sen. Sanders has pointed out:
The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue.
At a recent campaign stop, Scott Walker was greeted by two young people who were very excited to see him – just not in the sense he would have hoped. Two activists from 350 Action tricked Governor Walker into holding up a fake check displaying his reliance on the Koch brothers.
When interviewed by reporters, one of the activists, Elaine Colligan, explained that her inspiration stemmed from Walker’s lack of climate change prevention policies. “Scott Walker is the worst on climate change,” she said, comparing him to the other 2016 presidential candidates. Colligan’s complaints are not unfounded, since being elected as governor of Wisconsin, Walker has demonstrated his preference for the fossil fuel industry over efforts to prevent climate change.
To list only a few of Walker’s policies that have led to his current reputation: he signed the no climate tax pledge, prepared a lawsuit against the federal government because of EPA regulations, proposed to cut $8.1 million from a renewable energy research center, and advocated for increased railways carrying frac sand. It is no surprise Walker is being targeted by environmental advocacy organizations like 350 Action.
At the campaign stop, another attendee joined in, saying: “Scott Walker will do anything to get elected! Because that’s what politicians do!” While this comment is particularly pessimistic, it stems from a frustration many Americans feel with our current campaign system. When a man like Scott Walker, who is receiving millions from undisclosed and unregulated donors, is more influenced by those donors than everyday Americans like Elaine Colligan, something is obviously wrong with the system. But there has been recent action calling for reform of this system, including a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. Candidates need to be responsive to their constituents on issues like climate change, rather than to the wealthy special interests that can afford to pour money into our elections.
The unpopularity of our post-Citizens United campaign finance system knows no partisan bounds. As wealthy donors have continued to pump larger and larger amounts of money into our elections, a vast majority of Americans, including Republicans, have decided that the system needs to be changed. Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans want more disclosure by outside spending groups, and only 12 percent of Republicans believe that the new campaign finance laws have made the process of nominating presidential candidates better.
While many in Washington treat this as a partisan issue, at the local and state levels, Republican officials have joined the fight to get money out of politics. Resolutions urging Congress to adopt an amendment that would set limits on campaign expenditures passed in statehouses with bipartisan support, and 159 Republican officials mostly at the state level have stated their opposition to the Citizens United decision. Now, conservative grassroots activists are starting to turn their attention to this issue.
Last Friday, conservatives from organizations such as the Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute met at a forum titled “Finding Common Ground on Money-In-Politics in Washington,” where they explored ways to improve the campaign finance system that could appeal to Americans on both sides of the aisle. Some ideas floated were to reform the makeup of the gridlocked Federal Election Commission, to better enforce bans on foreign contributions to elections, and to incentivize small donations through tax credits.
“To leave the field void, to say no one on the right is talking about money in politics, I think is a problem,” said John Pudner, a GOP strategist and executive director of Take Back Our Republic, an organization that promotes campaign finance reform from a conservative perspective.
Public officials from both major parties have spoken out in favor of campaign finance reform, including Democratic Senator Todd Udall, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Even former Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has expressed her frustration with the “absurd” amount of money in our political system. With the movement to get money out of politics enjoying bipartisan support, it’s only a matter of time until this passion turns into real reform at the legislative level.
On Monday, July 20th Jeb Bush announced that he wants to curb the influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. by setting a six-year moratorium on former members of Congress registering as lobbyists. Bush said, ““We need to help politicians rediscover life outside of Washington… which — who knows? — might even be a pleasant surprise for them.” His comedic interjection is an indication of the stance he has decided to take on this issue, posing as a Beltway outsider who can see, and wants to reform, Washington’s corruption.
But Bush is anything but a political outsider. His father and brother spent a combined 20 years in the White House and he was Florida’s governor for eight years, after which he became a political consultant. Neither is he rejecting the money that lobbyists are currently collecting on his behalf: he has eight lobbyists working together to raise more than $228,000 for his campaign. That’s on top of his efforts to skirt campaign finance rules by spending months raising millions of dollars for a superPAC that purports not to coordinate with his own presidential campaign. Bush is the ultimate establishment candidate, regardless of whether or not he has spent time on the Hill.
And while this specific proposal is well and good, it’s also glaringly insufficient. The reforms Bush supports would not stop much of the lobbying that does occur in Washington. The six-year ban would only apply to registered lobbyists, a designation easily avoided by not engaging in specific activities or spending less than 20 percent of one’s time actually lobbying. There are simply too many loopholes Bush’s plan would not cover for real reform to occur.
Jeb Bush made this announcement in an effort to capture some of the grassroots anger at the role of money in politics. But, hopefully it will also ignite some real debate and raise public awareness of the reforms we would need to make a meaningful difference.
As the primaries for the 2016 elections get closer, we can expect to see the effects of big money in politics – the new normal after the 2010 Citizens United decision – in full force. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has raised $114 million through both his campaign and Right to Rise, a super PAC backing him. With the Koch brothers alone already pledging to raise $889 million through their network of wealthy donors, it’s likely that this election’s expenditures will well exceed the over $1 billion spent in the 2012 federal elections. As a result, many Americans are fed up with this new campaign finance system.
A Monmouth University survey released yesterday revealed that only 10 percent of Americans say that the influx of campaign spending post Citizens United has made the presidential nominating process better. Further, 42 percent expressed concern that the new campaign finance landscape makes it more likely that an unqualified or unserious candidate would be able to stay in the race longer.
These statistics are hardly surprising. A New York Times poll showed that 85 percent of Americans think that the campaign finance system needs either “fundamental changes” or to be “completely rebuil[t].” In addition, three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would limit campaign spending, and 5 million have signed a petition in favor of such an amendment. All around the country, Americans are organizing to let their legislators know that they’re tired of big money’s undue influence in their elections.
“The public is starting to worry that the Wild West nature of campaign finance is damaging the way we choose presidential candidates,” said Patrick Murray, the polling institute’s director.
With the public standing strong against letting the wealthy few buy their elections, a national conversation about the harmful effects of Citizens United is taking place, blazing a trail for real reform.
Today PFAW and 11 other organizations released “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Agenda,” a money in politics reform agenda directed at 2016 presidential candidates. The memo details a specific set of policies and encourages candidates to commit to supporting them.
Goals of the agenda include amplifying the voices of everyday Americans through meaningful contribution limits, real-time disclosure of political contributions, overturning cases like Citizens United through the Democracy For All constitutional amendment, and enforcing existing campaign finance laws to help ensure that money is not allowed to overshadow the priorities of the people.
According to the agenda:
The size of your wallet should not determine the strength of your political voice. But, in a long series of decisions beginning with Buckley v. Valeo and escalating with Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has cemented a flawed reading of our Constitution that strips the ability of We the People to impose common sense limits on election spending.
"Fighting Big Money, Empowering People” has been distributed to every announced 2016 candidate, many of whom have already voiced their support for fighting big money in elections. It’s time to move from rhetoric toward a commitment to specific, comprehensive solutions.
You can share the graphic below to show your solidarity with getting big money out of politics and returning power to everyday Americans. Together we can make a democracy where everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone plays by fair, common-sense rules.