Government By the People

“The Wealthy Get to Shout, But the Rest of You May Only Whisper”: Former GOP Senator Alan Simpson Calls for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

This morning, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.) and Democratic Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) published a powerful joint op-ed in The Hill in support of the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and help get big money out of politics.

The authors write that the Supreme Court’s line of decisions overturning common-sense campaign finance laws says to Americans: “the wealthy get to shout, but the rest of you may only whisper.” They debunk the myth that the amendment would repeal First Amendment free speech protections and make clear that it would actually do “the exact opposite”:

The constitutional amendment would make it clear that campaign finance regulations are up to the voters who elect Congress and state legislatures. It would not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead it would protect sensible and workable campaign finance laws from constitutional challenges.

Critics have claimed that the amendment would repeal the First Amendment’s free speech protections. But it does the exact opposite – the proposal is an effort to restore the First Amendment so that it applies equally to all Americans. When a few billionaires supporting both political parties can drown out the voices of millions of Americans, we can’t have any real political debate.

Sen. Udall and former Sen. Simpson note that the money in politics situation has gotten far worse over the course of their times in office:

Over the course of our Senate careers, spending on campaigns has gotten out of control. According to a joint study by Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, outside groups spent $457 million to influence Senate and House races in 2012. In the 1978 election, when Senator Simpson was first elected, outside groups spent only $303,000. There is a deeply troubling trend here, and we simply cannot let it continue.

That former Sen. Simpson has joined the chorus of voices calling for change underscores the broad, bipartisan support for an amendment. A recent poll found that Republican voters support an amendment by a 26-point margin, and 137 Republican officials have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United.

You can read the full op-ed here.

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2014 Midterm Elections: PFAW Holds Member Telebriefing with Political Strategist Celinda Lake

People For The American Way hosted a telebriefing Thursday evening to update PFAW members on the electoral landscape for 2014.  The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured prominent pollster and political strategist and current President of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake, as well as PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Lake discussed the political climate in Congress and the general frustration voters feel toward both political parties. She emphasized multiple times throughout the call that in this election “the key is voter turnout.” In Kentucky, for instance since most undecided voters are leaning towards Alison Lundergan Grimes, turnout will be critical to help unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Political Director Randy Borntrager discussed the work PFAW is doing to make the biggest impact possible in the most pivotal races to help progressives win this election. Lake and Borntrager emphasized that increasing awareness to voters of what is truly at stake – from reproductive rights to potential Supreme Court vacancies – will help make a difference come November.

Questions from callers also focused on other critical races including gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin, the Senate race in North Carolina, and contests in Alaska and Iowa, among others.

In closing, Drew Courtney noted that the telebriefing shows that “we have some challenges ahead, but we are going to fight hard and push forward, and we’re not going to go back to the way things were before.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.
 

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Civil Liberties Experts: Limiting Big Money In Elections Doesn’t Infringe on Free Speech Rights

This morning, six civil liberties experts released a letter emphasizing that reasonable regulations on money in elections do not violate the free speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. The authors — academics, philanthropists, and lawyers, all of whom are former leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — make clear that the protection of civil liberties is entirely compatible with commonsense limits on money in elections.

The letter was released following a barrage of misleading arguments pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and others about the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United that will be voted on in the Senate on Monday. Though opponents have tried to position themselves as defenders of free speech, with Sen. Cruz going so far as to claim that the amendment would repeal the First Amendment and “muzzle” Americans, this letter emphasizes that it is, in fact, the Court’s twisted interpretation of the First Amendment that threatens to leave Americans without a voice:

Rather than interpreting the First Amendment as assuring everyone a reasonable opportunity to be heard, the Court (and the National ACLU) has turned the First Amendment on its head by guaranteeing the wealthy an expensive set of stereo speakers, and leaving the average citizen with a bad case of laryngitis. Most Americans would find it preposterous to allot more time in a debate to the speaker with the most money. Yet, that is precisely how our campaign finance system functions today.

The authors, many of whom signed a similar letter in 1998, note that our country’s money in politics problem has only gotten worse since then. In the wake of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon, they write, “American democracy is almost irretrievably broken.” While they do not weigh in on the Democracy for All Amendment specifically, the civil liberties experts close the letter with a call to restore the promise of the First Amendment by overturning these damaging decisions:

We believe that overturning many of the Court’s narrow 5-4 campaign finance precedents and implementing generous, content neutral political spending limits is the best way to fulfill the promise of James Madison’s First Amendment as democracy’s best friend.

You can read the full text of the letter here.
 

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Louisville PFAW Activists Deliver Petitions Supporting Democracy For All Constitutional Amendment to Mitch McConnell


On Wednesday, PFAW activists in Kentucky joined other activists representing ally organizations in delivering petition signatures to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s state office calling for amending the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United and get big money out of politics. Nationally, more than three million Americans have signed such a petition.

The delivery comes days before the Senate is set to vote on the Democracy for All Amendment (S.J. Res 19), a joint resolution that would amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases. An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s rulings opening the floodgates to unlimited money in our elections, with sixteen states and over 550 cities formally demanding that Congress vote to pass a constitutional amendment to allow common sense campaign finance rules to be enacted.

The event in Louisville is part of a nationwide push to make the Democracy for All Amendment our Constitution’s 28th Amendment. Rallies and petition deliveries also occurred in the state offices of nine other senators throughout the country.

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Wisconsin PFAW Members Protest Walker Fundraiser

On Friday morning, PFAW members gathered outside the Nakoma Golf Club in Madison, WI to protest a fundraiser held by Scott Walker. Activists held signs calling on voters to “Ship Walker Overseas, Not Jobs,” and letting Walker know that “Time is Up” and Wisconsinites have had enough.

Recent media reports have exposed how Walker’s alleged efforts to garner support for his extreme political agenda violate Wisconsinites’ basic principles of fairness and honesty in the political system. The protest highlighted how Wisconsinites are sick of Walker’s shady practices while campaigning and while in office.

One sign read “Dear Governor Walker: You took my job. You took my rights. You took my money. You took my smile. Now I’m taking them back!!!”

The Progressive’s Rebecca Kemble who was at the protest wrote that with “wit and creativity” PFAW members and other activists wanted to “let Walker and his supporters know what they think of the outsized influence of money in politics and of the inhumane and unjust policies that this influence buys.”

Friday’s protest shows Wisconsinites are paying attention and don’t want Walker’s corrupt practices to continue polluting their government.

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Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Emphasizes Importance of Amendment to Get Big Money Out of Politics

In a discussion at the National Book Festival this weekend about her recent book, The Bully Pulpit, presidential scholar and author Doris Kearns Goodwin used the opportunity to highlight the danger of big money in our democracy and the importance of resisting the despair it can create:

“Without citizens taking on an active role in our country, we despair over what’s happening in Washington…We despair over money-in-politics, which I do think is the poison in the system. If I were younger, that’s what I’d be doing – leading a constitutional amendment to get money out of the system. It’s all up to us – we can’t wait for somebody else to do it.”

Her comments come just days before the September 8 Senate vote on the Democracy for All Amendment (SJ Res 19), a proposal that enjoys broad public support and aims to reclaim our democracy from the outsized influence of big money. 

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Kentucky PFAW Members Protest McConnell in Zombie Fashion

This Friday, PFAW members joined allies at two events in Louisville to hold Sen. Mitch McConnell accountable for his support of big money in politics.
 
On Friday evening, hundreds of PFAW members and other local activists joined the world’s largest annual Zombie Walk dressed as #ZombieMitch to highlight his zombie-like support of big money in politics. Activists marched with McConnell masks and signs including “Mitch McConnell is a zombie for big money in our elections” and “Need… more… brains money!” Some of the zombies attending the main event told PFAW members that the McConnell zombies were the “scariest thing I’ve seen all night.”

Earlier that day, members and allies met in front of the local GOP headquarters for a rally organized by MoveOn.org. Activists gathered in response to the tapes leaked last week that caught McConnell speaking at a secret meeting hosted by the Koch brothers. Check out the recordings here.

Sen. McConnell is a leading voice against efforts to get big money out of politics, fighting against a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, despite the fact that three in four voters support the measure. For years he has been fighting hard to protect billionaires’ and millionaires’ influence in our elections. The turnout of supporters at both of these events shows that the people of Kentucky are tired of Sen. McConnell’s love of big money in politics.

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Wealthy Donors Aren't Like You and Me

As big-money donors shatter the old aggregate contribution caps, most Americans can't even begin to compete with them for political influence.
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LISTEN: Mitch McConnell’s Full Remarks at the Koch Brothers Mega-Donors Summit

Listen to Mitch McConnell tell the Koch bros everything they want to hear.
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New Study Explores Staggering Impact of Outside Spending on 2014 Races

As control of the Senate hangs in the balance this fall, we continue to see the damaging effects of the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision that paved the way for the explosion of outside spending influencing our elections. A report released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice details the deluge of money being funneled into 2014 races in battleground states and highlights an uptick in political spending from single-candidate groups that shield the identities of donors from the public eye. 

The nine Senate races considered to be “toss-ups” have, with close to three months remaining before the elections, seen $72 million in spending by outside interests. This staggering figure dwarfs the $97 million in outside spending on all 37 Senate races in the 2010 cycle. While this disparity reflects the outsized, and growing, influence of big money in politics, the extent to which outside groups can influence election outcomes goes deeper than that one statistic:

The amount of dark money in elections is increasing dramatically: As of last month, across all federal elections, 2014 had seen 15 times more than in the 2010 midterms, and three times the level of 2012. To take the long view, before 2008 – when there was $69 million in spending by groups that disclose none of their donors in all federal elections – dark money was virtually nonexistent. Focusing on the Senate, according to the Sunlight Foundation, there was $97 million worth of dark money all senate elections in 2012. With three months to go, our sample of nine races has already seen $37 million. 

The report added that spending from dark money groups accounted for 51 percent of the $72 million spent in this cycle so far in these nine Senate races.

This surge in outside spending in elections — and the lack of transparency in donor activities — underscores the serious need to amend our campaign finance laws. The Democracy for All Amendment, which would give Congress and the states the ability to regulate the onslaught of money in politics (including outside spending), would go a long way towards restoring the political voice each American voter deserves. In an electoral landscape where the better-financed candidate wins nine times out of ten, we need legislation that can stem the tide of big money distorting our democratic system.  

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Justice Ginsburg: The Biggest Mistake This Court Made Is in Campaign Finance

In an interview this week with the National Law Journal, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shed light on what she sees as the biggest mistake the Court has made. Responding to a question about the Supreme Court being viewed as a political institution, Ginsberg volunteered her thoughts on the systemic problem of money in politics:

I think the biggest mistake this court made is in campaign finance, which Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor could have saved us from. She left. Justices O’Connor, [John Paul] Stevens and [David] Souter (who supported campaign finance regulations) were Republican voters from the time they could vote and came from families that were always Republican. It should be increasingly clear how [money] is corrupting our system, and it is spreading in states that elect their judges.

The 81-year-old Ginsberg has served on the court since 1993, when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton. Many controversial decisions have been handed down by the Supreme Court in recent years, and citing campaign finance as the greatest mistake is significant — particularly in light of the ongoing push for a 28th amendment to roll back the undue influence of big money in politics. The proposed Democracy for All Amendment is gaining steam at the right time. Individuals, organizations, and now even Supreme Court justices are recognizing money in politics as the underlying issue that stymies progress on so many other fronts.

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Activists Deliver Amendment Petitions to 21 Senate Offices

Congress may be on recess, but activists across the country are not taking a break from the nationwide push to get big money out of politics. Today activists teamed up for a massive petition drop, delivering petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United to 21 Senate offices in 15 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington).

Activists delivering petitions raise their pointer finger in support of reclaiming our democracy from wealthy special interests by protecting the promise of “one person, one vote.” The one finger represents the idea that democracy is about equal representation without special privileges granted to a few.

As the Sept. 8 Senate vote on the Democracy for All Amendment rapidly approaches, the Progressive Democrats of America teamed up with People For the American Way and thirteen other groups to compile and deliver the petitions to key Senate offices. More and more people nationwide are now calling for an amendment – within our organizations alone we're up to 2.4 million in support! And now is the time for senators to hear from constituents about how important the fight against big money’s outsized influence in our democracy is to them. To date, 50 senators have already heeded the call and support the amendment.

Americans have made clear that this is not a fight that they will shy away from. Our political system is supposed to reflect the will of the people — and today’s massive, nationwide petition delivery underscores just what that political will is.

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Yes, Latino Vote Can Have Big Impact This Election

The Latino population is growing, and with it a bloc of eligible Latino voters. From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population grew by 43% according to the Census bureau. That population has continued to grow from 2010 until today, making up over 16% of the total population, which means more Latinos than ever are becoming eligible to vote each year. Despite this growth, Nate Cohn argued in his New York Times column last week that this voting bloc won’t make a difference in the November elections:

“Yet the vote is unlikely to deal a severe blow to the [Republican] party’s chances in November’s midterm elections. Hispanic voters may be flexing their growing political muscles in presidential elections, but they have far less sway over the composition of the House or the Senate, particularly in 2014.”

While it is true that many of this year’s most critical Senate races aren’t in the states with the largest Latino populations, there are races in states where the growing Latino population can exercise major muscle and make a critical difference. Cohn’s argument fails to consider how this growing population coupled with the anti-immigrant rhetoric fueled by the Republican party can drive up Latino voter turnout this year. This can make a big difference in states with tight races.

In Colorado, for example, where the number of Latinos has grown significantly — by 41% between 2000 and 2010, now making up over 20% of the population —  this voting bloc can play a big role in a close race. Similarly, in states with tight races like Georgia and North Carolina, even though Latinos make up around 9% of the population, that population grew by 96% and 111% respectively since 2000. This dramatic growth makes this a voting bloc that can have a major impact in what are expected to be two very close elections.
 

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Democracy for All Amendment: PFAW Member Telebriefing

On Wednesday, just over a month before the Senate votes on the Democracy for All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, People For the American Way members and supporters joined Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) for a telebriefing on the proposed amendment. As our telebriefing facilitator and Director of Communications Drew Courtney noted, Rep. Deutch has been a champion of the push for an amendment in the House of Representatives, where it already has a whopping 117 cosponsors.

In his introduction, Rep. Deutch noted that he was running for Congress when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision came down in 2010. As he reflected on the issues he was discussing on the campaign trail – from immigration reform to climate change – he saw that for progress to happen on any of them, we need to reform the way we do business in Washington. Rep. Deutch said that with so much dark money coming into our political system, the matters that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see being addressed by Congress are pushed to the side as wealthy special interests set the political agenda.

To fix this problem and return democracy to the people, he said, we need to overturn decisions like Citizens United. Rep. Deutch underscored the importance of every member of Congress hearing from their constituents again and again on this issue, urging them to become a cosponsor of the Democracy for All Amendment. He also debunked the myth pushed by amendment opponents that the proposal would harm or restrict free speech. To the contrary, Rep. Deutch clarified, the amendment would help us hear the voices of all Americans, no matter what their viewpoint may be. He closed his remarks with an acknowledgment that although amending the Constitution isn’t easy – nor was it meant to be – there are times in American history when we have to take that step.

PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker also spoke on the call and fielded questions from activists. She outlined the campaign in support of the Democracy for All Amendment underway this summer, including a week of writing letters to the editor, a week of social media activity, and a week of petition deliveries. Baker highlighted the fact that advocates have to keep up the push not only before and during the Senate vote on Sept. 8, but also in its aftermath. We have to make the phones of our elected officials ring off the hook on the day after the vote, she said, to make clear that we are paying attention to how our representatives voted and that we will keep up our work until the Democracy for All Amendment becomes the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

Visit our Democracy for All Amendment Toolkit for information on how to get involved.

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Congressional Candidate Speaks Out on Why Young People Care About Money in Politics

Christina Gagnier, who is running for Congress in California’s 35th district, says millennials believe money in politics is a key issue Congress needs to take on.
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Hey Senator Cruz, Who's REALLY Suppressing Grandma's Speech?

Remember Ted Cruz and the myth of the censored grandma? Despite Cruz's absurd fear mongering over nonexistent government censorship, the proposed Democracy for All Amendment to get big money out of politics would really protect the speech of ordinary Americans... because our voices are already being drowned out (and not by commonsense campaign finance regulations like the proposed amendment).

grandma

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New Battleground State Poll Finds Voter Support for Candidates that Favor Amendment to Get Money out of Politics

Senate candidates, take notice: a new poll of 12 Senate battleground states released today finds that supporting a constitutional amendment to undo the damage of cases like Citizens United is not only good for our democracy, it’s good politics.

The poll, conducted by Democracy Corps for Every Voice, found strong, cross-partisan support for a constitutional amendment such as the Democracy for All Amendment now gaining momentum and moving through Congress. Nearly three in four voters (73 percent) favor it, including majorities “in even the reddest states.” Even among Republicans, supporters strongly outnumber opponents — by a sizable 26 percent margin.

The polling data also found that candidates’ support for an amendment can help win favor among voters. While a plurality of voters were more likely to support a Democratic candidate after hearing a pro-amendment argument, two thirds of voters had “serious doubts” about Republicans when they learned of their support for the Citizens United decision — including a majority of Republican voters.

The release of these new polling numbers could not come at a better time. This summer, a nationwide grassroots push for the Democracy for All Amendment is heating up. Already sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for an amendment, and individual Americans are raising their voices in support more than ever before. After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, the amendment — which currently has 50 supporters in the Senate — is expected to get a vote after the August recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even noted on the Senate floor this morning that the amendment is a priority for September.

Americans of all political stripes have made it clear that getting big money out of politics and ensuring that all voices are heard in our democracy is a priority issue. Across the board, people believe that the strength of your voice in our government should not be determined by how much money you can spend in elections. Now we know that this is not only an issue that Americans care deeply about, it’s one that will help shape their decisions on Election Day.

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Senate Holds Hearing on Need for Disclosing Money in Federal Elections

If sunlight is the best disinfectant, our system of funding elections could use a whole lot more of it. This morning a Senate committee is holding a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act and the need for increased transparency surrounding money in federal elections.

Disclosure of political spending is key to the functioning of a democracy, allowing voters to understand who is behind political information and what the funder’s agenda may be. Even in the Supreme Court’s damaging Citizens United decision that opened the door to unlimited corporate political spending, eight of the nine justices supported disclosure laws.

Unfortunately, as Rep. Chris Van Hollen recently noted in an op-ed, “the floodgates were opened to outside spending, but the disclosure has yet to follow.” He wrote:

At the time, many were concerned that corporations would be pressured to open up their corporate coffers for the purpose of making political expenditures but would prefer to do so anonymously to avoid the backlash from their customers or shareholders. Four years later, in light of experiencing the two most expensive elections in history since the decision, it appears that these fears were well-founded. Outside money has poured into campaigns and it has done so under the cover of darkness, as a cottage industry has emerged to funnel money from corporations and others, into federal elections through non-profit groups that are not required to disclose their donors.

The current influx of dark money into our democracy threatens the integrity of our political system, and Americans know it. Click on our graphic below below to share it on Facebook and show your support for increased transparency of political money:

 

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National Candidates Share Their Views on Money in Politics in the 2014 Elections

Most Americans recognize money in politics to be a pressing issue, but no one understands it quite like the candidates running for office to try and change our campaign finance system.

In a candidate forum yesterday at Netroots Nation​, moderator and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker led panelists – Maine U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, Wisconsin U.S. House of Representatives candidate Kelly Westlund, and former California Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman – in a lively discussion of the role of money in politics in the 2014 elections.

Baker kicked off the discussion by noting both the magnitude of outside money flooding into the 2014 elections as compared to earlier elections, as well as the public will to quell this tide. She pointed out that nine in ten voters want to see their elected officials take action to fix our country’s money in politics problem.

The candidates began by telling the audience why they were inspired to make money in politics a central issue for their campaigns. Shenna Bellows, who said that her father was a carpenter and that her family did not have electricity or running water during her childhood, noted that “people like me” – those not from wealthy backgrounds – don’t often run for public office. This fact, she pointed out, contributes to the creation of laws tilted in favor of big business. Rick Weiland echoed that idea, and said that he believes money in politics is the number one issuing facing our country. For Kelly Westlund, the full weight of our country’s money in politics problem hit home for her when she approached her party about running for office and was asked whether she would be able to raise a quarter of a million dollars in three weeks. And Derek Cressman said that he was drawn to the opportunity of using the bully pulpit of a political office like secretary of state (or as Baker added, the platform of a being a candidate for that political office) to get support for measures like Proposition 49, a ballot initiative in California asking Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United that will now be on the ballot in the state in November.

Panelists also talked about fighting the cynicism and despair that can surround the issue of big money in politics for voters. Cressman said that while Americans already understand that this is a major problem, they are also eager to support solutions. He underscored the overwhelming grassroots energy around the issue. A number of panelists highlighted the importance of “connecting the dots” between money and policy – drawing the links for voters between progress on the issues they care most about and the creation of a political system not dominated by corporations and the super-rich. Multiple panelists also shared stories of the power of small dollar donors. For Bellows, a full half of the contributions her campaign receives are $6 or less. She lifted up the example of former senator and progressive hero Paul Wellstone, who she noted was outraised seven-to-one but still won his race.

As the panel wrapped up, panelists underscored the importance of pushing for a range of complimentary solutions to our money in politics problem, from the constitutional amendment now moving through the Senate to disclosure legislation to small-donor financing initiatives. As Westlund put it, it’s not enough to recognize the problems. We have to fight for solutions and get the right people at the table so that we can change the system and make sure the government’s policies reflect the will of the people.

Watch a video of the panel here:

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