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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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).
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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.
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:
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:
Last week activists and concerned citizens across the country came together at the district offices of their senators to show support for a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution to curtail the influence of big money in politics. PFAW members joined other activists in gathering petitions, distributing information and engaging in various forms of street theater to make their voices heard.
In the demonstrations, activists got creative in their call for an amendment. In Hawaii, people dressed as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin carried giant cardboard cutouts of $1, $5 and $100 bills as they marched to money-themed music. In Vermont, a parade of more than 200 people concluded with a rally that featured an appearance by Sen. Bernie Sanders. In Kentucky, demonstrators gathered to watch a live performance about the issue of money in politics and called on Sen. Rand Paul to sign on as a cosponsor of the amendment. In Louisiana, activists with Public Citizen even put on a street theater performance outside Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office, a video of which can be viewed here.
With the proposed 28th Amendment (SJ Res 19) coming up for a Senate Judiciary Committee vote this Thursday, it is more critical than ever that senators hear from their constituents. If passed by the committee this week, the amendment will be sent to the Senate floor for an official vote in September. Currently there are 45 senators that support the amendment.
Noted constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky took to the op-ed page of The Hill last week to utterly dismantle Senator Ted Cruz's outlandish arguments against the proposed constitutional amendment to undo the consequences of decisions like Citizens United.
In his not-so-subtly titled op-ed "Ted Cruz should be ashamed," he wrote that while it is reasonable for Congress to debate the merits of a proposed amendment, Cruz’s claims about how the amendment would affect Americans are outright lies and "have no place in an informed debate."
Here’s Dean of UC Irvine School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky:
In a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cruz declared: "This amendment here today, if adopted, would repeal the free speech protections of the First Amendment. . . . This amendment, if adopted, would give Congress absolute authority to regulate the political speech of every single American, with no limitations whatsoever."
Similarly, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Cruz said, the amendment "gives Congress power to regulate—and ban—speech by everybody." In remarks at the Family Research Council, Cruz declared: "What it [the proposed amendment] says is that politicians in Washington have unlimited constitutional authority to muzzle each and every one of you if you’re saying things that government finds inconvenient."
The amendment does nothing of the sort. It gives no authority to the government to ban or limit anyone's speech. It provides the government no power to "muzzle" messages the government doesn’t like. It does not change in any way the long-standing First Amendment principle that the government cannot restrict speech based on the content of the message or the views expressed. The amendment would do no more than allow the government to regulate spending in election campaigns.
Chemerinsky goes on to note that he has debated Cruz multiple times and knows that Cruz is "a person of great intelligence," who has had a distinguished legal career. Consequently, Chemerinsky concludes that Cruz's lies indicate that "he knows exactly what the proposed amendment would do and yet has chosen to vilify it by misrepresenting it."
Cruz responded to Chemerinsky in today’s The Hill, with an op-ed entitled “I did not lie.” Cruz accuses Chemerinsky of waging “personal insults” against him, and argues that Chemerinsky’s piece was invalid on a technicality, because he quoted from a slightly later iteration of the bill. Interestingly, Cruz’s response focuses far more on attacking Chemerinsky than on presenting – or clarifying – any valid argument against the constitutional amendment.
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One year ago this week, the Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court's mess.
The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of "stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart." Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way's director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: "Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America."
Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.
Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It's a critically important first step in getting our country's laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn't exist, they won't have to fix it.
The push for voting rights protections isn't the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.
But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn't despair -- it's action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.
National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court's majority: "Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power."
The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: these wrong-headed decisions shouldn't have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won't.
While we may be accustomed to seeing charts and tables about the impact of big money in politics, it’s far less common to hear about the real-world stories of its influence. Yesterday researchers from Ohio State University released a new report on “The New Soft Money,” a first-of-its-kind look at the day to day impact of independent expenditures (such as spending by super PACs) on federal campaigns and governance.
Through interviews with former members of Congress, campaign and legislative staff, candidates, and other political figures, the report details — in the interviewees’ own words — the effects of the explosion of independent spending into our political system following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
A few highlights from the report make clear the enormous impact outside spending has on the functioning of our democracy:
“No one’s saying, ‘Here’s $50 million for a good compromise.” -Former Rep. Dan Boren (pg. 93)
“When Club for Growth first came out we used to laugh about them, we used to chuckle on the floor… But, after the Citizens United case, they became….much more active….if you didn’t behave in a certain way they would come into your district and spend a lot of money to make sure you were defeated in the primary.” -Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (p. 87-88)
Some political insiders described the ongoing implicit threat of independent spending on attack ads as just as effective as an explicit threat would be:
“You’re already threatened.... You’re sitting there saying ... is Americans for Prosperity going to advertise against me in a primary, yes or no?....If you’re sitting there making a decision, [thinking]… we’d better do something about it, but if I do something about it, I know the Koch brothers are going to run an ad against me. I know they’re going to put a lot of money to try to defeat me in a primary. I know it… They don’t have to threaten me…the net effect is the same. I’m afraid to do what I think is right.” -Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who ran for Senate again in 2012 (p. 82)
The report was released on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee voted to move forward a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, serving as even more evidence of the pressing need to reform our campaign finance system.
In today’s Senate subcommittee markup on a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics, Sen. Ted Cruz was ready with a long line of scary predictions as to what the proposed amendment would really do. From claiming that it would repeal the First Amendment to asserting that under the original proposed amendment, a “little old lady” could be put in jail for spending five dollars to put up a political yard sign, Cruz had horror stories at the ready. During the markup, Sen. Cruz dramatically tweeted that a “constitutional amendment proposed by Democrats would allow Congress to ban books!”
As we have pointed out before, Sen. Cruz’s doomsday predictions are far cry from reality.
Here’s what is reality: the proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to be able to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money in elections, as they did for years and years before the Citizens United decision. It would not change the landscape with respect to books. Grandmas would still be able to put out their candidate yard signs. The First Amendment would be restored from the damage done by Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.
Fortunately other members of the subcommittee were able to set the record straight. Sen. Durbin underscored the idea that a large bank account does not “entitle you to buy every seat at the table, control the agenda, silence your opponents.” In other words, the First Amendment is about protecting the right to free speech, not the “right” of wealthy special interests to buy elections and drown out all other voices. As Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has noted previously: “I’m still looking for the word ‘money’ in the First Amendment.”
But presumably the goal of Sen. Cruz’s censored-grandma myth and other horror stories is to pull the conversation far away from the actual merits of the proposal at hand. Rather than talking about the influx of money flooding our elections, we’re talking about book banning. But with across-the-board support for efforts to get big money out of politics, it’s a distraction ploy that Americans aren’t buying.