Following the approval of House Joint Memorial 6 by a 17-13 vote in the Oregon Senate today, Oregon became the 16th state to call for an amendment to the Constitution overturning the 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases.
The passage of HJM6, first introduced in January by Representative Brian Clem, is the result of a grassroots mobilization effort by the people of Oregon. In 2012 alone, 12 Oregon cities and counties passed local resolutions urging state and federal legislators to call for a constitutional amendment taking back our democracy from corporations and special interests. The mobilization at the state level was led by Oregonians for Restoring Constitutional Democracy, a coalition that gathered signatures and endorsements in support of HJM6.
The joint memorial urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment “clarifying the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations” and recognizing “that Congress and state legislatures may regulate all moneys raised and spent for political purposes.”
Rep. Jules Bailey, speaking to the Oregon House last week, urged his fellow representatives to support the measure, saying, “When we confuse the monolith with the individual, then a piece of our humanity dies. Let us ask Congress to undo this mistake.” The measure passed the House by a vote of 48-11 on June 21st before being sent to the Senate.
With each additional state joining the movement to overturn Citizens United and related decisions, the will of the American people becomes clearer. We will not let our elections be bought and sold. We will not let corporate power subvert the will of the people.
America has awakened. All across the nation, a burgeoning movement has begun to demand the overturn of Citizens United v. FEC and related cases via constitutional amendment, including, according to a new report by Free Speech for People, 130 Republican officials at the state and federal levels.
The new report released in June, titled "Across the Aisle: The Growing Trans-partisan Opposition to Citizens United", compiles quotes from these officials to form a comprehensive body of evidence in support of the fact that, indeed, getting corporations out of political campaigns – at least at the state level – is not a partisan issue. In fact, Republican support has been instrumental in the passage of fifteen state-level resolutions calling for the overturn of Citizens United, with a Republican primary sponsor even leading the charge in Illinois. As Verner Bertelsen, former Secretary of State of Montana, put it,
... the bad Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and more recent decisions ... threaten to undo Montana's century-old laws against political corruption ... I am a lifelong Republican and I served as Montana secretary of state from 1988 to 1989... Corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. CEOs of corporations may choose to personally contribute to political campaigns, but they shouldn’t be allowed to use shareholders’ money to do so.
These views, too, are hardly new – as Theodore Roosevelt declared in 1910,
It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs ... The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint ... has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need ... a corrupt-services act effective to prevent the advantage of the man willing recklessly and unscrupulously to spend money over his more honest competitor.
With recent polling cited in the report showing robust support for amending the Constitution -- 83% of Americans, including 81% of Republicans -- it's quite clear that, with continued education and mobilization, Citizens United's days are numbered.
Strong campaign finance laws lead to more competitive elections and a greater influence from small donors, according to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The report, released in May, examines state-level elections to gauge the impact of campaign finance laws. Titled "Evidencing a Republican Form of Government: The Influence of Campaign Money on State-Level Elections," it follows the finances of candidates in each state, looking at their donors, expenditures, and disclosures, providing evidence of the deleterious effects that unrestrained campaign spending has on our democracy.
States with high or no contribution limits, for one, have dramatically fewer competitive races than those with public financing. For example, the Institute found that only 6 percent of 2010 elections in Georgia were competitive, compared with 75 percent of elections in Maine. Not coincidentally, Georgia has relatively high contribution limits, with winning candidates raising a median amount of $50,425, while Maine uses public financing and had a much lower fundraising median of $5,844.
Further, removing limits on contributions also appears to crowd out small donors. In Texas, a state where individuals are allowed to contribute unlimited sums directly to campaigns, the median fundraising gap between winners and losers for 2010 was a whopping $255,318. Meanwhile, just 4 percent of 2010 donations in the state were under $250, while 59 percent exceeded $10,000. In fact, the Institute’s data reveals that in Texas, nearly half of all political donations came from a few hundred people. In contrast, in Colorado, which has much stricter contribution limits, the equivalent half of all contributions came from about 35,000 people. The Institute found this pattern to be present in all 50 states.
Lax campaign finance law has a double effect: not only does it reduce the competitiveness of political races, allowing candidates with money to simply overwhelm their opponents with tides of spending, but it also drastically reduces small-donor participation in politics, concentrating power and influence in the hands of those with deep pockets. This, of course, is a problem – as DEMOS has pointed out, the elite “donor class” often has vastly different policy priorities than those of most Americans.
As corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interests continue to adjust their election strategies in the wake of Citizens United, pouring ever more money into political campaigns, the conclusions of this report are cause for worry. Fortunately, the American people are not sitting idly by while our democracy is threatened. We are mobilizing.
In yet another state, the American people have made it clear that we will not allow our elections to be bought and sold.
Recent months have seen Delaware legislators and local advocates busy collecting signatures for a letter to Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Representative Carney, asking them and their colleagues in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Working with Common Cause Delaware, PFAW has been on the front lines of this initiative. Last month Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan went “door to door” with PFAW members and allies in the state legislature urging lawmakers to sign onto the letter.
Following their hard work, Delaware today became the fifteenth state to go on record calling for an amendment to reclaim our democracy. Signed by the majority of lawmakers in both chambers of the state legislature with bipartisan support, today’s victory means that 30% of our nation’s states have called for such an amendment. Four of those states – West Virginia, Maine, Illinois, and now Delaware – have made their position official in just the last two months.
The tide is turning. The momentum is undeniable. As the letter points out, “There is no more critical foundation to our government than citizens’ confidence in fair and free elections.” Today’s victory – as well as those in other states and those in states still to come – makes clear that Americans are taking back our elections.
With all eyes on Illinois today for a possible marriage equality vote, the Illinois General Assembly took another important action – they called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Following on the heels of West Virginia and Maine last month, today’s action makes Illinois the fourteenth state to call for such a resolution.
The Rock River Times reports:
“The effort in Illinois was bipartisan, underscoring what poll data have shown: People of all political stripes are deeply concerned about corporations having too much influence over our democratic process. A measure calling for a constitutional amendment was on ballots across Illinois in November, and was supported by three-quarters of voters.”
Indeed, in Illinois and across the country, Americans of all “political stripes” are making clear that they do not want a democracy ruled by corporate spending. And with each additional state that goes on record supporting the movement to reclaim our democracy from wealthy special interests, that momentum grows even stronger.
Between buying elections, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch shop for big pieces of American media and culture. And, hey, why not?
We already knew of the Kochs' efforts to buy Tribune Company, the parent of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, among other major newspapers. Then, last week, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer took a thoughtful, in-depth look at the machinations that led New York's PBS station, WNET, to pull from the air a documentary critical of David Koch, one of the station's biggest funders. The story raises plenty of questions about the extent to which the public owns public media and the role of money in the arts and culture (see anything at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater lately?). But it also provides a rare intimate look at what happens when big money begets massive influence, often without a dime changing hands.
Mayer describes the fate of two documentary films. One took on income disparities in America by profiling the inhabitants of one tony Park Avenue building - including David Koch. Under pressure, WNET aired the film but, in a highly unusual concession, offered Koch airtime to rebut it after it aired. The second film, "Citizen Koch," made by the very talented, Academy Award nominated team of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, explored the influence that Koch and others like him have on our elections in the post-Citizens United world. But in the face of Koch's wrath, the film's distributor, a public television player with a history of gutsy moves, uncharacteristically lost its stomach for the fight and dumped the film entirely. Regardless, Koch decided to not give a hoped-for gift after the first film aired. Without lifting a finger or even taking out his checkbook, Koch cast a pall over the documentary film world.
The process that led to "Citizen Koch" being pulled from the airwaves illustrates exactly the point that Lessin and Deal's film makes: money can not only buy action in our democracy, it can also buy silence. As former Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer points out in the film, "Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways."
Koch and his brother Charles, both billionaire industrialists, pledged to spend a whopping $400 million on the 2012 elections, the overwhelming majority of it on behalf of Republican candidates. But that doesn't just mean that Republicans are jumping to please the brothers--it means that many of those in positions of influence, regardless of their political leanings, need to take into account whether or not it's worth the trouble of unnecessarily antagonizing the Kochs. Just as the public is unlikely to hear about the film PBS didn't run, it's almost impossible to know about the principled progressive stands that our allies in government decided not to take.
Koch's billions are a formidable political weapon, even without owning any influential newspapers. Thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, it's a more powerful weapon than ever, and we know it's having an impact even when they don't choose to deploy them. The result is a distorted government that responds to the whims of billionaires more easily than the needs of ordinary Americans.
As activists work to undo the damage being done by Citizens United, one of our main challenges is reminding voters of the dangerous, invisible effects that decision has on the country. It's a remarkable irony that by trying to hide a film about the danger of money in politics, the Kochs may have made it clearer than ever before.
It was the tiring but rewarding work of democracy in action.
PFAW Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan recently joined PFAW members and ally organizations Common Cause Delaware and Public Citizen in meeting with Delaware Senators and Representatives, asking them to sign a letter calling for a Constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Going “door to door” in the state legislature, the advocates held meetings with lawmakers about the importance of reclaiming our democracy from corporations and wealthy special interests. By the end of the day, the advocates were exhausted but buoyed by the positive responses they had received from public officials on both sides of the aisle.
“The United States of America’s elections should not be permitted to go to the highest bidder, and yet this is the risk that rises from the ashes of the Citizens United decision. This risk must be abated.”
From grassroots advocacy in Delaware to tracking money in politics legislation across the country, PFAW continues to speak out about that risk. And as President Michael Keegan wrote in an action alert last month,
“Our national movement to get unlimited corporate and special interest money out of our elections is growing stronger by the day.”
In Los Angeles, California, a group of specialists in media, advertising and entertainment, joined by business people, lawyers, and civic activists have founded an organization that is running advertisements based solely on the need to amend the Constitution to fix our political campaign finance system. The group, Fix Our America, has begun the process of running the following advertisement on airwaves in California, and is seeking to run more ads in other media markets across the country:
These advertisements are boosting the amendment dialogue in California, a state that has witnessed much grassroots amendment activity yet is still in need of deep reform. Just days ago, Los Angeles voters approved Ballot Measure C, which called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, with 77% of the vote; last year, the California state legislature passed an amendment resolution “to restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people”; and since the Citizens United decision came down in January 2010, over 75 California municipalities have called on Congress and the states to pass and ratify an amendment to overturn Citizens United.
California does not stand alone. The amendment movement is well underway and gaining momentum in states across the country. Fix Our America is yet another example of the American people joining together in protest of the fundamental threat that corporate and special interest campaign spending poses to our democratic institutions. In the words of Fix Our America’s Declaration of Principles Statement, “Americans deserve the best. Instead, we have been saddled with a system that … leaves all of us at the mercy of those who buy legislation and policy to suit their narrow interests.” The time has come to fix that.
Americans of all political stripes should be outraged at the recent revelation that the Tea Party was unfairly targeted by the IRS before last year's election. The IRS should never base its decisions on political preferences or ideological code words, regardless of what bureaucratic challenges it may face. But the lesson that the right is drawing from the IRS's misdeeds -- the lesson that threatens to dominate the public conversation about the news -- is wrong.
We're seeing a knee-jerk reaction, particularly from the Tea Party and their allies in Congress, that is threatening to turn the IRS's mistakes into an indictment of "big government" writ large. Some are already trying to tie the scandal to the Right's favorite target, Obamacare, and to the Benghazi conspiracy theory.
The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.
Before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, only a limited number of nonprofit 501c(4) groups could spend money to influence elections -- those who did not take contributions from corporations or unions. But Citizens United lifted restrictions on corporate spending in elections, setting the stage for individuals and companies to funnel unlimited money through all corporations, including c(4)s and super PACs in an effort to help elect the candidates of their choice. Spending by c(4)s has exploded since Citizens United, since the decision allowed any c(4) nonprofit corporation that didn't spend the majority of its money on electoral work to run ads and campaign for and against candidates. And c(4)s, as long as they follow this rule, don't have to disclose their donors under the laws currently in place.
The IRS, then, was forced to play a new and critical role in policing this onslaught of electoral spending. IRS officials clearly made poor choices in how to confront this sudden sea change and those mistakes should be investigated and properly addressed. But strong oversight of this new wave of spending remains critically important and clearlywithin the IRS's purview.
If we let understandable concerns about bad decisions by the IRS lead to weakening of campaign finance oversight, our democracy will be the worse off for it. Instead, we should insist that the government strengthen its oversight of electoral spending -- equally across the political spectrum. We should pass strong disclosure laws that cover all political spenders, including c(4)s. And we should redouble our efforts to overturn Citizens United by constitutional amendment and reel back the flood of corporate money that led the IRS to be in this business in the first place.
Garrett Epps writes today in The Atlantic about how the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, still dominated by far-right George W. Bush nominees, has been instrumental in “the long, doleful transformation of the First Amendment from an individual right of conscience into a shield against business regulation.”
We've read of the violence done to the National Labor Relations Board by the D.C. Circuit's December decision in Noel Canning v. NLRB. Having read that opinion repeatedly, I believe it does violence to the Constitution as well. The D.C. Circuit last year voided a Food and Drug Administration regulation requiring graphic warning labels on cigarette labels as a violation of tobacco companies' "free speech" rights -- to me, another grave misstep. And I feel the same way about the Circuit's decision this week in National Association of Manufacturers v. NLRB. In this case, three Republican nominees held that the First Amendment's right against "compelled speech" protects employers against an NLRB regulation requiring them to post a government poster notifying workers of their rights. The decision is another step on the long, doleful transformation of the First Amendment from an individual right of conscience into a shield against business regulation.
We posted an infographic yesterday that shows just how ideologically skewed the D.C. Circuit is. George W. Bush made a concerted effort to pack the court with judges who shared his right-wing ideology (including John Roberts, who went on to be one of the top two most pro-corporate Supreme Court Justices in the past 65 years). In contrast, President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to not place a single judge on the court during his full first term.
The Huffington Post clips this exchange from yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, which pretty much encapsulates the gridlock that Republicans have inflicted on the Senate during the Obama administration:
HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery summarizes the exchange between Texas Republican John Cornyn and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee:
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Cornyn was arguing for more immigration judge slots in Texas when he got called out by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for gumming up the district court nomination process. Immigration judges are different from district court judges, but Whitehouse questioned why the Senate should add more immigration judgeships in Texas if Cornyn isn't trying to fill empty district court slots there.
"I don't see why you need additional judges when there have been multiple vacancies that have been left without nominees for years," Whitehouse said. "I have an issue with that."
Cornyn said his answer to that was "simple:" It's Obama's fault.
"The president's got to nominate somebody before the Senate can act on it," Cornyn said.
But the process for approving a new district court judge, per longstanding tradition, begins with a senator making recommendations from his or her state to the president. The president then works with that senator to get at least some of the nominees confirmed -- the idea being that those senators, regardless of party, are motivated to advocate for nominees from their states. The White House may look at other nominees on its own, but typically won't move forward without input from home state senators.
That's when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) stepped in to remind Cornyn what he already knows: that if he wants to see movement on district court nominees, he needs to make recommendations to the president.
"Based on 38 years experience here, every judgeship I've seen come through this committee during that time has followed recommendations by the senators from the state," Leahy said. "You have to have recommendations from the senators, especially since I've been chairman, because ... as the senator from Texas knows, if senators have cooperated with the White House and the White House sends somebody they disagree with ... I have not brought the person forward, even when it's been importune to do so by the White House."
Cruz tried to absolve himself of the matter altogether, saying he just got to the Senate in January.
In short, Cornyn was blaming President Obama for gridlock that Cornyn himself has created. In fact, Texas has eight current federal judicial vacancies, one dating back as far as 2008. All are on courts so overworked that they have been labeled “judicial emergencies.” Thanks to Cornyn and Cruz, not one of those vacancies has a nominee.
And in July, one more vacancy will open up in a district court seat based in Fort Worth. When it comes open, Fort Worth will be reduced to just one active federal judge for the first time in over two decades.
It seems like with every election, congressional hearing or large gathering of its activists, the Right reaches new lows. Here are some updates on what we’re up against right now.
Rewarding Hypocrisy -- Sanford and Cruz
This week, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford staged a political comeback and won a special election to reclaim the U.S. House seat he once occupied. Sanford had left office mired in scandal about his extramarital affair and ran a campaign centered on his own humility and learned compassion -- although, apparently his experience did nothing to dissuade him from his moralizing anti-choice and anti-gay positions. I pointed out in a piece on the Huffington Post yesterday that Sanford trumpeted his new personal understanding of "human grace as a reflection of God's grace," but his ideas of grace, choice and personal freedom as they apply to his own story don’t seem to be pushing him in the direction of supporting those things for same-sex couples, women, religious minorities or really anyone who is not just like him.
Sanford’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This past weekend NRA convention speakers from Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum to Sarah Palin and NRA president Wayne LaPierre attacked “the Left,” the Obama administration, the media and, basically, their straw man version of The (uber-liberal) Establishment for using fear tactics to scare Americans into supporting common sense gun reforms like background checks… while in the same breath stoking paranoia about every manner of “big government” tyranny, like the forced disarmament of America’s law abiding gun owners.
Another NRA convention speaker, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is being discussed in right-wing circles (and by Cruz himself) as potential presidential candidate in 2016. Cruz is a Tea Party super star who is making waves by challenging the traditional role of freshmen U.S. senators and recently gained notoriety for leading the filibuster of the background check requirement for gun purchases (the one 90% of Americans support) and then insulting his fellow Republican senators at a Tea Party event. But Sen. Cruz was born in Canada. Where are all the Tea Party “Birthers” who claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya and therefore he didn’t qualify as a “natural born citizen,” making him ineligible to run for president, even if his mother was an American citizen??
Whether it’s based on race, politics or ideology, the hypocrisy here is palpable … as it was when Cruz bragged to the NRA about vowing to filibuster any gun safety reform, no matter how common-sense or popular, but in the same speech, tore into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for requiring a 60 vote threshold to advance one of his preferred “pro-gun” bills, which incidentally had less support in the Senate than background checks.
It seems that it’s not so much a good redemption story the Right loves as it is blatant hypocrisy that gets rewarded with support and popularity.
It must be political witch hunt season because Republicans in Congress – fueled by their allies in the right-wing media – are embarking on some serious fishing expeditions in attempts to smear the president, his nominee for Labor Secretary Tom Perez and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee channels Sen. Joe McCarthy perhaps more than any other sitting member of Congress in his overzealous twisting of facts and events to “support” his hyperbolic allegations like President Obama’s is “the most corrupt government in history” and Hillary Clinton and her inner circle staged a vast “cover up” surrounding the embassy attack in Benghazi. Issa, who himself is no stranger to ethical questions (again with the hypocrisy -- they can’t help themselves), along with his allies, who include most congressional Republicans, the Religious Right and virtually the entire conservative movement, are clearly being motivated by their expectations that former Sec. of State Clinton will be a formidable candidate for president in 2016, so they are trying to tar her in advance.
Issa and his House cohorts have been involved in the attacks on Tom Perez as well, although the real obstruction is taking place in Senate, where Perez’s confirmation vote has been delayed again by Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. While obstructing an eminently well qualified Latino nominee seems like a funny way to demonstrate the GOP’s “rebranding” and appeal to Latino voters, the attacks on Tom Perez have truly been as vicious as they are baseless. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) alluded to Perez being “a dishonorable man,” and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) contorted claims about an incident involving the city of St. Paul, MN to assert that Perez wanted to “hurt poor people” simply because he was in a position of power from which he could do so.
This week, PFAW delivered 50,000 petition signatures to the Senate HELP Committee urging an end to the obstruction and swift action to confirm Tom Perez, and we’ll continue to keep the pressure on.
Religious Right’s Persecution Fantasy
Claim after claim after claim of “persecution,” used as examples of a “war on Christians” by Religious Right activists, talk show hosts and politicians, gets thoroughly debunked. But even as these examples are firmly established as myths, right-wing leaders, and even lazy mainstream journalists, continue to cite them in their speeches and reporting. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch released an In Focus report in the first weeks of the Obama administration in 2009 about the Right’s use of a “big lie” strategy about a war on Christians to stoke the base’s false fears of religious persecution. We are seeing every day in our Right Wing tracking that the playbook we identified remains in constant use.
A new study by the Constitutional Accountability Center details the remarkable success corporate special interests like the Chamber of Commerce have had before the current Supreme Court. Certainly as, if not even more, notable, another study published in The Minnesota Law Review ranked all 36 Supreme Court justices of the last 65 years based on their pro-corporate bent. While all five of the current Court’s conservative justices made the top 10, President George W. Bush’s nominees and the two most recent conservative additions to the Court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, were at the very top of the list.
Meanwhile, a separate study from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service confirms what we’ve been pointing out for years -- that President Obama’s judicial nominees are being treated exceptionally poorly by Senate Republicans. Emblematic of the obstruction of President Obama’s nominees has been the situation with respect to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, often called the nation’s second most powerful court. Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the DC Circuit’s rightward tilt even at the cost of maintaining vacancies that severely hinder the Court’s ability to do its job.
PFAW will continue to call attention to and fight the GOP’s unprecedented judicial obstruction in the DC Circuit and the entire federal judiciary. We expect several confirmation battles on the horizon, with new nominations expected to be announced by the White House in coming weeks, and we’ll be employing various strategies to make sure senators are feeling the heat in their own states over the GOP’s unconscionable obstruction.
Few Americans would argue that they want to see more big money flowing into our political system.
Yet yesterday the Republican National Committee asked the Supreme Court to strike down limits on the total amount an individual donor can contribute to campaigns in a single election cycle, filing an opening brief in what is sure to be a high-profile Supreme Court case. If the RNC and the Republican donor who together filed the case in Shaun McCutcheon, et al. v. Federal Election Commission are successful, the limit on aggregate individual contributions per cycle could jump from $117,000 to $3 million.
As PFAW noted in February, this case threatens to be the next stage in the ongoing attack on our country’s democracy. By calling for a gutting of our country’s campaign finance reform regulations, Republicans are ignoring the majority of Americans who believe there is already far too much big money being poured into our elections.
We write frequently about the extraordinarily pro-corporate leanings of the current Supreme Court, where the Justices bend the law and twist logic in order to rule in favor of large corporate interests and against the rights of individuals harmed by those interests. In the past week, two new studies have provided powerful numbers to back up the trend.
In a report released on Thursday, the Constitutional Accountability Center found that the corporate lobbying group U.S. Chamber of Commerce has won a stunning two-thirds of the cases that it has been involved with before the Roberts Court. And this weekend, The New York Times reported on a new study from the Minnesota Law Review that found that the current Supreme Court’s five conservative justices have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both George W. Bush nominees, are the two most pro-corporate Supreme Court justices to sit in the past 65 years:
The Times writes:
But the business docket reflects something truly distinctive about the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. While the current court’s decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.
In the eight years since Chief Justice Roberts joined the court, it has allowed corporations to spend freely in elections in the Citizens United case, has shielded them from class actions and human rights suits, and has made arbitration the favored way to resolve many disputes. Business groups say the Roberts court’s decisions have helped combat frivolous lawsuits, while plaintiffs’ lawyers say the rulings have destroyed legitimate claims for harm from faulty products, discriminatory practices and fraud.
Published last month in The Minnesota Law Review, the study ranked the 36 justices who served on the court over those 65 years by the proportion of their pro-business votes; all five of the current court’s more conservative members were in the top 10. But the study’s most striking finding was that the two justices most likely to vote in favor of business interests since 1946 are the most recent conservative additions to the court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both appointed by President George W. Bush.
The current Supreme Court’s pro-corporate leanings have resulted in a huge spike in rulings favoring corporations over individual Americans, according to a new report from the Constitutional Accountability Center. MSNBC’s Zachary Roth goes through the report’s findings, including that under Chief Justice Roberts, the behemoth corporate lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has won a full two-thirds of the Supreme Court cases in which it has been involved:
The major result of the Chamber’s success, legal scholars say, has been a string of rulings that threaten to block the courthouse door to ordinary Americans looking to hold corporations accountable. And with court-watchers’ attention focused on higher-profile gay marriage and voting rights cases this term, it’s a development that’s flown largely under the radar.
The Roberts Court’s pro-business outlook has been apparent for several years. But the CAC report suggests it may be accelerating. Both the Chamber’s participation rate and its success rate have risen significantly in recent years. This term, the Chamber filed amicus briefs in 24% of cases, up from 10% during the latter part of the Rehnquist Court, from 1994 to 2005, a period of stability when there were no changes to court personnel. And since John Roberts became Chief Justice, the Chamber has won 69% of the cases in which it’s gotten involved (see chart below). That’s up from 56% during the latter part of the Rehnquist Court, and just 43% during the last five years of the Burger Court, from 1981 to 1986.
Jamie Raskin, Senior Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation, chronicled the “Rise of the Corporate Court” in a 2010 report. He wrote:
Americans across the spectrum have been startled and appalled by the Citizens United decision, which will "open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign companies—to spend without limit in our elections," as President Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union Address. According to a Washington Post nationwide poll, more than 80% of the American people reject the Court's conclusion that a business corporation is a member of the political community entitled to the same free speech rights as citizens.
Yet, the Court's watershed ruling is the logical expression of an activist pro-corporatist jurisprudence that has been bubbling up for many decades on the Court but has gained tremendous momentum over the last generation. Since the Rehnquist Court, there have been at least five justices—and sometimes more—who tilt hard to the right when it comes to a direct showdown between corporate power and the public interest. During the Roberts Court, this trend has continued and intensified. Although there is still some fluidity among the players, it is reasonable to think of a reliable "corporate bloc" as having emerged on the Court.
What is striking today, however, is how often the Roberts Court, like its predecessor the Rehnquist Court, hands down counter-intuitive 5-4 victories to corporations by ignoring clear precedents, twisting statutory language and distorting legislative intent. From labor and workplace law to environmental law, from consumer regulation to tort law and the all-important election law, the conservative-tilting Court has reached out to enshrine and elevate the power of business corporations --what some people have begun to call "corporate Americans"--over the rights of the old-fashioned human beings called citizens.
With Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy in the driver's seat today, the "least dangerous" branch of government now routinely runs over our laws and our politics to clear the road for corporate interests. When it comes to political democracy and social progress, the Supreme Court today is the most dangerous branch. The road back to strong democracy requires sustained attention to how the Court is thwarting justice and the rule of law in service of corporate litigants.
A poll commissioned by People For the American Way and fellow progressive groups late last year found that the Corporate Court was a concern for a majority of voters.
The state of New York has become an embarrassing example of what can happen when money is allowed to rule politics. Earlier this month, for instance, two state lawmakers were arrested on corruption charges. It's a story that has become all too familiar in Albany, where a pervasive culture of corruption has led to the convictions of at least 13 state elected officials in the last ten years.
But New York and its governor, Andrew Cuomo, now have an opportunity to shed the state's pay-to-play image and lead the nation in fighting corruption. Good government advocates are pushing for the state to adopt a public financing system based on one that has met with success in New York City. The plan, which would provide matching funds for small donors, would help give candidates without big party or corporate backing the chance to compete in statewide elections. It would allow more voices to be heard in the political process and ensure that elected offices won't be handed to the highest bidder.
The Syracuse Post-Standard, in endorsing the measure, wrote, "There will always be more pressing spending priorities for taxpayer money. But when those priorities are thrown out of whack by the influence of big money on our politicians, something fundamental has to change." And all too often in New York, the priorities of voters are being superseded by the priorities of big campaign donors.
Shortly after the latest scandal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill to increase the penalties on state lawmakers accused of graft. That measure is useful, but on its own is not enough to change the culture in Albany. The public financing proposal, which would provide a meaningful solution to the problem of big money in New York politics, needs the governor's active support. So far, although supportive, Gov.Cuomo has not expended the energy in support of the measure needed for it to pass. He now has the chance to weigh in more forcefully and distinguish himself as a national leader on clean elections. With his full-throated endorsement, the measure would have a strong chance of becoming law, and New York could go from being one of the clearest examples of corrupt government to become a national model of reform.
Since the Supreme Court's outrageous Citizens United decision, which unleashed unlimited and unaccountable corporate spending into national politics, Americans have become increasingly wary of big-money influence in elections. A poll late last year found that 90 percent of Americans thought there was too much money in politics -- true bipartisan agreement! 84 percent agreed that "corporate money drowns out the voices of ordinary people." That's a lot of distrust from almost everybody in this country.
As a national movement to overturn Citizens United gains support, states and cities are leading the way with innovative and popular good government measures. New York, with Gov. Cuomo's support, could go from being a symbol of corruption to having some of the strongest clean elections laws in the country. That would be quite an enduring legacy.
Today People For the American Way joined with 38 ally organizations and individuals in sending a letter to Congress to ask for support of the Shareholder Protection Act. The Act – sponsored by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) – would, among other measures, require that publicly traded corporations pre-approve their annual political expenditure budgets with shareholders and promptly disclose those expenditures to the public.
The letter highlights the need for this type of legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which “brought a flood of new and secretive money into elections.” Since that decision, corporate officers have been able to spend unlimited amounts of corporate treasury funds to influence elections, often under the veil of ‘dark money’ groups that do not disclose their donors. In essence, this means that millions of Americans who have invested in corporations are having their money used to engage in partisan politics – without their knowledge.
Unsurprisingly, this post-Citizens United landscape of secret spending is not popular with the public. The letter notes:
A 2012 survey conducted by Bannon Communications for the Corporate Reform Coalition found that more than 8 in 10 Americans (81%) believe that the secret flow of campaign spending is bad for democracy, and 87 percent agree that prompt disclosure of political spending would help voters, customers and shareholders hold companies accountable for political behavior.
PFAW continues to advocate against corporations being able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections. Legislation requiring shareholder approval for, and public disclosure of, corporate election spending will help end some of the abuses made possible by Citizens United.
The full text of the joint letter is below.
April 25, 2013
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
RE: Support the Shareholder Protection Act
Dear Member of Congress:
We write to you to encourage your support of the Shareholder Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
Our organizations come from diverse backgrounds, with concerns ranging from constitutional rights to corporate governance to protecting our air and water. We have many different priorities, but we all agree that the unprecedented 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, requires a strong response.
We are troubled for several reasons by the Supreme Court’s decision to give corporations the right under the First Amendment to spend unlimited funds from their corporate treasuries to support or attack candidates.
In the electoral arena, this decision has brought a flood of new and secretive money into elections, ratcheting up the cost of campaigns and increasing the time and resources needed for fundraising. Spending by outside groups funded largely by corporate interests and intended to influence the 2010 elections was more than four times as high than in 2006, the last mid-term cycle. Outside spending increased another four-fold again in the 2012 election cycle. The sources of much of this new money swamping our elections remains undisclosed, as corporations and other special interests launder their campaign funds through non-profit groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, which are not required to disclose their donors. The ads funded by unaccountable corporate interests fueled massive attacks that compounded the negative tone of campaigns and added to the public cynicism of our elections.
In the legislative arena, the mere threat of unlimited corporate political spending gives corporate lobbyists a large new club to wield when lobbying lawmakers, and makes it harder for legislators to vote their conscience.
In corporate governance, unless a company sets its own internal policies otherwise, there are no rules or procedures established in the United States to ensure that shareholders – those who actually own the wealth of corporations – are informed of, or have the right to approve, decisions on spending their money on politics.
The Shareholder Protection Act provides a framework to rein in some of the damage in this troubling, new political landscape.
Specifically, the Act would:
- Mandate prior approval by shareholders for an annual political expenditure budget chosen by the management for a publicly held corporation.
- Require that each specific corporate political expenditure over a certain dollar threshold be approved by the Board of Directors and promptly disclosed to shareholders and the public.
- Require that institutional investors inform all persons in their investment funds how they voted on corporate political expenditures.
- Post on the Securities Exchange Commission web page how much each corporation is spending on elections and which candidates or issues they support or oppose.
American business leaders are concerned about the pressure on business to donate to political campaigns, and the influx of large, undisclosed donations to third party political organizations that are not required to disclose their sources of funding. In a Zogby International poll commissioned by the business-led Committee for Economic Development (CED), two-thirds of business leaders polled agreed with the statement: “the lack of transparency and oversight in corporate political activity encourages behavior that puts corporations at legal risk and endangers corporate reputations.”
In addition to business leaders, the general public at large believes in transparency and giving shareholders a voice. A 2012 survey conducted by Bannon Communications for the Corporate Reform Coalition found that more than 8 in 10 Americans (81%) believe that the secret flow of campaign spending is bad for democracy, and 87 percent agree that prompt disclosure of political spending would help voters, customers and shareholders hold companies accountable for political behavior. Huge majorities of Americans across the political spectrum condemn corporate political spending and support strong reforms. For example, requiring corporations to get shareholder approval before spending money on politics is supported by 73 percent of both Republicans and Democrats, and 71 percent of Independents. About 84 percent of Americans agree that corporate political spending drowns out the voices of average Americans, and 83 percent believe that corporations and corporate CEOs have too much political power and influence.
Responsible corporate governance requires the involvement of informed shareholders and is not a partisan issue. We believe that holding management accountable and ensuring that political spending decisions are made transparently and in pursuit of sound business is important for both the market and for democracy.
We urge you to support the reasoned response that is the Shareholder Protection Act.
Brennan Center for Justice at N.Y.U. School of Law
Center for Media and Democracy
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Coffee Party USA
Corporate Accountability International
Corporate Ethics International/Business Ethics Network
Free Speech for People
Friends of the Earth
Harrington Investments, Inc.
Holy Cross International Justice Office
Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Krull and Company, Peter W. Krull, President & Founder
League of Conservation Voters
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
National Consumers League
New Progressive Alliance
North Carolina Center for Voter Engagement
NorthStar Asset Management, Inc.
Ohio Citizen Action
People For the American Way
Progressive States Network
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Social Equity Group, Ron Freund and Duncan Meaney
Strategic Counsel on Corporate Accountability, Sanford Lewis
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG)
United Food and Commercial Workers
West Virginia Citizen Action
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Zevin Asset Management, LLC
The West Virginia Legislature has approved a resolution calling on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases. This makes West Virginia the twelfth state to call for such an amendment.
People For the American Way has been working with activists in West Virginia to help rally support for the resolution. As PFAW Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan noted in a recent action alert, many West Virginians already understood the need to get big money out of politics:
“West Virginia has already seen the drastic need for a constitutional amendment to enact free and fair elections. In 2010, West Virginia’s congressional races attracted more than $15 million from outside groups such as American Crossroads and FreedomWorks, organizations that can, in the wake of Citizens United, raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in our elections.”
As a West Virginian, I am especially proud to see this resolution pass in my home state. While the states that have called for an amendment are diverse – stretching from Hawaii to Rhode Island – protecting the integrity of our democratic process is a core American value. As one West Virginia delegate pointed out,
“One of government's roles within this great democracy is making sure everyone has a voice.”
West Virginians are now formally joining the proliferation of voices across the country calling for a democracy of, by, and for the people.