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Citizens United President Claims Decision “Leveled the Playing Field”

Today Right Wing Watch reported on Citizens United president David Bossie bragging that the Supreme Court decision bearing the organization’s name “leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election.”

It’s pretty hard to figure how Citizens United, the 2010 decision that opened the floodgates for unlimited outside political spending, could be understood to have “leveled the playing field.” As outside spending has skyrocketed in the years since that disastrous decision, it has become increasingly hard to hear the voices of everyday Americans over the roar of big money. Far from leveling the field, decisions like Citizens United have drastically tilted the field even more toward wealthy special interests and away from ordinary people.

But Bossie is right about one thing: Citizens United certainly had a big impact on the 2014 midterms. In an election where Republicans beat Democrats across the board, the millions spent by conservative outside groups “dwarfed” that spent by liberal groups, Politico’s Kenneth Vogel noted today. “Establishment Republican money finally got what it paid for,” he wrote.

That Bossie is proud of the decision’s impact on an election expected to go down as the most expensive midterm in history reveals a very different agenda behind the conservative organization’s work. Hint: it’s not about a level playing field.
 

PFAW

Lame Duck Opportunity and Obligation: Confirm Judges

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

During the upcoming lame duck session, the Senate has an opportunity to finish up a critically important task where they can act quickly by unanimous consent or voice votes: Confirming two dozen judicial nominees.

The GOP's behavior during their last few weeks as the minority party will be very telling. Before taking over the chamber next year, will they allow the Senate to do its job and confirm nominees? Or will Republicans continue their pattern of obstructing or delaying action on highly qualified nominees – even ones recommended to the White House by GOP senators – just because Democrats support them? This may give Americans some insight on whether Senate Republicans plan to use their newfound majority next year in a constructive manner, or whether they will continue to put destructive partisanship above the nation's welfare.

In September, senators left town without voting on any of the 16 district court nominees who had already been fully vetted by the Judiciary Committee and advanced to the Senate floor. Another eight district court nominees had their hearings in September and will be ready for committee approval the week the Senate returns, so the full Senate will be able to hold votes for them, as well. That's at least 24 district court vacancies that could be filled during the lame duck.

Eight of these would fill vacancies in three states – Texas, Georgia, and Kentucky – where the need is so great that the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has formally designated them as "judicial emergencies." All three of these states are represented by Republican senators, including the future Majority Leader.

In the Northern District of Georgia, the workload has gotten so high that even if the nominees were confirmed tomorrow, it would not be enough to ensure Americans their day in court. That is why the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States has urged Congress to create two new judgeships there.

The situation is even more dire in Texas, where the Senate has a chance to fill three vacancies in the Eastern and Western Districts. The Western District judgeship has been vacant since 2008, and the Judicial Conference has asked for five new judgeships there to carry the load on top of filling all the existing vacancies. Chief Judge Fred Biery discussed the need for new judges last year, saying, "It would be nice to get some help. We are pedaling as fast as we can on an increasingly rickety bicycle." Judge David Ezra, formerly of Hawaii, explained why he was moving to Texas to hear cases in the Western District: "This is corollary to having a big wild fire in the Southwest Border states, and fire fighters from Hawaii going there to help put out the fire."

The Eastern District of Texas is in similar need of getting its vacancies filled during the lame duck: Of the nation's 94 federal districts, only two have had more weighted filings per judgeship than the Eastern District, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts' most recent statistics. Small wonder, then, that the Judicial Conference has asked for two new judgeships there: Even if every judgeship were filled, that just isn't enough. To make matters worse, two more judges in the Eastern District have announced their intention to retire or take senior status next year, making it all the more important to fill the current vacancies now.

(Senators also have another opportunity to help the people of Texas: Three nominees for the Southern District will likely have their committee hearings this month. Nominated by President Obama upon the recommendation of Sens. Cornyn and Cruz, these nominees can get a timely committee vote if the GOP cooperates, making them eligible to join the others on the Senate floor. Two of these vacancies are judicial emergencies, but even if they are filled, the Judicial Conference recommended that Congress create an additional two new judgeships to bring the Southern District up to an acceptable level of efficiency.)

There is no reason not to allow the Senate to vote on the judicial nominations before it. In fact, a number of Republican senators are on record supporting specific nominees from their state who they had recommended to the White House. For instance, back in June, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson urged "swift confirmation" for nominee Pam Pepper. Last spring, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey said he would work to make sure that four nominees from the Eastern District would be confirmed "as soon as possible." During the summer, Illinois' Mark Kirk said he would "urge the full Senate to swiftly approve" John Blakey, who is expected to be approved by the Judiciary Committee later this month.

In past years, when the Senate was a more functional body, confirmation votes for district court nominees were regularly held by unanimous consent or voice vote, taking a few seconds or minutes at most. That includes during lame duck sessions.

For instance, after the 2002 midterms, even though Senate Democrats had lost control of the chamber in the elections, they worked closely with Republicans during the lame duck session to make sure that 20 of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees got confirmed. These included a highly controversial circuit court nominee who was confirmed by a 55-44 roll call vote. The other 19 were confirmed by voice vote, 18 of them on the same day. In 2014, as in 2002, the Senate can voice-vote all the consensus nominees and hold roll-call votes on the handful who may have some opposition.

If the majority is allowed to hold confirmation votes on the nominees who have been fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee, this will finally let the president reduce the number of vacancies in America's court system to what it was when Bush left office. Republicans should cooperate in this endeavor rather than try to frustrate it. After all, this is basic governance, and something the Senate can do easily and quickly.

Will this happen without a fight? While we don't know for sure, recent GOP actions are not encouraging. For nearly a year, Republicans have filibustered every single judicial nomination without exception, even when they support the nominee. Obstruction continues even after the cloture vote. Absent unanimous consent to do otherwise, Senate rules require a period of "post-cloture debate" after a filibuster is broken: 30 hours for circuit and two hours for district court nominees. Since the rules also let the Democrats cede their half of the two-hour period for district court nominees, those post-cloture periods can be shortened. In recent months, Democrats and Republicans have often agreed to hold confirmation votes the day after the cloture votes without actually requiring that floor time be devoted to post-cloture debate on the nominee. This is what passes for GOP "cooperation" these days: A roll-call cloture vote with near-uniform Republican opposition, a delay of at least a day, and then a time-consuming roll-call confirmation vote for a nominee who usually has overwhelming if not unanimous bipartisan support.

The Constitution assigns to the Senate the job of deciding whether to confirm the president's judicial nominees. When the Senate is prevented from acting on this basic task in a timely manner, the entire third branch of the United States government atrophies. Americans are justly proud of our judicial system, which we count on to guarantee fairness and justice for all. It is not a controversial or partisan position to state that our courts should be staffed. And it should not be a controversial or partisan position to say that the Senate should be allowed to vote by year's end on whether to confirm the two dozen judicial nominees whose time would be better spent hearing cases rather than waiting out partisan senators.

PFAW

Kobach's New Rules Block 20 Percent Of Kansas Voter Registration Applications

In the run-up to the first general election in which Kansans have been required to provide one of a narrow set of “proof of citizenship” documents in order to register to vote, nearly 20 percent of voter registration applications in the state have been rejected or suspended, according to a Kansas political science professor.

University of Kansas professor Patrick Miller told Kansas City’s NPR affiliate last week that a large percentage of these suspended or rejected registrations are from independents, “essentially making the electorate more Republican”:

An even larger group than those who have had ID problems at the polls are those voters who haven’t yet proven U.S. citizenship, another provision of the new law. There are 22,468 voters whose registrations are suspended because they are lacking citizenship documentation, according to the Secretary of State’s office. That’s larger than the population of Prairie Village, a Kansas City suburb.

“This is a big change for Kansas. In 2010, we only rejected .03 percent of voter registration applications,” said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas assistant political science professor. “Whereas in 2014, we’ve suspended or rejected almost 20 percent. That’s a massive increase.”

Of the nearly 22,468 suspended registrations, 18 percent are Democrats, nearly 23 percent are Republicans and a whopping 57 percent are independents, or unaffiliated. The new law has effectively made the electorate more partisan, Miller said.

“It’s filtering out independents, the swing voters, making proportionately the electorate more Democratic, more Republican,” Miller said. “In Kansas, the effect of this is essentially making the electorate more Republican, given that Republicans have a registration advantage here.”

The new Kansas law was championed by Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has also been in charge of implementing it. Kobach is facing his own tough reelection battle this year thanks in part to the mess created by his new voting restrictions.

Cross-posted from Right Wing Watch.

PFAW

Supreme Court Won't Hear Case on Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The Supreme Court this morning declined to consider the appeals of anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" that challenged on free speech grounds a New York City law requiring them to disclose pertinent information to women.

Conservatives have a number of weapons in their arsenal designed to limit or eliminate women's ability to make their own reproductive choices. In a 2013 report entitled Chipping Away at Choice: Five Growing Threats to Women's Healthcare Access and Autonomy, our affiliate PFAW discussed a number of tactics used by the far right, including the role played by crisis pregnancy centers:

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are so-called "abortion alternative" sites run by private organizations that claim to provide support, information and medical care to pregnant women. CPCs use misleading tactics to draw women in: The centers advertise themselves as legitimate health centers, purposely distorting the truth to take advantage of vulnerable women. In reality, CPCs do not present women with a full range of reproductive health options; instead, they use false information about abortion to pressure women into continuing unwanted pregnancies.

In 2011, New York City passed a law to protect women from various methods of deception that lawmakers had seen occurring in the city, such as making women think that these centers were staffed by licensed medical professionals and provided access to or accurate information about all available options. Such practices include having women fill in medical history forms as they would at a medical office, or having staff wear medical scrubs. The City determined that such deceptive practices can have serious health and financial consequences for women. So the law requires pregnancy service centers to disclose if their services aren't provided or supervised by licensed medical professionals. This information must appear on their ads and within the facility itself. They must also make the same disclosure when asked to provide emergency contraception, abortion services, or prenatal care.

This disclosure law doesn't restrict the services the centers can offer, nor does it keep them from continuing to say the things they had been saying about contraception and abortion. They just have to disclose that their advice on critically important women's health issues is not coming from licensed medical professionals.

Several pregnancy centers sued, claiming this disclosure requirement compelled them to add unwanted messages to their speech and therefore violated their First Amendment rights. They also claimed that the law's definition of which types of facilities it covered was unconstitutional because it was too vague. A divided three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld this part of New York's law. (The panel unanimously struck down other two other provisions of the law on First Amendment grounds. These were not part of the appeal to the Supreme Court.)

The Supreme Court only accepts a few dozen cases a year. What happened here is typical: The final decision was made by a lower federal court, not the Supreme Court. That's why, just as with the Supreme Court, it matters a great deal who is nominated and confirmed to all of our nation's federal courts.

PFAW Foundation

Voting For The Future Of Voting: Secretary of State Races To Watch

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

One influential issue at the ballot box this year is the future of how we cast our ballots. In secretary of state races throughout the country, voters will be choosing who runs their elections — and how open those elections are to all voters.

As Republican lawmakers continue to enact news laws aimed at curtailing the rights of voters, secretary of state elections have taken on renewed importance.

We’ve picked three key secretary of state races that we’ll be watching closely Tuesday and added a few more influential races that are also worth keeping an eye on. (And this isn’t even counting states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the secretary of state is picked by the governor, leaving the gubernatorial elections will have even stronger voting rights implications.)

Kansas

Perhaps the hardest-fought and most-watched secretary of state race this year is taking place in the heavily Republican Kansas. And that’s all because of the national profile and extreme agenda of one man: incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

When Kobach won his job in 2010, he was already a national figure. After a stint in the Bush Justice Department, Kobach joined the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — the legal arm of the nativist anti-immigrant group FAIR — where he worked with lawmakers to craft harsh anti-immigrant measures throughout the country, including Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where he helped write the infamous “show me your papers” law SB 1070. After a failed run for Congress in 2004, Kobach set his sights on his state’s elections office.

Kobach has recently gained a prominent place in national Republican politics, serving as an immigration policy adviser to Mitt Romney and working to insert anti-gay and anti-immigrant language into the 2012 GOP platform.

Kobach won his position handily in 2010, but is facing an unexpectedly tough fight to hold onto it. Part of the reason is because he’s kept up his out-of-state anti-immigrant work: He still holds a position at IRLI and jets around the country advising states and localities that have agreed to be his policy guinea pigs, prompting his critics to complain that he’s not spending enough time in Kansas. And part of it is because he’s brought his activism home, using his platform in Kansas to push some of the most extreme voting restrictions in the country by hyping fears that undocumented immigrants are voting en masse in Kansas.

In 2011, at Kobach’s urging, Kansas passed a restrictive voter ID law that included a requirement that those registering to vote provide a passport, birth certificate, or similar “proof of citizenship" to elections authorities. The proof-of-citizenship provision, which took effect this year, has thrown Kansas voter registration into chaos. Less than one week before the election, 22,394 potential Kansas voters are unable to cast ballots because they had not provided an acceptable form of citizenship documentation. In addition, Kobach has placed an estimated 300-400 voters in a special voting rights “tier” in which they can vote only in federal elections and not in state elections. Kobach has proudly reported that of the 200 people who were placed in this special class of disenfranchised voters in this summer's primary election, only one bothered to show up to cast a half vote.

Kobach is also at the helm of Interstate Crosscheck, a faulty program that claims to identify people who are voting in two states at once but in reality has encouraged states to purge eligible minority voters from their voter rolls.

Kansans became even more leery of Kobach’s priorities this year when he spent $34,000 in taxpayer money trying to keep a Democratic senate candidate, Chad Taylor, on the ballot after he dropped out to make way for the independent challenging Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Kobach only relented when the state supreme court ordered him to, and even then he tried (unsuccessfully) to find a way around the order.

A recent poll shows Kobach tied with his Democratic challenger, Jean Schodorf.

Ohio

In the presidential swing state of Ohio, the secretary of state is often in the center of national battles over voting rights. Republican John Husted has been no exception.

In the lead-up to the 2012 election, Husted stepped in to break tie votes in Democratic-leaning Ohio counties, allowing those counties to eliminate night and weekend early voting hours... even as Republican-leaning counties expanded their early voting hours. In response to a national outcry, Husted enforced “uniformity” by requiring all counties to bring early voting opportunities down to the lowest common denominator, including cutting off night and weekend voting and eliminating early voting in the three days before the election. When a federal judge ordered Husted to reopen voting in the three days before the election, he flatly refused to comply, saying it would “confuse voters.” Eventually he relented, but as the election approached he appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

Since the 2012 election, Husted has kept up his efforts to restrict early voting in 2014, fighting to eliminate the so-called “Golden Week” of early voting — in which voters can register and cast their ballots in one visit — and to cut early voting hours, including on Sundays, a time frequently used by African American churches for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Husted faces a Democrat state Sen. Nina Turner, a major critic of his record on voting rights. Although the two were neck-and-neck in an early poll, a recent poll shows Husted with a significant lead.

Arizona

Before Kansas ushered in its restrictive “proof of citizenship” law, Arizona was already fighting for a similar measure. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, a medley of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures including a requirement that those registering to vote present one of a narrow set of documents to prove that they are citizens. The Supreme Court struck down the provision in 2013, saying that it was preempted by federal law — but left a loophole, suggesting that Arizona could sue the federal Election Assistance Commission to require that federal voter registration forms used in the state include the extra “proof of citizenship” requirement. So Arizona did just that, joined by Kansas under Kobach.

That case is still working its way through the courts, but it’s left a peculiar situation in Kansas and Arizona where Kobach and his Arizona counterpart Secretary of State Ken Bennett have set up dual-track voting systems in their states in which people who register to vote with a federal form but do not provide additional citizenship documents are allowed to vote in federal elections, but not in state elections. As we noted above, of about 200 Kansans on the special limited-rights voting track in this year’s primary election, just one voted. In Arizona, about 1,500 were put on the limited track, and 21 cast ballots.

Bennett isn’t up for reelection this year — he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor — but the race to succeed him will determine the future implementation of Arizona’s restrictive requirements. Republican Michele Reagan sought and won Kobach’s endorsement, boasting that she voted for the infamous anti-immigrant bill that Kobach helped bring to Arizona. In the state senate, Reagan wrote a bill that, among other voting restrictions, would prevent community groups from collecting and delivering mail-in ballots, a method commonly used in voting drives by Latino groups. When an effort to repeal the bill by referendum started to gain steam, Reagan and her fellow Republicans worked to repeal it first, thus allowing the state legislature to bring back parts of the bill in a piecemeal fashion.

Reagan is facing off against Democrat Terry Goddard, a former state attorney general and mayor of Phoenix. Both candidates have said they want tighter disclosure requirements for “dark money” spending by outside groups. But when the Koch-backed 60 Plus Association bought $304,000 in ads attacking Goddard last week, she refused to distance herself from the dark money effort.

Reagan also struggled this week to explain her vote for Arizona’s so-called “birther bill,” which would have required presidential candidates to prove to the secretary of state that they are native-born American citizens.

Other States To Watch: Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa

In Colorado, Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler — a key Kobach ally and crusader against the supposed scourge of Democratic “organized voter fraud” who last year tried to stop county clerks from sending ballots to voters who had not voted in the the last election — is stepping down this year, having tried and failed to get his party’s gubernatorial nomination. In the race to replace him are Republican El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams, described by the Denver Post as Gessler’s “lone public ally” among clerks in the ballot controversy, and Democratic attorney Joe Neguse. The two differ on the sweeping elections overhaul Colorado passed last year, which allows same-day voter registration and requires the state to mail a ballot to every voter.

New Mexico’s secretary of state race has incumbent Republican Dianna Duran pitted against Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a rising Democratic star. Toulouse Oliver is emphasizing “full participation across a wide spectrum of the electorate” in her campaign, while Durran is accusing her of using “community-organizer, consultant-styled rhetoric.” In a TV ad that doubles as a promotion for right-wing myths about widespread voter fraud, Durran accuses Toulous Oliver of “registering a dog to vote.” In reality, a right-wing activist tried to register his dog to try to prove a point; he was caught and Toulouse Oliver referred his case to the proper authorities.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s voter ID requirement, a ruling that Secretary of State Mark Martin is vowing to fight. As the case worked its way through the courts, Arkansas voters got conflicting messages from elections officials under Martin’s leadership. He faces a challenge from Democrat Susan Inman.

In Iowa, outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz spent $150,000 in taxpayer money in a quest to root out voter fraud in Iowa…and found none. He also conducted a voter roll purge that critics called an attempt to  intimidate Latino voters.” The race to succeed him — between Republican voter ID supporter Paul Pate and Democrat Brad Anderson — is locked in a dead heat.

PFAW

PFAW’s Dolores Huerta Energizes Latino Voters in Colorado and Georgia

With Election Day rapidly approaching, get-out-the-vote outreach is heating up in key states across the country. This week, civil rights legend and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta is busy getting out the vote. She’s on the ground with PFAW staff energizing Latino voters in two critical midterm states: Colorado and Georgia.

Yesterday Huerta spoke at two kick-off events in Colorado for local canvassers going door-to-door to get out the vote. The first event, hosted by NextGen Climate Colorado and PFAW, drew scores of enthusiastic canvassers ready to talk to voters about pressing environmental issues and turn people out to the polls.

Later in the day, she met with Latino volunteers and canvassers gearing up to do voter turnout work in their communities – critical work in a state where the Senate race is tight and every vote counts.

Today Huerta has headed to Georgia with other members of the PFAW team to meet with more local organizers, speak at a rally, and encourage local residents to cast their ballots on Tuesday.

As Huerta said yesterday:

The Latino vote can decide the election, as we have done in other states. We need to elect people who are going to protect us – to protect our health, our safety, and work to pass immigration reform. It’s up to each one of us. We need to contact our friends and families to make sure they vote.

Indeed, Latino voters may prove to be decisive in a number of tight races. In both Colorado and Georgia, as well as in four other states with close Senate races, the Latino portion of the electorate is larger than the polling margin between the candidates. PFAW will continue to be on the ground in these states, working to ensure that Latino voters are informed, engaged, and ready to cast a vote on Election Day.
 

PFAW

Getting Out the Youth Vote in the Midterms

With elections for tight races all across the country just a few days away, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program is pulling out all the stops to help young voters get to the polls and cast their vote this November 4.

As overreaching new voter ID laws threaten to stifle the voices of Americans in a number of states, getting out the vote has never been more critical. YP4 Fellows and alumni have been working hard to ensure that students, people of color, women and other underrepresented communities get their equal say in our democratic system. Our 25 YP4 Vote Organizers are spread across the country in 15 states, working to conduct community outreach, voter engagement, and volunteer recruitment to help mobilize their communities to vote.

Throughout this year, YP4 activists have also advocated for resolutions to enfranchise student voters and increased the number of young registered voters by over 2,000 through dozens of trainings and events.

YP4 has dedicated itself this election cycle to helping young leaders make informed and motivated voters out of those who are routinely overlooked by politicians. In a year in which some lawmakers have sought to discourage voter turnout, campaigns like YP4’s ARRIVE WITH 5 initiative, which encourages voters to bring five or more friends to the polls, help shape a government that actually represents the governed.

The midterm election is no time to stay at home. In a campaign season of extremely narrow races, each and every vote has an impact. We can only make our democracy work for everyone when all Americans are encouraged to engage in civic life and realize what a real difference their voices can make.

PFAW Foundation

Betting Against Latino Voters Is a Bad Move

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

It's official. In case there was any doubt left, this election cycle shows that the GOP's hyped-up "rebranding" efforts with Latino voters have been all but abandoned.

Last month, we found out that Virginia GOP congressional candidate Barbara Comstock thinks immigrants should be tracked like FedEx packages. Rep. Steve King from Iowa, who previously shared his belief that most undocumented immigrants are drug runners with "calves the size of cantaloupes," is trying to link immigrants toISIS and Ebola. And Republican candidates across the country, including Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, and Pat Roberts in Kansas, are running anti-immigrant ads. "Illegal immigration is threatening our communities," warns one of Roberts' ads

Not exactly the kind of rhetoric one might expect from a party trying remake its image among voters who care deeply about immigration reform. But far more important than the failed rebranding efforts of an increasingly out-of-touch party is the harm done to real people whose lives are touched by these dehumanizing myths. Ads labeling immigrants a "threat" to other Americans and comments comparing immigrants to objects or rodents don't just go out into the abyss of TV land. They reach - and hurt - real people in communities across America.

Not only is this anti-immigrant bigotry morally wrong, it's also bad politics. Someone may want to tell Republican strategists about the research showing that these ads actually have a reverse effect. According to Latino Decisions, studies have found that "anti-immigrant rhetoric and ads do not mobilize Republican voters, but rather lead to higher turnout among Latino voters who are angered by this campaign strategy."

It's possible that the GOP is making a cold (and ill-advised) calculation that relying on nativist myths about the supposed "threat" of undocumented immigrants will turn out their base in the midterms and that Latino voters will forget all about it by 2016. But I'd imagine that it's pretty hard to forget being called a drug runner or being compared to a FedEx box.

Or maybe Republicans are thinking that they can simply ignore Latino voters in the midterms since their numbers are relatively small in the states with the closest races. But this is also a bad bet. Though Colorado seems to be the only state where the mainstream media is talking about Latino voters, there are actually six states - Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina - where the polling margin between the Senate candidates is smaller than the percentage of the eligible electorate that is Latino. 

And there is a very real possibility that Latino discontent with the GOP could cost them races in these states. For example, new polling this month shows that 77 percent of Latino voters in Colorado either believe that Republicans "don't care too much about Latinos" (37 percent), "take Hispanic voters for granted" (23 percent), or "are being hostile towards Latinos" (17 percent). In North Carolina, the numbers are similar. PFAW has been running Spanish-language ads in these and other key Senate states to make sure that when Republican candidates are spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric or pushing an agenda that harms Latino communities, voters hold them accountable on Election Day.

As Salon's Elias Isquith recently wrote, "The more Republicans attempt to turn anti-immigrant sentiment into a defining issue... the more they prove that the GOP is currently more of a faction than a national party interested in appealing to citizens of all 50 states." The Latino community, both immigrant and non-immigrant, is here to stay, and it's a growing, vibrant part of this country. So if the GOP wants to remain relevant, this so-called national political party has to start thinking about the whole nation and stop demeaning and alienating a large, and rapidly growing, swath of our country.

PFAW

In Kentucky McConnell Campaign Benefits Big From Dark Money

With the Kentucky Senate race a major point of focus in the upcoming midterms, and potentially determining control of the Senate, the issue of big money in politics has been repeatedly raised in debates and interviews by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell, for his part, has defended Citizens United v FEC and the influence of big money in politics.

It’s not hard to see why. A recent article by the Center for Public Integrity details the enormous amount of cash that has been spent in support of Sen. McConnell’s reelection campaign by outside “dark money” groups. One group in particular, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, has spent $14 million since the beginning of 2013. Groups like the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition are granted tax-exempt status by the IRS as “social welfare organizations” and are not required to disclose their donors.

According to The Center for Public Integrity:

Despite having effectively no physical presence, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition now ranks among the largest social welfare nonprofits in Kentucky — bringing in more money, according to Internal Revenue Service records, than some of Kentucky’s more high-profile nonprofits, such as the Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Derby Festival, the group behind two weeks’ worth of events surrounding the Kentucky Derby.

Of the more than 12,000 ads put on air by the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, every single one of them specifically mentions either McConnell or Grimes. About half, 53 percent, expressed approval of Sen. McConnell while the remainder criticized Grimes. These massive ad buys have all occurred since early 2013. Prior to then the organization was almost inactive. Incorporated in 2008, during its first five years the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition never reported more than $50,000 in annual receipts. 

The article continues:

When it applied for tax-exempt status as a social welfare nonprofit, the group told the IRS that it did not have any plans to spend any money “attempting to influence” the election of any political candidates. It added that it would be “operated exclusively for public and social welfare purposes.”

The McConnell campaign has refused to acknowledge or discuss the impact of the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition until recently, after a mid-October debate, when a campaign staff member responded to a question about how Sen. McConnell would be doing without the support from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, replying “We’d be winning just like we are right now.” Recent polling shows McConnell and Grimes locked in a close race, with McConnell leading by just a few percentage points.

Without reforming the way elections are financed, shadowy dark money groups like the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition will continue to funnel millions of dollars into elections on the local, state and federal level. While the Supreme Court may have ruled that money is speech, most Americans don’t buy it. A majority of the public thinks there is too much money in politics and three in four people support a Constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v FEC. Whether this overwhelming support for reform translates to progressive candidates getting elected next week remains yet to be seen.

One thing, however, is clear. Mitch McConnell doesn’t just favor the current system of campaign finance: he benefits from it.

PFAW

John Oliver and Friends Stress the Importance of the Supreme Court

Justice Ginsburg was recently quoted as saying how much she enjoyed a recent bit on the Supreme Court done by comedian John Oliver. In case you missed it, Oliver hit upon a way to get people to listen to Supreme Court oral arguments even though they aren't televised. If you haven't seen it, it's quite ridiculous (and funny).

Why do something ridiculous in order to get people to pay attention to what the Supreme Court does? Oliver explains:

Because what happens at the Supreme Court is way too important not to pay attention to.

He's right about that. Whatever you may think about the comedy bit, you can't deny the importance of the Supreme Court. When targeted Americans are turned away from the polls due to strict voter ID laws, thank the Roberts Court. When women are denied access to affordable contraception because it offends their bosses, it's because of the Supreme Court. When you're forced to sign away your right to sue giant corporations when they violate your legal rights, thank the Roberts Court.

This term, the Supreme Court will be deciding cases affecting the federal government's power to eradicate housing discrimination, employers' ability to evade overtime and antidiscrimination laws, legislators' ability to reduce African Americans' voting power, and other critically important issues. They may also end up determining the constitutionality of right-wing efforts to shut down reproductive health clinics and sabotage the Affordable Care Act.

So yes, John Oliver did his comedy bit to get a laugh. But what he says remains true: "The Supreme Court is way too important not to pay attention to." Especially on Election Day, since the senators elected next week may vote on filling as many as four Supreme Court vacancies during their six-year terms. If you care about the Roberts Court's attack on voting rights, workers' rights, women's rights, consumers' rights – and if you're concerned about decisions like Citizens United – then take that into consideration when you vote.

PFAW

2014 Midterm Elections: PFAW Holds Member Telebriefing with Political Strategist Jim Messina

With less than a week to go before this year’s midterm elections, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing on Wednesday to update PFAW members and activists on the shifting electoral landscape in key races around the country. The call, which was moderated by PFAW President Michael Keegan, featured political strategist and President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, as well as PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker, Political Director Randy Borntrager and Coordinator of Political Campaigns Carlos Sanchez.

With Democrats locked in a number of tight battles to maintain a majority in the Senate, Messina and Keegan emphasized how critical recent demographic changes in the U.S. are to mobilizing progressive voters. In particular, Messina cited the power of Latino voters on Election Day. As Messina outlined the battleground races that will likely have the biggest impact this year, Political Director Randy Borntrager discussed PFAW’s on-the-ground efforts to inform and turn out voters in key states like North Carolina and Colorado.

Executive Vice President Marge Baker spoke of recent Republican-backed restrictions enacted to curb voter turnout and disenfranchise particular groups, like students and communities of color, that have a history of supporting Democratic candidates. She also touched on the work PFAW has done to both help voters overcome these attempts to suppress their votes and our work challenging the flood of big money into elections.

Questions from callers centered on the need to overcome redistricting maneuvers and on the challenges of obtaining accurate polling information on key demographics.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

 

PFAW

On TV, Radio, the Web and the Field: Here’s How PFAW Is Fighting to Win on Election Day 2014

In the home stretch until Election Day, People For the American Way is working nonstop to get out the progressive vote!

PFAW’s programs are focused on targeting the right voters in the right states, and could help Democrats win in previously unexpected places. Republicans could now lose in states they thought were a lock for them -- like Georgia, Kansas and South Dakota. 

Thanks to the time, energy, and support of our members, we’re giving it everything we’ve got in these final seven days:

  • We have ads running on TV and radio in Senate battleground states: Colorado, North Carolina and Georgia.
  • We’re running a targeted online ad campaign in Virginia. Our ads use Republicans’ toxic issue positions and dehumanizing rhetoric against them to turnout Latino voters in the close races where they could make the difference.
  • PFAW organizers are on the ground mobilizing volunteers and turning out progressive voters in Kentucky, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – where we’re in an ultra-tight race to oust the Tea Party’s favorite governor, Gov. Scott Walker. (We also have a radio ad up in Wisconsin.)
  • In the critical final days of the cycle, PFAW staff, along with board member Dolores Huerta -- one of the progressive movement’s most iconic champions – are on the ground in Colorado and Georgia to fire up the troops and mobilize voters.
  • PFAW and MoveOn volunteers will be calling voters in the most competitive Senate races, like Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan and South Dakota.
  • We’ve partnered with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to mobilize PFAW activists to make calls for progressive candidates.
  • PFAW members received a phone message from PFAW board member Kathleen Turner reminding them to get out the vote – and urge their friends and family to do the same – on Election Day.
  • And we’ll be getting out the vote against far-right Republican incumbent Pat Roberts with targeted mailings in the extremely close Senate race in Kansas.

It’s not too late to get involved in our efforts! We have two opportunities for you to make calls from home – make calls to save the Senate with PFAW and MoveOn.org, and/or call out the vote for progressive House candidates with PFAW and the PCCC.

And if you can, please consider supporting our work to defeat Tea Party Republicans with a contribution now.

PFAW

Florida GOP Politicians Get Big Bucks from Fossil Fuel Interests, Dodge Climate Change Questions

This weekend Common Cause Florida Chairman Peter Butzin published an op-ed calling out Florida Republicans such as Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush for repeatedly ducking questions on climate change while taking big money from dirty energy donors to fund their campaigns. Butzin noted:

Rising sea levels threaten all of Florida’s popular coastal areas and could alter the freshwater supply that feeds our cities and agriculture. Too many elected officials not only refuse to address climate change, they won’t even acknowledge it as legitimate. Meanwhile, they happily take campaign checks from business interests that benefit the most from their inaction.

Fossil fuel interests spent $116 million nationally on political campaigns in 2012, and are on track to spend even more in 2014. Since many of Florida’s major population centers are along the coastline and are barely above sea level, climate change presents a particularly high stakes risk for residents of the state.

At the end of his op-ed, Butzin highlights the important connection between action on climate change and campaign finance reform.

If we really want to save our state and our planet we must first reform the system we use to elect our representatives in Washington and Tallahassee. Floridians need a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Once that happens, Florida politicians will have no excuse to deny the science of climate change.

You can read the full op-ed here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article3358904.html#storylink=cpy

PFAW

PFAW Endorses Five New Candidates for Federal Office

PFAW is proud to announce five new federal endorsements in the 2014 elections. These candidates and officials, representing a diverse and broad swath of constituencies, are some of the best and brightest progressive champions in the country.

  • John Foust (VA-10)
  • Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2)
  • Ruben Gallegos (AZ-7)
  • Rick Nolan (MN-8)
  • Amanda Renteria (CA-21)

PFAW-endorsed candidates have fought against big money in politics, promoted economic fairness and equality for all, and called for increasing educational opportunities for workers and students. They promote civil rights and voting rights, support marriage equality and employment protections for LGBTQ Americans, and believe women should maintain choice over their own health decisions. Many are also endorsed by other leading progressive, labor, civil rights, women’s rights, and equality organizations.

PFAW encourages all members to consider supporting these candidates’ campaigns.

Visit our 2014 Federal Candidate Endorsements page to learn more about all of our endorsed candidates.

PFAW

House Lawsuit Against Obama Undermined by Congressional Research Service Report

Although House Republicans managed to keep it a secret until now, their transparently political lawsuit against the president was found to be baseless in early September by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Part of the Library of Congress, the CRS provides neutral legal and policy research and analysis to Congress, including committees and individual members. The Constitutional Accountability Center's Simon Lazarus and Elisabeth Stein got a copy of the September 4 CRS report, and it may explain why the lawsuit, though loudly trumpeted, has not actually been filed.

In an article entitled The Congressional Research Service Finds that Boehner's Lawsuit Has No Legal Basis, Lazarus and Stein write:

Now, three months after the party-line House vote to green-light the lawsuit, no complaint has yet been filed. If this stretched out delay means that Boehner has actually redirected his sue-Obama gambit toward oblivion, the reason may be this unnoticed six week old CRS report. … [The] report actually targets a single instance of alleged agency delay and exercise of enforcement discretion - the Obama Administration's adjustments of effective dates for the Affordable Care Act's so-called employer mandate to offer employees ACA-complaint health insurance or pay a tax. This delay happens to be the basis - the sole basis - for the legal action against the President that Boehner outlined in July. Although shrouded in twelve pages of fine print and protectively bureaucratic phraseology, the report's bottom line is clear: not merely are the legal underpinnings of the Republicans' planned lawsuit weak; the report turns up no legal basis - no "there" there - at all.

So who in Congress requested this analysis of the CRS?

CRS reports such as this one are generated in response to requests by members or committees of Congress, though the CRS does not make public the identity of the requester or requesters. This particular report - of which House Democrats were unaware until it appeared - bears the earmarks of an inquiry, requested by the Speaker or his allies, to give some color of legitimacy to their charges of rampant presidential illegality. Instead, the result validates the lawyers' maxim not to ask a question when unsure of the likely answer.

The Republicans came up with the lawsuit gimmick as a sop to their base, who regularly characterize President Obama as a lawless dictator. It is typical of the irresponsible behavior we have seen from the House since the 2010 election.

And this is the party that wants to take over the Senate in next week's elections.

PFAW