People For Blog

PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Estar en la misa y en la procesión

This op-ed by Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist and board member of People For the American Way, was originally published at La Opinion.

Los republicanos en el Congreso están amenazando con cerrar el Departamento de Seguridad Interna de manera inútil, para impedir que el Presidente Obama permita que miles de familias y niños inmigrantes vivan sin el miedo a ser deportados.

Los republicanos proclaman que las familias inmigrantes ponen en peligro a los Estado Unidos, y como receta, están dispuestos a cerrar el departamento que se encarga de la seguridad nacional. No tiene mucho sentido, pero propagar miedo sobre los inmigrantes nunca ha estado basado en el sentido común.

Mientras ellos atacan a las familias latinas con la intención de aplacar a los extremistas de su partido, los líderes republicanos están conscientes de que nuestros números están creciendo y con ello, nuestro poder en las elecciones. Los votantes latinos fueron la razón por la cual Barack Obama derrumbó a Mitt Romney en 2012, y los republicanos saben bien que ello volverá a pasar si no actúan. Por eso, algunos grupos republicanos están gastando millones de dólares para convencer a los latinos que voten por su partido.

Por ejemplo, los hermanos Koch, quienes preven gastar casi mil millones de dólares comprando las elecciones de candidatos en el 2016, financian un grupo llamado "La Iniciativa Libre", el cual trata de fabricar una imagen amistosa del Partido Republicano hacia los latinos.

El problema es que La Iniciativa Libre promociona ideales conservadores que ofenden a nuestra comunidad. Ellos se oponen a los sindicatos, se oponen a un aumento en el salario mínimo y se oponen a medidas que protegen el medio ambiente. Sostienen que apoyan la reforma migratoria pero respaldan a candidatos republicanos que la oponen. El año pasado, publicaron anuncios que ayudaron a un candidato que apoyó la ley antiinmigrante de Arizona, SB 1070.

Y el grupo elogia la declaración a favor de la reforma del presidente de la Cámara de Representantes, John Boehner. Sin embargo, Boehner fue la razón principal por la cual el proyecto de ley del Senado para la reforma migratoria integral, apoyado por ambos partidos, nunca se debatió ni votó en la Cámara Baja. Y ahora, él encabeza el intento de cerrar el Departamento de Seguridad Interna para detener la orden ejecutiva del Presidente Obama sobre inmigración.

Eso no es crear enlaces verdaderos hacia la comunidad. Es solo una fachada.

Los republicanos saben que tienen un problema con el voto latino. Pero no pueden solucionarlo con solo tirarle plata. Todo el dinero en el mundo no puede esconder las prioridades y retórica antilatina del Partido Republicano. Si los republicanos quieren que los latinos los tomen en serio, ellos tendrán que tomarnos en serio primero.

PFAW

YP4 Alums Discuss Millennial Activism With MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry

On Sunday two alumni of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program, Jamira Burley and Poy Winichakul, joined Melissa Harris-Perry on her MSNBC show to discuss activism among millennials. Both guests underscored the critical role young people have to play in today’s social and political movements.

“Right now there are not a lot of people who look like us in elected official positions, but we have so much potential,” said Winichakul. “I think we can take that leadership role. We can have a place to lead the country and share our perspective – to create policy.”

Later in the segment, Burley pointed out the extent to which young people are already engaged: “2012 actually marked the third election in a row where millennials came out more than 50 percent,” she said. “So people always say that we don’t vote, but we do. Numbers show it.”

What’s more, Burley said, young people are not only voting, they are staying engaged with leaders after they take office. “Not only are we electing people, we’re now putting precautions in place to hold them accountable,” she said. “And that means starting our own grassroots organizations, or calling them out on Twitter.”

Watch the full video here:

PFAW Foundation

Republican Inaction as Judicial Emergencies Jump

Yesterday we blogged about how the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chairman Chuck Grassley ought to move judicial nominations next week when they return from recess. We noted that the number of vacancies has increased from 39 at the end of last year's lame duck session to 46 today, with fourteen of those officially designated as judicial emergencies.

Well, we've had developments since yesterday's post. First, next week's committee schedule is up, and no hearings have been announced for judicial nominees.

And secondly, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts this morning designated an additional five vacancies as judicial emergencies, so the total has jumped from 14 to 19.

These new emergencies include one in the Northern District of Texas, which has been vacant since July of 2013 and which had been announced in advance in April of that year. Yet it was not until last July that Sens. Cornyn and Cruz announced a process to identify Northern District recommendations to the White House. Perhaps if they had not waited more than a year after being notified of this vacancy, it would be filled today. Instead, there is no nominee yet, and a vacancy that should not still exist is instead a judicial emergency.

Texas now has seven judicial emergencies, more than a third of the national total. Two of them have nominees who should have advanced to the Senate floor last week, but were delayed when Republicans decided to delay the scheduled committee vote on four fully vetted district court nominees by two weeks simply because they could.

Another of the newly designated emergencies is in the Third Circuit. The good news is that district court judge L. Felipe Restrepo was nominated to fill this seat way back in November, and that he has the enthusiastic support of his home state senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey. The bad news is that Chairman Grassley continues not to schedule a hearing for this highly qualified nominee (or any other). With this vacancy now a judicial emergency and a second vacancy on the circuit opening in July, the decision to slow-walk this nomination is even more harmful.

So as of today, the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 at the beginning of the year to 19 today. Senate Republicans can and should do much more to get that number moving back down.

PFAW

Republicans Should Move Judicial Nominations Next Week

With the Republican-controlled Senate returning to town next week, one of the things they should turn their attention to is moving judicial nominations. Because vacancies are always opening up on the courts, the Senate has to confirm a number of judges just to keep even. So far in the 114th Congress, we are not keeping even.

When the lame duck session of Congress ended in mid-December, there were 39 vacancies on our nation's federal circuit and district courts. Today there are 46 vacancies, 14 of them officially designated as judicial emergencies. Another five district court judges will be stepping down in just the next three weeks.

Even taking into account that the committee has also been handling the Attorney General nomination, we could and should have seen more progress on judges by now. There has been only one judicial nominations hearing, back in January, and the four Utah and Texas district court nominees who have now been fully vetted were scheduled for a committee vote last week. This was actually a critical test for the GOP, since it was their first chance to show that they would not continue to engage in the practice of needlessly delaying committee votes on judicial nominees just because they can. Unfortunately, they failed, holding the nominees over for two weeks on the basis that it was their first time on the agenda (in other words, they delayed the vote because they could).

When senators come back to town next week, the Judiciary Committee should vote these four nominees out, and the full Senate should promptly hold a confirmation vote.

It is also past time to hold hearings for people who were nominated more than three months ago, like Third Circuit nominee L. Felipe Restrepo (nominated November 12). Already a judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Restrepo has the bipartisan support of home state senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey. He would be the first judge on the Third Circuit with experience as a public defender, as well as the first Latino judge from Pennsylvania on the Third Circuit. There is no reason to delay a hearing for him or other long-waiting nominees.

To judge how the Republican Senate is doing, a convenient basis of comparison is the Democratic Senate during George W. Bush's last two years. As we noted when discussing the remarkable success in confirming judges in 2014:

The Bush example is particularly instructive. At the beginning of 2007, 56 judgeships were vacant. Rather than taking advantage of their new majority as a result of the 2006 elections to allow vacancies to build up, Senate Democrats made sure to process Bush's nominees in a fair and timely manner. ... Throughout the 110th Congress of 2007-2008, the number of vacancies generally remained at 50 or fewer. The Senate confirmed 68 judges during those two years, getting the number of vacancies down to as low as 34 in the early fall of 2008.

So keep an eye on how many judicial vacancies there are and whether that number goes up or down. That will be a good indication of whether Republicans are working in good faith to keep America's judicial system effectively staffed, or whether they are instead deliberately allowing vacancies to build up.

 

PFAW

New Report Details Kochs' Plan to Target Latino Voters

This op-ed by Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Late last month, news broke that the network of political organizations tied to Charles and David Koch was developing plans to spend nearly a billion dollars in the 2016 elections.

Given that unprecedented investment, it's essential to understand precisely what the Kochs and their front groups are doing. Yesterday, People for the American Way released a new report exploring one of these groups: the Libre Initiative, which aims to win over Latino voters for Republicans.

With much of its funding coming from the Kochs, Libre has the resources it needs to try to run an aggressive campaign aimed at making inroads in the Latino community. As Politico reported recently, "Libre, which already has a presence in eight states, plans to expand to Wisconsin and North Carolina this year and increase its staff by about 30 percent ahead of 2016."

The group's millions go to promoting conservative causes to the Latino community and using deceptive ads to attack Democrats. Civil rights leader and People for the American Way board member Dolores Huerta described Libre best: "This is just another flashy way for the Koch brothers to try to con Latinos into supporting a party that's run by anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-environmental extremists. We won't be fooled; the group has the wrong priorities on the issues that matter most to us." Though the group is doing all it can to push GOP priorities like blocking an increase in the minimum wage and rallying against clean energy development, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Latinos and Libre aren't on the same page when it comes to these and other issues.

If Libre stuck to debating the issues, that would be one thing. Libre's real threat -- both to Democrats and to the Latino community -- is that it uses its considerable financial resources to say one thing and do another.

In typical Koch fashion, Libre has made vicious, often dishonest attacks against Democrats. It's ironic, albeit unsurprising, that the Democrats Libre attacked in 2014 included some of the strongest Latino voices in Congress, like former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas). And based on Libre's actions in the past, we can count on Libre to pay only lip service to supporting immigration reform. So far, the Libre playbook has gone like this: Claim to support immigration reform, applaud Speaker Boehner for making vague remarks somewhat supportive of immigration reform, and -- here's the kicker -- run attack ads against Democrats who actually vote in favor of immigration reform.

Activists shouldn't hold our breath hoping that the Kochs and other deep-pocketed conservatives will stop their lies. Instead, it's up to us to push back. PFAW's doing that by reaching out to Latino voters with a focus on the issues that matter and calling out Republicans when their promises just don't match up with their votes.

Despite Libre's deep coffers and its apparent desire to win over Latino voters to the GOP, that party's offensive anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions continue. Just look at the current Congress, where Republicans are hijacking funding for the Department of Homeland Security to block the president's executive actions on immigration even though, as Ted Hesson wrote at Fusion, "only a small minority of Americans think that's the best way to approach the issue" in Congress.

As long as Republicans keep opposing policies that most Latinos and Americans as a whole support, it's unlikely the Libre Initiative will have much success. But given the deep support and huge bank accounts of its two most important funders, the threat posed by Libre is one that we should all take seriously.

PFAW

The Libre Initiative: The Koch Brothers’ New Focus on Winning Latino Voters

Today, People For the American Way released a new Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the Libre Initiative, a right-wing organization attempting to win over Latino voters for the Republican Party. The report explores the Koch brothers’ control over Libre, the values the group espouses, and the deceptive tactics it uses.

With plans to spend nearly $1 billion to support conservatives in 2016, it should come as no surprise that the Koch brothers are behind a group like Libre, providing at least half of its funding in 2011 and 2012.

The group uses those funds to attempt to push for a range of conservative policy priorities, such as fighting increases in the minimum wage. As the report explains, Libre tries to send a “kinder and gentler Republican message to Latino voters while continuing to push the GOP’s economic policies — many of which disproportionately hurt Latinos.”

In 2014, Libre invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads — technically “nonpartisan” —  to attack Democratic incumbents in heavily Latino states and districts. Although the group nominally supports comprehensive immigration reform, in several cases its ads aided Republican candidates who were hostile to reform.

In the next election cycle, conservatives will use gobs of outside money to try to win over Latino voters. In the meantime, PFAW will remain committed to engage all communities in our political system, fight to reduce the harmful influence of corporate money (including the Kochs’) in politics, and expose the deceitful tactics of the Right. 

PFAW

YP4 Alumni Lead Session on Building Connections Across Movements at Creating Change 2015

Last week, Young People For (YP4) staff attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s National Conference of LGBT Equality, Creating Change

Four alumni of YP4 programs — Michigan State Representative Jon Hoadley, National Director of Black Youth Project 100 Charlene Carruthers, Deputy Managing Director of United We Dream Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, and Klagsbrun Outreach Fellow at Alliance for Justice Erik Lampmann —​ led a workshop entitled "Movement Family Across Struggles" for a group of college students.  In their session, YP4 alumni shared experiences effecting social change and discussed best practices towards building movements that cut across communities, campuses, regions, and issues. 

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Realizing that working to create change on college campuses and within communities can often be an isolating experience, the participants identified tactics to build alliances with other community members to help win victories on their issues and campaigns.

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Young People For (YP4) is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of young leaders to turn their ideals into actions and create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project — the Blueprint for Social Justice — and offers opportunities to connect with other young people and partner organizations creating change across the country.

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PFAW Foundation

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Every Voice Wants to #GetMoneyOut

The issue of big money in politics is one so pervasive and complex that it requires a range of solutions to fully address it. In the sixth edition of our #DemandDemocracy video blog, Rahna Epting, chief of staff at Every Voice, discusses the importance of small donor driven elections, as well as a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United.

 

Recently, a number of money in politics reforms known as the “Defend Democracy” legislative package, which included both a proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of elections and small donor empowerment measures, were reintroduced together in the 114th Congress. According to recent polling by Every Voice, the public broadly supports a constitutional amendment, and using the amendment to set the context for small donor engagement boosts support for such reforms.

Thursday is Test Day for Senate Judiciary Republicans

Tomorrow morning, we will learn more about how Chairman Chuck Grassley will run the Senate Judiciary Committee ... and whether Republicans will continue one of the indefensible forms of obstruction that they engaged in for six years while in the minority.

Grassley has scheduled a meeting for tomorrow with key votes on the agenda. They include four district court nominees from Texas and Utah, the first ones fully processed by the committee under its new Republican leadership.

The question is whether the committee will be allowed to vote on any of these nominees. Committee rules let senators "hold over" (i.e., delay) committee votes without explanation. This was done during previous presidencies when a nominee was controversial or when senators needed more time to evaluate the nominee. But during the first six years of the Obama presidency, Republicans exercised this right for all but 12 of his judicial nominees, which was an unprecedented abuse of the rules. As we said when we first wrote about this particular tool of obstruction in 2011:

Voting on a federal judicial nomination is an extremely serious responsibility and one that requires diligent research and thought. So if senators sincerely have questions that have not been answered, or genuine and substantial concerns about a nominee's fitness for the bench, then no one should begrudge them an extra few days to gather additional information.

But when Republicans exercise this option for every nominee, even those who are strongly supported by their home state Republican senators and have no opposition whatsoever, then their sincerity must be called into question.

But that was when Republicans were in the minority. It's one thing to always demand a delay when you're never the one to have scheduled the votes. It would be another thing altogether for Republicans to routinely ask for delay when they're the ones putting people on the schedule in the first place. Tomorrow's action may tell us what to expect for the next two years.

Two of the Texas nominees would fill vacancies that have been officially designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. One has been vacant just short of two years, and the other has been vacant since the end of 2012. (The other Texas seat has been vacant for "only" eight months, while the Utah one has been vacant for over a year.)

As for the nominees themselves, all four have the strong support of their home state senators, which is not unusual. But in this case, each of those home state senators is a Republican who is on the Judiciary Committee.

So will Sens. Cornyn, Cruz, Hatch, and Lee sit there and say nothing tomorrow if a vote on their nominees is delayed for no reason? Will Sen. Grassley start his chairmanship by insisting that committee votes be delayed even when he's the one to have scheduled them in the first place?

Tune in tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Thursday morning, Grassley held the nominees over, on the basis that it was their first time on the agenda.  In other words, "because we can."

PFAW

PFAW Releases New Report on the Right's Efforts to Transform Religious Liberty from a Shield to a Sword

Last June, the Supreme Court gave certain for-profit corporations the right to deny women vitally important (and statutorily required) healthcare coverage that offends their employers' religious beliefs, claiming it was simply protecting the employers' religious liberty. Across the country, right wing extremists are seeking to empower individuals and business owners whose religious beliefs are offended by LGBT equality to exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws – again, supposedly in the name of religious liberty. Conservative Christians aggressively seeking to deprive others of their legal rights regularly portray themselves as the victims of religious persecution.

People For the American Way has released a new report examining the many ways that religious liberty issues are increasingly coming up in public policy debates in communities across the nation. But this isn't religious liberty as it has been understood throughout our nation's history.

Authored by Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery, Religious Liberty: Shield or Sword? examines how the Far Right is working to transform this core American value from a shield protecting individuals' religious freedom into a sword that harms other people and undermines measures to promote the common good.

The report provides vital factual background and analysis to help readers better understand how religious freedom principles have traditionally been regarded, as well as how they are being twisted by a far right movement in an effort to reverse its fortunes as their substantive arguments are increasingly rejected by the American public. These distorting efforts come from conservative advocacy organizations, state and federal legislators, and even a narrow majority of the United States Supreme Court.

This report is an important tool to help understand and confront the Right in public policy debates across the country, as they increasingly seek to use religious liberty as a sword to deny rights to others, and as they continue to portray themselves as victims of religious persecution.

PFAW

President Obama Underscores His Support for an Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

In an interview with Vox released today, President Obama expressed his support for constitutional remedies to our country’s worsening money in politics problem.

The president said:

I would love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it.

This isn’t the first time the president has weighed in on the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. In 2012 during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, President Obama made a splash when he said that “over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United.” As the Vox article notes, today’s comments go a step beyond his previous remarks.

Agree with the president? Share our graphic and show your support:

You can watch the full interview with President Obama here:

PFAW

Around the Country Op-Eds Support Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

This week three opinion editorials were published in local papers in New Hampshire, New York and West Virginia calling for a 28th amendment to the Constitution to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United. These op-eds are the latest in a stream of media coverage highlighting the growing movement to rescue our democracy from the dominating influence of big money in politics.

In an opinion editorial by Democratic State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark and Republican Rep. Robert Elliot, the New Hampshire state legislators make the case for a resolution currently being considered that supports a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. On January 29th, citizens testified at a hearing on the resolution, attracting more than 50 activists (both Democrats and Republicans) who spoke in favor of the proposed legislation. Sixteen states have already passed resolutions supporting an amendment, in addition to more than 600 towns and cities across the country.

The editorial board of the Times Union of New York also published a piece making the case for a state resolution supporting an amendment. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, they argue, our democracy is threatened by the fact that a tiny fraction of the richest Americans are able to buy outsized influence in the electoral process. The fact that so few contribute so much of the money spent in elections is antithetical to a representative democracy, as politicians are incentivized to be more responsive to donors than voters.  

And in West Virginia the Fayette Tribune published an op-ed making the case for an amendment in the context of protecting majority rule. The author argues that the influence of big money in politics skews the ratio of “one person one vote,” a fundamental tenant of democracy. Because of Supreme Court cases like Citizens United, passing a constitutional amendment is necessary in order to level the political playing field and foster a democracy that is truly of, by and for the people.

PFAW and Allies Advocate for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut in New Hampshire

PFAW activists joined with allies from Public Citizen, Open Democracy, and others last Thursday at public hearings on New Hampshire House and Senate bills calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.

About 50 supporters of a constitutional amendment attended each hearing, creating standing room only and overflow in the small room reserved for the House bill hearing.

Speakers included small business owners, activists who passed local town resolutions in favor of an amendment, and high school students.  Not a single person testified in opposition to the proposed legislation, underscoring the deep support among Americans of all backgrounds for fixing our big money system.

The bills (HB 371 and SB 136) call for the state legislature to recommend a constitutional amendment to the state’s congressional delegation, as well as for public hearings in geographically diverse areas across the state to decide the exact language for such an amendment.

A committee in the New Hampshire House will vote on the bill in an executive session on Wednesday afternoon, while the appropriate Senate committee has not yet set a date for a vote. PFAW activists and allies will be back at the state capitol next week for a lobby day to meet with key representatives and senators on Wednesday, February 4th.

Interested in joining us? For more information and to RSVP, email Lindsay Jakows at ljjakows@gmail.com.
 

PFAW

A Victory in the Fight for Fair Trials for Undocumented Immigrants

In an important victory for fair courts and the principle that justice is available to all, an appeals court in California today issued a decision granting a new trial for an undocumented immigrant whose immigration status was revealed to jurors despite its irrelevance to the issues in the case. People For the American Way had joined the UC Hastings Appellate Project and the ACLU of Southern California in submitting an amicus brief in the case, Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc. dba Advanced Biotech.

In this case, a former factory worker named Wilfredo Velasquez sued Advanced Biotech, Inc. for its alleged failure to tell his employer about the harms of a chemical he was exposed to while on the job — exposure which he says led to a devastating lung disease. But during the jury selection, the trial judge revealed to jurors that Velasquez was undocumented, an action that, in the words of our amicus brief, “unnecessarily injected prejudice into the selection process, making it impossible to know whether Mr. Velasquez received his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial by impartial jurors.” The threat to Velasquez’s right to a fair trial became clear when the jury concluded that Advanced Biotech had indeed been negligent — yet still awarded no damages to Velasquez, meaning that he, in effect, lost his case.

Fortunately, today the appeals court righted this wrong by granting Velasquez a new trial. The state appeals court noted that “cases both in California and in multiple other jurisdictions have recognized the strong danger of prejudice attendant with the disclosure of a party’s status as an undocumented immigrant.”  Indeed, we have seen how undocumented immigrants face ongoing hostility in our country.

As the amicus brief notes, every person, regardless of immigration status, has a right to “a verdict rendered by an impartial jury.” It is a right that must remain a foundational principle of our judicial system.
 

PFAW

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Businesses Against Big Money in Politics

Sixteen states, 600 towns and cities, dozens of nonprofit reform organizations, and more than five million Americans are not the only ones calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. This installment of our #DemandDemocracy video blog features Bryan McGannon with the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) discussing how big money in politics is bad for competition and bad for small business.

As Bryan points out:

“Our campaign finance system subverts competition by allowing powerful industries and corporations to influence legislation that pampers them and hampers small business.”

According to a report published by the Mainstreet Alliance and ASBC, 88 percent of small business owners believe that money in politics is having a negative impact on our democracy, and a strong majority (66 percent) say that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision has been bad for small businesses. Since a vast majority of the money that flows into elections comes from a tiny fraction of mega-wealthy donors, most businesses and individuals alike get priced out of participating in the electoral process.

PFAW’s #DemandDemocracy video blog series is a collection of short videos that highlight how big money in politics affects — and often stalls progress on — a range of other critical issues.

PFAW