Category: politics

Federal Court Says Groups Can’t Keep Campaign Donors Secret

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson, Washington, D.C.

A District Court in Washington, D.C, ruled (pdf) earlier this month that it is illegal for groups to keep secret who funds their political attack ads.  At the heart of the case was a regulation promulgated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in December of 2007 that required disclosure of the names and addresses funders who donate $1,000 or more to organizations for electioneering communications. But the FEC, in interpreting the law, deferred to the argument that keeping track of such donations would inordinately burden corporations. In attempting to clarify the law, the FEC created a huge loophole by promulgating a follow-up rule that allowed groups to circumvent disclosure provisions required by campaign finance laws, like the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.  The disclosure provisions in Citizens United have largely been overlooked.  In Citizens United, justices wrote that “the public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election,” and “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”   U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Maryland) challenged FEC’s loophole in a lawsuit brought against the FEC in 2011.

Blue Cross Blue Shield and American Traffic Solutions Dump ALEC

The corporate exodus out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today as insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Arizona-based traffic services company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) both announced that they would not renew their membership in ALEC this year. ThinkProgress created an internet-based bulletin board listing the companies that have left ALEC so far.  In addition to Blue Cross and ATS, the bulletin board lists Reed-Elsevier, Mars, Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pepsi, Kraft, Intuit and Coca Cola. The bulletin board site has quickly gained hundreds of followers. ALEC is the controversial “Stand Your Ground” group that helps corporations gain direct contact with predominantly conservative Republican legislators for the purpose of spreading pro-corporate legislation around the country.

Main Source: Think Progress, April 17, 2012

ALEC, Embattled, Ditches its Public Safety Task Force

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws.  ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.

Main source: American Legislative Exchange Council press release, April 17, 2012

How Many Millionaires Pay a Higher Tax Rate than You?

The White House Buffett Rule calculator

The White House has posted a new online tool people can use to calculate how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than they do. Citizens enter their wages, salary and other income and how much income tax they have paid, click a button and see the estimated number of millionaires who paid a lower effective tax rate than they did in 2009. The calculations demonstrate how under the current U.S. tax system, many millionaires are paying a lower effective income tax rate than most middle class families. In 2009, fully 22,000 American households made over $1 million, but paid the lowest effective tax rate such top earners have paid in 50 years. Of those top-earners, 1,470 paid no federal income tax at all on their million-dollar-plus incomes, according to data supplied by the Internal Revenue Service.

Vermont Senate Votes to Overturn Citizens United

Graph by CleanSlateNow.org

The Vermont Senate voted to ask the U.S. Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in which the Court declared that corporations are the equivalent of people with First Amendment free speech rights. The Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for corporations and billionaires to start pouring huge sums of money into influencing elections at every level of government — and they have, largely anonymously. On December 8, 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “Saving American Democracy Amendment”, which would restore the ability of lawmakers to enact campaign spending limits like those that fell in the wake of Citizens United.  In early March of this year, 64 Vermont towns approved resolutions calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to counter the Citizens United ruling.  The national Move to Amend campaign is also mobilizing a grassroots campaign from coast to coast calling for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and that the First Amendment does not protect unlimited political spending as free speech.

Corporations Flee ALEC — Will More Follow?

ALEC protest in Arizona in 2011

Kraft Foods, Coke, Pepsi, Intuit and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have all pulled their support of the controversial corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Now Common Cause, a nonprofit public interest advocacy organization, is circulating a petition urging McDonalds, State Farm Insurance and Johnson & Johnson to cut their ties to ALEC. ALEC has been revealed as a driving force behind so-called Shoot-First laws that led to the Trayvon Martin killing and increased citizen vigilantism, “Voter ID” bills that deny millions of U.S. citizens a right to vote and attacks on public schools that divert taxpayer money to charter and private schools. ALEC is a members-only group that exposes state legislators to corporate lobbyists several times throughout the year at conferences and gatherings at tony beach-front spa and golf resorts. Legislators pay a small fee to belong to ALEC, but corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to become members. Corporate members gain direct access to legislators at ALEC-sponsored events.  You can read more about ALEC at ALECExposed.org.

Billboard Campaign Promotes Marijuana Legalization in Colorado

A big new billboard has appeared right over a liquor store near Mile High Stadium in Denver that shows a mainstream, straight-laced looking woman smiling with her harms folded, saying, “For many reasons, I prefer…marijuana over alcohol. Does that make me a bad person? RegulateMarijuana.org.” The board is the first in an educational campaign by backers of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, a measure that will appear on the state’s November election. The group backing the measure seeks to educate people about the ways that marijuana is safer than alcohol, specifically that it is less addictive than alcohol and tends to cause fewer adverse health effects. Users also cannot overdose on marijuana. The measure would permit limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults, and would let state and local governments in Colorado regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana or ban marijuana sales completely within their jurisdictions. On its website, the pro-legalization campaign says, “We are not suggesting that marijuana is better than alcohol … We are simply asserting that there are many good reasons to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”

Republicans Circumvent Democracy in Michigan

A judge has ruled that Republicans in control Michigan’s House of Representatives have been violating their state’s constitution by failing to hold recorded votes on bills. Instead, the House Speaker has been asking members of the legislature stand to indicate their support for a new law taking immediate effect, and no official count was conducted.  Democrats had been asking for votes to be officially recorded, but Republicans refused and kept using so-called “standing votes.” The Democrats sued the Republicans in court, and a Circuit Court judge ruled that Republicans have been violating the state’s constitution by failing to acknowledge Democrats’ repeated requests for recorded votes. The judge issued a restraining order against House Republicans ordering them to hold recorded votes whenever a minimum of 22 Democrats request one. The state’s constitution requires a roll call be conducted whenever one fifth of the House members request one. On another front, the city of Detroit narrowly escaped coming under the state’s new emergency financial manager law enacted in 2011, known as Public Act 4, which allows the state to seize control of financially troubled cities, install an “emergency manager” of the governor’s choosing, terminate city contracts and block elected city officials from making any decisions. So far, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed emergency managers in four Michigan cities: Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint and Pontiac.

Main source: Detroit News, April 2, 2012

TV Ad Promotes Separation of Church and State


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is running a television ad promoting the separation of church and state, the first such ad of its kind to be shown on major television. The ad is running on NBC’s Sunday “Meet the Press” show and all this week on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9-10 p.m., Eastern Central. FFRF’s ad played twice on the Monday “Rachel Maddow Show.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation works to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state and educate the public about non-theism. The Foundation has over 17,000 members. Since 1978, the Foundation has acted on countless violations of the separation of state and church, and has won many significant victories, including lawsuits to end state/church entanglements.

Kraft Foods Dumps the American Legislative Exchange Council

Kraft Foods announced that it will not renew its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing corporate bill mill responsible for spreading the “stand your ground” gun laws that led to the high-profile killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Kraft is one of three large companies that have dropped their sponsorship of ALEC just this week as a result of a grassroots push by the group Color of Change to pressure sponsors to sever their relationships with the ALEC. Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola both announced this week that they plan to end their membership in ALEC. Reynolds American, manufacturer of Camel cigarettes, has said it will remain a member of the ALEC, as did Koch Industries. Color of Change plans to continue targeting additional companies to end their relationships with ALEC. ALEC declined to comment on the companies that have decided to leave the group.

Source: Politico, April 5, 2012

CleanSlateNow.org Lists Courageous Candidates Who Turn Down All PAC Funding


A new website created in Colorado, CleanSlateNow.org, is the first and only site so far to publicly list candidates for office at all levels of government nationwide who have pledged to forgo all special interest money. The listed candidates do not accept any funding from political action committees, big banks, insurance companies, unions, big oil, pharmaceutical companies or any other corporate interests. As CleanSlateNow states, the only problem is that these candidates are little-known. The website aims to fix that. CleanSlateNow.org was founded in October, 2011 by former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, who was term-limited out of office in 2009. Gordon is famous for making a chilling 2007 “No Stuntman Used” campaign video in which he appears in person in scuba gear from inside a shark tank to demonstrate his independence from local political sharks. The goal of CleanSlateNow is to create an environment where people, and not money, will start determining the outcome of U.S. elections.

Santorum: Puerto Ricans Need to Comply with Imaginary Federal “English Only” Law

Rick Santorum told the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia that Congress would require English to “be universal here on the Island…” before Puerto Rico could gain statehood, adding that universal English would be a “condition for coming into the country” as America’s 51st state. No federal law exists requiring English to be universal in a commonwealth or territory prior to being admitting to the union. After his comments angered Puerto Ricans, Santorum tried to walk back his statements by claiming he was misquoted. “What I said is English has to be learned as a language and this has to be a country where English is widely spoken and used …” A Santorum campaign representative also tried to soft pedal the candidate’s remarks, saying, “Rick is an advocate of making English our official language — just like 90% of Americans. He knows there’s no current federal law in place — but what he was talking about — is that once English is made the official language — obviously all states would need to comply.” Attempts to backpedal his statements proved useless. Santorum lost the Puerto Rican primary election to Mitt Romney in a landslide.

Main Source: Washington Post, March 15, 2012

Americans Don’t Buy “Religious Freedom” Argument Against Birth Control

A national poll conducted for Bloomberg News found that Republican candidates have wandered way off base in their recent public discussions of contraception. When asked “Do you believe birth control should or should not be part of the national political debate?,” a whopping 77 percent of respondents said the topic has no place in the political debate. The most important issues to respondents were unemployment (42 percent), the federal deficit (21 percent), gas prices (11 percent) and health care (10 percent). When asked whether the debate about insurance plans covering birth control was one of religious liberty or whether it was a matter of a woman’s health and access to birth control, 62 percent said it was a matter of a woman’s health and access to birth control. A majority of respondents would prefer religion not even be a major factor for the country’s leader. When asked to what extent a president’s religious beliefs should influence his federal policy decisions, 58 percent answered “Never.” A significant portion of respondents — 16 percent — said they did not identify with any organized religion at all. On another current topic, fully 53 percent thought Rush Limbaugh should lose his radio show based solely on his comments towards Sandra Fluke, the law school student who testified before Senate Democrats about access to birth control at religious universities. The poll was conducted by  Selzer and Company, Inc., of Des Moines, Iowa and was based on interviews with 1,002 U.S. adults age 18 or older. Respondents were called on randomly-selected landline and cell phone numbers. It was conducted March 8-11, 2011. The entire original Bloomberg Poll results can be accessed here (pdf).

Secretive Republican Attack Group “Compass Colorado” Runs Anti-Obama Ads

Compass Colorado billboard

Billboards have just gone up across Grand Junction featuring Obama’s iconic campaign logo. At first glance — and that’s about all you get when driving by — all you see is the logo and it looks like the ads are pro-Obama. But if you look a split second longer, you see they are anti-Obama. The ads show someone in a pair of jeans, pulling out their empty pockets. Large wording over the photo says, “Still hoping for change?” The bottom of the board says has the website, “compasscolorado.org.”

Compass Colorado is a new conservative 501(c)4 political attack group formed in September, 2011 and headed by career Colorado Republican operative Tyler Quill “T.Q.” Houlton, who was Communications Director for Republican former Rep. Tom Tancredo. Rep. Tancredo gained fame for a speech he gave on February 4, 2010, to National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said that Barack Obama won the presidency because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” He then proposed people undergo “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting.

Houlton also worked for Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. That campaign imploded after it was revealed that McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 the organization had paid him.

Not much has been heard from McInnes since.

Tyler Q. Houlton

Like other conservative attack groups, Compass Colorado doesn’t reveal its donors, so we don’t know who is really behind the ads they are running. Compass Colorado’s first target was Democratic Colorado State Senator Evie Hudak of Westminster, Colorado, a former teacher and member of the Colorado Board of Education. Last election season, Compass Colorado took out $60,000 worth of TV ads to attack Sen. Hudak over her support for Proposition 103, a ballot measure that sought to increase the state income tax to help fund K-12 education. (K-12 education is now suffering financially to such an extent in Colorado that school districts across the state are moving to 4-day school weeks.) Compass Colorado also was behind robocalls attacking Proposition 103. Houlton narrated the robocalls, which went out to approximately 100,000 Colorado voters.

The domain name “CompassColorado.org” is registered to Domains by Proxy in Scottsdale, Arizona, — an entity that exists purely for the purpose of keeping domain registrations secret.  Why is Compass Colorado so secretive about their funders and domain name registration? We won’t find out, unless Tyler Houlton and his Republican funders start believing in transparency and informing voters about who is really doing the attacking.

“Bad Acts” Describes Tobacco Industry Interference in DOJ Case

A soon-to-be-published new book tells the hidden story of how the Bush Administration intervened to protect Big Tobacco from the 1999 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit filed under President Clinton. The book is authored by Sharon Eubanks, the DOJ attorney who headed up the team that won the multi-billion dollar Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) case against the industry, and Stanton Glantz, head of the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “Bad Acts” tells what happened behind-the-scenes — the politics, the litigation, the behavior of the tobacco industry and its lawyers as the Bush Administration worked to gut the case just as the DOJ’s team was approaching victory. The book is currently in production and will ship in mid-May. It can be ordered in hardback at $28.50 from the American Public Health Association. (The price is lower if you are an APHA member). To see a description and pre-order the book, click here.

How Do You Like it, Guys?

Ohio state Senator Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) has introduced a bill to regulate men’s access to erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs. The bill mandates that prior to getting a prescription for Viagra, Cialis or similar ED medications, men would have to undergo a session with a sex therapist, have a cardiac stress test and obtain a notarized affidavit signed by a sexual partner affirming impotency. Turner’s bill adheres to guidelines issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which recommend that prior to prescribing erectile dysfunction drugs, doctors determine whether a male patient’s sexual dysfunction is due to physical or psychological causes. Turner explains that she is concerned about men’s reproductive health, and says if state policymakers introduce bills subjecting women to ultrasound tests before getting an abortion, legislators should also be able to legislate male reproductive health issues.

DOJ Blocks Texas Voter ID Law as Unnecessary and Discriminatory

The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has blocked a new Texas voter ID law that requires citizens show photo ID before they can vote. Under the law, people had to produce a state-issued driver’s license, Department of Public Safety ID card or concealed handgun license before they could vote. Student IDs from Texas colleges and universities were not acceptable forms of ID. The state’s Republican-led legislature passed the law last year, making Texas one of eight states that have passed such laws. Texas legislators claimed the law was necessary to prevent voter fraud, but the DOJ found little evidence that voter fraud was enough of a problem in Texas to warrant the law. Justice Department officials, relying on Texas statistics, concluded that the law could have a discriminatory impact on minorities, particularly Hispanics. “Hispanics make up only 21.8 percent of all registered voters [in Texas], but fully 38.2 percent of the registered voters who lack these forms of identification.,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.

Source: CNN, March 12, 2012

Billionaire Koch Brothers File Lawsuit to Wrest Control of Cato Institute

Charles and David Koch — the billionaire industrialist brothers who already exert out-sized influence over American politics — are suing (pdf) to gain direct control over the Cato Institute, one of the country’s leading libertarian think tanks. Cato is a non-profit organization incorporated under Kansas law, which — unusually — allows it to be owned by a board of shareholders. Until recently Cato’s board consisted of four people — founder Ed Crane, Charles Koch, David Koch, and economist William Nikasen. Each held 16 shares valued at $1 per share. When Nikasen passed away in October, 2011, his shares fell to his widow, Kathryn Washburn, who has not yet offered to sell them to the other shareholders, as required by Kansas law. The Kochs are suing Washburn and the Cato Institute to force her to sell her shares to the other shareholders, which would give the Kochs a shareholder majority, and thus definitive control over Cato. The Kochs maintain that this is not a hostile takeover, (pdf) but the chair of Cato’s board, Bob Levy, said the Kochs — who now have the power to appoint half of the board — have been placing “operatives” on the board who are pushing Cato towards supporting Republican party ideals rather than libertarian ideals. Cato’s traditional libertarian stances on issues have often differed with Republican positions, for example by supporting same-sex marriage and hands-off foreign intervention and immigration policies. These more truly libertarian (and liberal) stances led to a falling-out between the Kochs and Cato over the years. But now the Kochs see their opportunity to gain more control over Cato. According to some close to the dispute, the Kochs want to use Cato to create more “intellectual ammo” for their front group, Americans for Prosperity, to use to defeat Obama in the 2012 general election. Some close to the dispute also say that if the Kochs successfully gain control of Cato, it will ruin the Institute’s credibility and lead to its demise.

Main sources: The Volokh Conspiracy, March 3, 2012, and Charles Rowley’s blog, March 4, 2012