Democracy Now!

Citizens United

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  • Confirmation hearings begin today for Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. If confirmed by the Senate, Gorsuch would give conservatives a narrow 5-4 majority on the court. When he was first nominated, Gorsuch praised Antonin Scalia. As a judge on the 10th Circuit, Neil Gorsuch ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in the case deciding whether the company could refuse to provide birth control coverage to employees as required by Obamacare. Judge Gorsuch also has a long history of ruling against employees in cases involving federal race, sex, age, disability and political discrimination and retaliation claims. For more, we speak with Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout. She recently ran for a congressional seat in upstate New York. Her recent piece for The Washington Post is headlined "Neil Gorsuch sides with big business, big donors and big bosses."

  • An explosive new report by The Guardian reveals the extensive influence of corporate cash in U.S. elections through third-party groups that do not have to disclose their donors. It is based on 1,500 leaked court documents from an investigation by Wisconsin prosecutors into possible illegal fundraising by Republican Governor Scott Walker for the third-party group, Wisconsin Club for Growth. A conservative majority of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court halted the investigation last July before any charges were filed, and ordered all evidence from the investigation to be destroyed. But at least one copy of the documents survived. We speak with Ed Pilkington, chief reporter for The Guardian US, who used the files for his report, "Because Scott Walker Asked."

  • We go to Wisconsin to get reaction from The Nation’s John Nichols to a new report on possible illegal fundraising by the state’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, for the third-party group Wisconsin Club for Growth. The report is based on leaked documents from an investigation the state’s highest court halted in 2015. "Governor Walker has survived revelations of this sort before," Nichols says, but adds that he could face a challenge if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to allow the investigation to proceed. In its Citizens United ruling, Nichols notes, "the court said that transparency, knowing how the money is raised and who is raising it … was a vital part of guarding against the legitimate concerns of citizens about corruption and about the danger of allowing corporations and wealthy individuals to be so dominant in our politics."

  • The release of the Panama Papers comes amid growing concern about undisclosed campaign contributions here in the United States, so-called dark money. Now, some members of the Federal Election Commission are calling for greater enforcement of campaign finance regulations and a narrower interpretation of the Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending on election campaigns. We speak with FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, whose op-ed in The New York Times, "Taking On Citizens United," argues Americans deserve assurances from American corporations that they are not using the money of foreign shareholders to influence the country’s elections. She also calls for federal and state policymakers to ensure corporations are not being used as a front to allow foreign money to seep into U.S. elections. The FEC is the government watchdog tasked with keeping federal elections fair, but it has come to a virtual standstill since its three Democratic and three Republican members are in partisan gridlock.

  • A day after a mailman from Florida landed a tiny personal aircraft called a gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol in a protest to demand campaign finance reform, we speak to Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida about money and politics. Grayson also reveals that he will "probably" run for U.S. Senate in 2016 for Marco Rubio’s seat, who has joined the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

  • Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United v. FEC decision striking down the prohibition on corporate expenditures in federal elections. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, with the same right to influence politics as voters. Meanwhile, many corporations including McDonald’s, Monsanto and Peabody Energy have cited the principle of corporate constitutional rights in recent efforts to fight back against new laws. McDonald’s and other franchises are suing the city of Seattle over its new $15-an-hour minimum wage law, arguing it violates its corporate personhood rights. They are basing their case on the 14th Amendment, a constitutional provision written to protect newly freed slaves after the Civil War and ensure equal rights for all people. Monsanto is challenging Vermont’s recently passed GMO-labeling law under the First Amendment, claiming that it forces them to "speak" against their will. We host a debate on the movement to draft a constitutional amendment to overturn the doctrine of corporate constitutional rights with two guests: Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People, and Kent Greenfield, professor of law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School.

  • It was five years ago today that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Citizens United decision, allowing unlimited political spending by corporations and unions. Some of the biggest spenders since have been the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. On Tuesday night, newly elected Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who was strongly backed by the Koch brothers, gave the GOP response to President Obama. Meanwhile this weekend, four leading Republican presidential prospects — Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — are set to appear at an exclusive gathering of rich conservatives organized by the Koch brothers. We speak to longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which published an article Tuesday headlined "Koch Party Delivers SOTU Response."

  • Republicans have emerged from Tuesday’s midterm elections with control of Congress for the first time in eight years by winning key Senate seats and strengthening their majority in the House. Republican candidates won at least 10 of the day’s 13 closely contested Senate races, giving the party control of the Senate for the first time since 2007. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell is expected to become the next Senate majority leader after defeating Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in one of the nation’s highest-profile contests. McConnell has played a leading role in fighting campaign finance reform and supporting the Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited election spending. The $4 billion price tag made this election the most expensive midterm in history. We look at the Kentucky race and what to expect out of a McConnell-led Senate with Phillip Bailey, a freelance journalist in Louisville.

  • We get reaction to the Republicans’ big midterm victory from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont. "What frightens me is what Citizens United has done to the politics of this country and the ability of billionaires like the Koch brothers and others to put unprecedented sums of money into elections," Sanders says. "I fear that we may be on the verge of becoming an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires control not just the economy, but the political life of this country. And that’s just something we’re going to have wrestle with."

  • We continue our coverage of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC, described by many as "the next Citizens United." In a 5-to-4 vote, the court’s conservative justices eliminated a long-standing limit on how much donors can give in total to federal candidates, party committees and political action committees in a two-year election cycle. We are joined by Andy Kroll, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine, who has extensively covered campaign finance and anonymous donations, called "dark money."

  • The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to strike down most of the remaining limits on massive spending by wealthy donors on political campaigns. On Tuesday, justices heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which has been referred to as "the next Citizens United." Republican leaders and wealthy GOP donor Shaun McCutcheon wants the Supreme Court to throw out aggregate limits on individual contributions in a single two-year cycle, saying they violate free speech. "If these advocate limitations go down, 500 people will control American democracy. It would be 'government for the 500 people,' not for anybody else — and that’s the risk," says Burt Neuborne, law professor and founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts indicated he is prepared to strike down caps on donations to individual candidates, but perhaps not on donations to political committees. Justice Antonin Scalia appears to be set to back the lifting of all limits. "The Scalia side says, 'Look, if you're rich, you’re entitled to have as much influence as you can buy,’" Neuborne says. "And the Scalia side has won 5-to-4 consistently in recent years."

  • The acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven Miller, has been forced to resign days after the IRS apologized to tea party and other right-wing groups for putting extra scrutiny on their bids to become tax-exempt organizations. While the IRS targeting of tea party groups has made headlines for days, far less attention has been paid to the roots of the crisis. After the 2010 landmark Supreme Court decision Citizens United, there was a spike in new political organizations seeking tax-exempt status under tax code Section 501(c)(4). The court ruled these groups could raise unlimited corporate money without disclosing donor information. Several groups have claimed to be social welfare organizations while spending tens of millions of dollars on political operations. We speak to David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes about taxes issues. "One of the questions that needs to be examined in the real scandal here is: How did MoveOn, how did Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, how did Bill Burton’s progressive Democratic group get approved as exclusively social welfare organizations?" Johnston says. "There are a bunch of folks out there arguing that, well, 'primarily,' that phrase that pops up in IRS regulations, can mean 49.9 percent of your activity. I’m sorry, is there an adult in America who’s been in a romantic relationship who thinks that 'exclusively' is 49 percent of the time?"

  • On Tuesday, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 landmark Citizens United ruling that cleared the way for corporations and other special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. The bill is part of a growing movement to overturn the ruling. Today we host a debate on whether the push for a constitutional amendment is the best path to overturning Citizens United. We speak to Mark Schmitt, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. [includes rush transcript]

  • The watchdog group Common Cause is calling on President Obama to shut down the outside group Organizing for Action after revelations the group is promising high-end donors access to the White House. According to The New York Times, donors who contribute $500,000 or more will be appointed to the group’s national advisory board, which meets four times a year with the president. Organizing for Action was set up by former Obama campaign officials in order to push the president’s agenda. The group’s 501(c)(4) tax status means it can accept unlimited donations from corporations and individuals without revealing their identity. We speak to Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. [includes rush transcript]

  • At his inauguration four years ago, President Obama refused to accept corporate donations, but this year ExxonMobil, AT&T and Microsoft are among the biggest backers of the festivities. With Obama now accepting unlimited corporate funding, donors have been offered a number of sponsorship options, including the top tier of $1 million for institutions and $250,000 for individuals. In contrast, corporate, lobbyist and political action committee donors were banned in 2009, and individual contributions were capped at $50,000. Today’s ceremony happens to fall on the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, allowing unlimited outside spending on political campaigns. We’re joined by Liz Bartolomeo of the Sunlight Foundation, which is tracking money and influence at the inauguration. [includes rush transcript]

  • While much attention was fixed on the presidential race, the 2012 election also saw voters decide on a series of landmark ballot initiatives at the state level. Advocates of marriage equality ended Tuesday with four out of four victories, as voters legalized same-sex marriage in Maine and Maryland, upheld same-sex marriage in Washington state, and defeated a measure to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Maryland voters also affirmed the DREAM Act, allowing undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition. In Montana, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that would limit corporate spending on elections, while Colorado voters also resoundingly approved a measure backing a constitutional amendment that would call for the same. In a historic move, voters in Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use, becoming the first states to do so. In California, voters defeated a ballot measure to repeal the death penalty and another that would have required labeling of genetically modified foods. A separate measure to ease penalties for nonviolent offenses under California’s "three-strikes" law was approved. California voters also rejected a measure that would have curbed the political influence of unions. We’re joined by three guests: Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center; NAACP President Ben Jealous; and broadcaster and author Laura Flanders. [includes rush transcript]

  • As Democracy Now! has previously reported, one of every four dollars spent on the campaign ads, direct mail and robocalls that target voters now comes from so-called "dark money" organizations. The IRS lets these groups keep their donors secret because they are considered "social welfare non-profits." But that changed this past Friday when a Montana judge ordered the release of one such group’s bank records. An investigation had found that Western Tradition Partnership may have misled the IRS about the extent of its political activities, and that citizens have a right to know where its campaign cash was coming from. The group is known for bringing a lawsuit to the Supreme Court that successfully challenged Montana’s ban on corporate spending in elections, and the resulting ruling extended the court’s Citizens United decision to include all 50 states. Friday’s ruling marks the first time a court has ordered a dark money group’s donors to be made public, and some say the judge’s move could serve as a warning to similar organizations. We’re joined by Kim Barker, the ProPublica reporter who helped break the story along with PBS Frontline. [includes rush transcript]

  • A new exposé raises alarming questions about the ability of corporations to influence the voting decisions of their employees. In an article published by "In These Times" magazine, labor journalist Mike Elk examines the contents of a voter information packet that Koch Industries sent to tens of thousands of employees at its subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific. The packet advised the employees on whom to vote for and warned them of the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country, should they choose to vote otherwise. Koch Industries is run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. Corporations like Koch are legally allowed to pressure their workers to adopt their political views at the ballot box because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Elk joins us to discuss his In These Times article, "Koch Sends Pro-Romney Mailing to 45,000 Employees While Stifling Workplace Political Speech." [includes rush transcript]

  • The celebratory mood in Charlotte was on display Tuesday night as thousands of delegates kicked off the Democratic National Convention and millions watched on TV. But the political party continues beyond what the public sees on prime-time broadcasts or even inside the convention center. There are exclusive events underway that range from corporate-sponsored parties hosted by the powerful Democratic Governors Association to a Super-O-Rama party hosted by the the three top Democratic super PACs, where the recommended contribution starts at $25,000. We’re joined by the Sunlight Foundation’s Liz Bartolomeo, who has been keeping an eye on the hundreds of events reserved for big donors and powerful figures. [includes rush transcript]

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