After more than 33,000 members of Progressives United joined together to shine a bright light on the failures of the Federal Elections Commission, we joined our fellow activists in Washington, D.C. to hand-deliver our feedback.
Here at Progressives United, we take activism seriously. In all of our actions, our power comes from our members, and there are plenty of ways we can work together to keep our country and our democracy in the hands of the people.
A big thanks to all of those who took action to highlight the FEC's failures -- and thanks in advance for all the activism to come.
Watch our video here, and leave a comment below telling us how you think Progressives United should continue our work to take on corporate special interests:
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · April 05, 2013
Not every law needs to be changed. Some just need to be enforced.
And there's one dysfunctional agency at the center of all the clean elections laws that could be helping but isn't: the Federal Election Commission.
For all the damage caused by the Supreme Court's lawless Citizens United decision and Congress's refusal to stop corrupting corporate money, the FEC has compounded the problem by failing to enforce the key election laws that still remain.
The FEC has been a fatally flawed and feckless body from its inception in the wake of the Watergate scandal. FEC commissioners have routinely ignored obvious statutes and reversed commonsense anti-corruption measures. The FEC has flown almost entirely under the radar as it issued decision after decision that creates new ways of selling our government to the highest bidder.
The commission is now asking for public comments on its effectiveness. And we have a simple one: "You're doing a terrible job."
The FEC is an entirely dysfunctional body, but that's not entirely its fault: It was set up to be that way, with three Democratic commissioners and three Republican commissioners predictably producing tie votes that shield their political patrons from inconvenient enforcement actions, and leave election laws overly vague. The only thing they seem to agree on is creating loopholes to the laws Congress passed:
They decimated rules that forbade candidates from coordinating with big-money super PACs, essentially paving the way for politicians to solicit massive checks from mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson.
They helped give CEOs protection in intimidating their employees to vote a certain way. And in the 1990s, they created a huge loophole that allowed unlimited corporate contributions to political parties, known as "soft money," that let enormous corporate influence dominate major policy decisions for years in Washington.
While the McCain-Feingold law closed the "soft money" loophole in 2002, the FEC has failed to act on the clear intent of that law, as it certainly could, to address abuses that have arisen in the wake of Citizens United. Instead, the FEC remains as useless -- and dangerous -- as ever. Now they're asking what we think of them; it's time we told them.
Make no mistake. The FEC cannot be reformed from the inside. It will take Congress acting to replace it with an agency that works. But exposing the FEC's failures for the world to see is the key first step.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · February 27, 2013
By now, you've probably heard about Organizing for Action, the newest incarnation of the Obama campaign operation. Now we hear news that the entity, organized as a 501(c)(4) non-profit, will fund itself from top down. According to The New York Times:
In private meetings and phone calls, Mr. Obama’s aides have made clear that the new organization will rely heavily on a small number of deep-pocketed donors, not unlike the "super PACs" whose influence on political campaigns Mr. Obama once deplored.
At least half of the group's budget will come from a select group of donors who will each contribute or raise $500,000 or more, according to donors and strategists involved in the effort.
Some say there's no such thing as a free lunch; according to reporting done by the Times, apparently there's no such thing as a free $500,000 contribution either:
Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama's group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama's top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships.
When asked about the access up for sale, Press Secretary Jay Carney basically ignored the question:
And while Carney tries to frame OFA as an “independent organization,” he neglects to mention that its staff reportedly manages the President’s voice online through sites like Facebook and Twitter.
It's embarrassing that the largest grassroots organization in history would abandon its own beliefs. As a matter of principle, this is just wrong -- Democrats and progressives looking to make change must abandon the corrupting money of Citizens United and fund their activities through grassroots support.
It's also a significant mistake to ignore the lessons gleaned from the remarkable small-dollar fundraising that President Obama and his campaign team championed in 2008 and 2012. By utilizing the best technology and organizing know-how, the campaign was able to channel grassroots activism into a massive wave of small donations that fueled the President's rise to the White House in 2008 and sprung into action again in 2012.
Organizing for Action should embrace its base of grassroots donors as a model of participatory democracy, not shun them in the dash to rake in huge contributions from a wealthy and powerful few. We cannot return to the days of soft money -- when unlimited corporate contributions blurred the differences between the two political parties, and resulted in policies that slammed average working families while rewarding Wall Street.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · February 21, 2013
A concerted, corporate-backed campaign to slash crucial benefits is plowing ahead, but nearly 20 representatives have signed on to a letter that could make the difference.
Co-written by Representatives Alan Grayson (FL) and Mark Takano (CA), the letter's signers pledge to reject any deal that cuts benefits people receive from Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security.
When it comes to securing the benefits hardworking Americans have earned, we've always drawn a clear line.
We know it's fundamentally unfair to balance our nation's deficit on the backs of average working families and the most vulnerable citizens while lobbyists make sure corporate defense contractors escape paying their fair share.
We need to ensure that members of Congress are on the right side of that same clear line.
Several representatives have already taken the courageous -- and necessary -- step of pledging to reject senseless cuts to hard-earned and critically needed benefits. Our representatives needs to hear from us -- as constituents -- about signing onto this strong statement to defend average American families.
The corporate forces have regrouped. But I know that we can succeed: We've done it before, and we must do it again. Please call today.
The full text of the Grayson-Takano letter is below.
Dear President Obama:
We join millions of Americans in applauding your Inaugural Address declaration that "we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."
Democrats have built the most popular government programs in American history — including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — by working with Republicans whenever possible and by defeating Republican opposition whenever necessary. The torch has been passed to today's elected officials, and we must carry it forward boldly.
Voters across the political spectrum oppose cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits, and we must do whatever it takes to protect these vital benefits from cuts.
That's why we write to let you know that we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.
We firmly believe that the best way to reduce our deficit and make our economy grow is to create jobs, and we look forward to a returned focus on this core issue.
We also know that there are common-sense reforms that would reduce health-care costs and save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars without cutting benefits. If Republicans oppose these reforms, and insist on benefits cuts, that proves they are not concerned about the deficit — but instead are trying to tear the social safety net and cause pain for our constituents who can least absorb it.
Finally, Americans agree that there is more that must be done to require the rich and giant corporations to pay their fair share. Indeed, it is their patriotic duty to do so.
As you negotiate with Republicans, you deserve to know that millions of Americans and the below signed Members of Congress stand ready to fight for the principles listed above.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · February 20, 2013
Today, David Axelrod tweeted about ending contribution limits to candidates. Apparently he has bought full into the Republican line of thinking that the system is so broken, we might as well just scrap it entirely. This would turn our system for electing candidates and influencing public policy into a full-blown auction, in which only the highest bidders hold sway.
The answer to fighting too much influence from wealthy interests in politics is not to eliminate all limits on those interests. Getting rid of limits to candidates and parties does nothing but make the sale of our government easier and more direct. Of course, it also helps line the pockets of political consultants.
For too long, we have stood by and watched the President's allies go down the dangerous road of unlimited money, most recently with the new group Organizing for Action. During all of 2012, the Democrats' excuse for engaging super PACs was "we have to win so we can change the rules."
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · January 24, 2013
The self-styled truth-teller PolitiFact rated as "Mostly False" this claim: Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.
And as they have done before, PolitiFact has made a mockery of itself. Social Security is not causing the current budget deficit. In fact, it is formally completely separate from the budget.
Social Security is self-funded, relying on a payroll tax, levied on both employers and workers, that is deposited into the Social Security Trust Fund. Benefits are subsequently paid out of that same fund. For the past three decades, Social Security has actually taken in more than it has spent, deliberately generating surpluses in anticipation of the retirement of the baby boom generation. Those surpluses are invested in U.S. Treasury bonds by the Social Security Trust Fund.
The Social Security actuaries estimate the surpluses built up over the decades, along with the payroll tax revenue coming into Social Security, will be enough to pay 100% of Social Security benefits for decades to come without changing the program at all!
So the deficits in the Social Security program that PolitiFact mentions were expected and are paid from past surpluses. Not one penny comes from outside the trust fund's investments. Implying that Social Security is contributing to the deficit because the Social Security Trust Fund holds U.S. Treasury bonds makes as much sense as suggesting that a family that owns Treasury bonds is contributing to the deficit.
The allegation that Social Security is contributing to our budget deficit has been a familiar claim from those who have sought to end the program as we know it. Regrettably, to a certain extent it has become a widely held belief. In part, that is because media organizations, such as PolitiFact, have been more concerned about their image than they have been with checking the facts. Instead, PolitiFact has twisted facts to fit an alternate reality – a reality that serves the interests of those targeting Social Security and other critical safety net programs. Despite their efforts, PolitiFact’s political gymnastics have only contributed to its own worthlessness.
Predictably, those looking to cut Social Security benefits continue to play PolitiFact to their advantage effectively. For if the American people are told repeatedly that Social Security is a cause of our budget problems, they’ll be less likely to object when the program is gutted or even privatized, all justified in the name of cutting the deficit.
We certainly should take steps to strengthen Social Security, and extend its projected solvency to the traditional 75-year benchmark, and the sooner that is done, the smaller those steps can be. But since it is its own self-funded program, it should be handled, as it has been, separately from the rest of the budget, and out in the open as opposed to being part of any "grand bargain." And in keeping with its current treatment as being fully off-budget, the net savings realized from any changes to Social Security should be put back directly into the program, strengthening it for future generations. Under no circumstances should we slash this critical program because some continue to perpetuate the false claim it’s contributing to our budget deficit. It simply isn’t.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · January 18, 2013
Progressives United is glad to hear that President Obama is going to use the unprecedented organization he built to push for policies in the second term, and we hope reforming our broken campaign finance system will be a priority for the new organization. We are also pleased hear that the President plans to disclose all contributions to this new entity; that is the right and necessary thing to do.
There are a few things for which we will be looking with the new organization. First, Organizing for Action should put in place strict rules to make sure they do not engage in any election related activity. This means no candidate support and no TV ads; 501(c)(4)'s are issue advocacy organization and have no business playing in elections. In fact, tightening regulations and closing loopholes that allow 501(c)(4) organizations to operate as dark money political committees should be an area of reform on which Organizing for Action focuses.
We also encourage the new organization not to accept any corporate contributions. Unlimited corporate money should not be allowed to influence our government from either side of the aisle or from the oval office.
Monday, January 21 will be the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s lawless decision in Citizens United, just weeks after the most recent election held in the corporate-dominated environment established by that calamitous decision. It remains to be seen just how corrupting Citizens United was in this recent election, because the ultimate purpose of the oceans of corporate interest money unleashed by that decision and spent on the last election wasn’t merely to elect individual candidates; it was to determine those policies which are approved or rejected by what should be our representative democracy. I have little doubt that the priorities of those wealthy individual and corporate donors will be overwhelmingly represented at all levels of elected government, and will swamp the public’s interest, thanks to the Supreme Court’s monumental mistake.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · January 14, 2013
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has adopted a policy in a stark departure from 2009, when corporate contributions were banned and individual contributions limited to $50,000 to fund some of the Inauguration Day activities.
Mega-corporations such as Microsoft and AT&T have pitched in for this year's effort. Both, as USA Today reported, have spent millions of dollars lobbying the federal government and were subsequently granted federal contracts, also worth millions.
This funding scheme has found its critics in some quarters: NPR's Peter Overby covered the reaction of members of the political money reform community. However, the issue has received almost no attention elsewhere.
The Inaugural committee is not just accepting big-money donations; they're actively soliciting them, with special VIP Inauguration packages given to individuals giving at least $250,000 and to corporations contributing $1 million.
It is sad that organizers feel that this funding method is necessary to successfully pull off the series of events planned for next week. Were they unhappy with the 2009 Inaugural festivities which didn't have corporate sponsors?
The solutions to this particular problem are not readily apparent, but it is clear that there has to be a better way.
So I put the question to you: If we are to achieve a fairly funded Inauguration to honor and celebrate the peaceful transition of power or, in this year's case, the reelection of a popular president, how would you do it? Leave a comment below telling us your solution.
Building a permanent majority for reform Democracy - Russ Feingold In the wake of the Supreme Court’s lawless decision in Citizens United, it’s clear that corruption is alive and well in our political system. Super PACs, 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporations, and trade associations such as the Chamber of Commerce funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into the election this past year, often using the same former staffers and ad companies that official campaigns have used.
This system is unsustainable and grossly unpopular. While I’m confident that a Supreme Court with new justices appointed by President Obama will recognize the corruption that exists—just as a different Court did when it upheld the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill—we cannot wait until then. Americans need to continue the hard work of rolling back the new era of corporate dominance that Citizens United has ushered in, and we cannot do that without building a permanent pro-reform majority…
Overturning Citizens United is only one step. In order for Democrats to prevent another era of corporate-dominated policy-making, and to regain credibility as the party that stands up to the overwhelming corporate influence in Washington, Democratic elected officials, advocacy groups, and high-dollar donors must walk away from the corrupting money and organizations spawned from the Citizens United decision. Until they do, Democrats will not be taken seriously as the party of reform. READ MORE
If approved by the SEC, the regulation could require all publicly traded corporations to detail how much money they give for political activities, including to tax-exempt advocacy groups and trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But the move faces stiff opposition from many in the business community, including the Chamber.
The new rule would provide the fullest picture yet of how much corporations have become engaged in campaigns since the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling made it legal for them to spend unlimited sums on independent political activity. READ MORE
Now the insurance organization might join a lawsuit against the U.S. government over the terms of the bailout — saying the deal that saved the company cheated shareholders.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — who faced calls for his firing over the AIG bailout — and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are furious, according to one Democratic lawyer. Other officials inside the agencies were angered by the news, too, sources in the department told POLITICO. READ MORE
For an incoming member of Congress still basking in the glow of electoral victory, it's a message that hits those in both parties hard -- the most direct indication that time in the people's chamber will be a bit different from the version taught in civics classes…
The amount of time that members of Congress in both parties spend fundraising is widely known to take up an obscene portion of a typical day -- whether it's "call time" spent on the phone with potential donors, or in person at fundraisers in Washington or back home. Seeing it spelled out in black and white, however, can be a jarring experience for a new member, as related by some who attended the November orientation. READ MORE
But after Obama dropped his initial reluctance to support Priorities (or any super PAC) and gave his quiet blessing to the group, Priorities' contributions picked up. By Election Day it had raised more than $66 million from unions and wealthy liberal donors, whose names had to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.
Not so for the donors to Priorities' 501(c)(4) sister outfit, called simply Priorities USA. It and similar tax-exempt organizations are supposed to be "social welfare" groups that engage in only limited politicking and file reports just once a year, with the IRS. And though they must give the names of their top benefactors to the tax agency, they can keep them secret from the public.READ MORE
Federal contractors donate to Obama inaugural events USA Today Two companies, AT&T and Microsoft, helping to underwrite President Obama's Jan. 21 inaugural festivities have multimillion dollar contracts with the federal government and a third stands to benefit financially from the new federal health care law being implemented during his second term.
A long-standing U.S. law bars federal contractors from spending to influence presidential and congressional elections, but few limits are imposed on post-election fundraising to pay for swearing-in festivities.
After refusing corporate money for his first inauguration, Obama reversed course last month and has taken donations from seven corporations, according to a list the inaugural committee recently posted to its website. They are a tiny fraction of the 417 inaugural "benefactors" announced to date, but include some big corporate figures. READ MORE