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 · 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 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.
These lame duck negotiations are a dangerous minefield for progressives.
Senate Democrats' commitment to letting the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire seems to be strengthening -- thanks to the work over 53,000 progressives did to pressure wavering members of Congress.
But rumors are swirling in D.C. that Republicans might be willing to deal on tax rates for the wealthy -- if Democrats agree to benefit cuts from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
That isn't a compromise; It's a complete surrender of the middle class. We need to act now to make sure Democrats walk away from any deal that cuts thesecrucial benefits.
The first step is finding out where each senator stands. So members of Progressives United are joining with our friends at MoveOn.org and other progressive partners to get senators on the record: Will they stand against cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits?
You can join the fight by using our easy, one-step tool to call your senator. Ask if he or she will reject any deal that cuts benefits from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Then, report back what you hear.
Making a call is a quick way to make a huge impact: The information we get from our members will be featured on a public website showing exactly where each Democratic senator stands and will become the basis of our grassroots pressure efforts.
Republicans and their corporate special interest allies are preparing to make a furious push to cut these crucial benefits. Not only are they an absolutely essential protection for working families, but cutting those benefits is precisely the wrong approach to addressing our long-term debt problem in a sustainable way. If we don't make a push for our values, Democrats may think they have no choice but to back a bad deal that will hurt families, and do nothing to solve our debt problem.
We need to get every single Democratic senator on the record. It's a big project.
But by acting together, we have the power to prevent a devastating deal. What's more, calling is easy, and it only takes a minute.
The American people spoke loudly and clearly on Election Day. They chose to return fundamental fairness to our tax system and to reject cuts to basic, crucial benefits in programs such as Medicare.
Unfortunately, lawmakers in Washington, DC are notoriously hard of hearing. So just in case they didn't get the message, a poll out today amplifies what the election result and exit polls already indicated on November 6.
The new ABC/Washington Post poll revealed that a full 60 percent of Americans favor letting taxes on the wealthiest Americans (annual income over $250,000) rise. Furthermore, "'strong' support for raising taxes on the well-off is nearly double strong opposition, 42 vs. 23 percent."
It would seem that this settles the question (if anyone still had any doubt) of whether the American people demand an end to unfair tax breaks for those who need them least: they do.
Indeed, even 40 percent of self-identified Republicans are in favor of some increase in tax rates. This is conspicuously at odds with the hard line drawn by many Republican leaders in recent years opposing any tax hikes, or any revenue increases, ever.
And what about the question of restricting Medicare benefits? If anything, a broad, bipartisan majority rejects this option even more vociferously than it endorses restoring tax fairness:
Sixty-seven percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, oppose another suggestion, raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.And on this idea, strong opposition surpasses strong support by more than 3-1, 49 to 14 percent.
Opposition to increasing the Medicare eligibility age crosses partisan and ideological lines; it’s 68 percent or more among Democrats and Republicans and liberals and conservatives alike. Instead views relate to age; opposition peaks at 78 percent among adults age 50-64. It’s also higher among women and those with incomes less than $100,000.
Let the record show: The American people have spoken on these key issues. They spoke resoundingly on Election Day in favor of a balanced system that doesn't tip the scales against hardworking families. And as today's poll confirmed, they're still speaking -- loudly.
Maybe Washington legislators will finally pay attention.
Taking what might perhaps be the most wrong-headed lesson from their electoral successes, high-level Democratic politicians, campaign operatives, and big-money donors met in secret over three days to make an early, coordinated attempt to yoke the unlimited-money monster unleashed by the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United decision for their own advantage.
Shortly after Election Day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and top White House aides spoke at a three-day secret meeting of major Democratic donors and officials from liberal outside groups gearing up for 2014, POLITICO has learned.
Among the groups represented: Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that is vowing to remain a player in Democratic politics, even though President Barack Obama won’t run for office again; American Bridge 21st Century, the oppo shop that helped sink Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s GOP Senate bid; the Pelosi-backed House Majority PAC; the secret-money organizing nonprofit America Votes; and the pro-choice group EMILY’s List.
Some of those groups or their allies are considering expanding into state politics, policy fights or even primaries on both sides. And they have already gone back to their 2012 donors to ask for more cash while the euphoria from winning is still fresh.
Their goal: a permanent network of officially blessed independent groups that leverages liberals’ increasing acceptance and appreciation of outside money to compete with a much-better-funded Republican shadow party.
In the days following the November 6 election, reports were rife with notions that, for all their bluster, the outside groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of Republican candidates, especially on the presidential and Senate levels, worked for naught.
Sure, the well-heeled GOP shadow operation was not able to avoid a dismal result for their party on election night. But does that mean Democrats should think that their big-money operation, puny in comparison to their Republican counterparts, should be credited with victory, or that the massive corporate-backed spending by GOP-leaning organizations had no effect?
Hardly. If Democrats want to claim the upper hand from the election result, they should look toward their policies, which won over more voters, and their slate of candidates, who fared far better than an historic number of gaffe- and blunder-prone Republican opponents. If anything, Democrats saw gains in spite of big money, not because of it.
But that's not the message top party officials are taking to heart. Instead, they are willing participants in an arms race that will only continue as the campaign season gets longer and the list of reasonable regulations to stop corruption gets shorter. And party officials and candidates will be encouraged in this corrupting practice by the very political consultants and media firms that benefit most directly from the massive infusion of funding from wealthy corporate and individual interests. As our founder, Russ Feingold, has remarked, once one side starts winning -- or perceives itself to start winning -- by a certain path, they become loath to block that path in the future.
Too many Democrats are under the illusion that big, dark money could write their ticket to electoral victory in contests to come. But they should bear in mind that the majority of voters -- and a vast majority of their base -- just slogged through one of the most negative and money-soaked elections in any recent memory and want no part of it ever again.
Moreover, voters have known full well that the real impact of the tidal wave of corporate cash would be seen after the election, when elected representatives from both parties, who are either in office because of that cash or who fear being tossed out by it, make policy decisions based on the presence of those wealthy individual and corporate interests.
Voters expect their elected representatives to do something to fix this corrupting system. Buying into it is no way to start.