Voters Reject Oil Titan Chevron, Elect Progressive Bloc in Richmond, California

Tom Butt elected mayor and slate of progressive candidates all win city council seats after grim battle with corporate power

by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams staff writer

Members of the Asia Pacific Environmental Network march against Chevron in Richmond, California on August 9. (Photo: Malena Mayorga/Flickr)

A slew of progressive candidates were elected in Richmond, California on Tuesday night in a resounding defeat of corporate power, after a multi-million-dollar opposition campaign funded by Chevron brought national attention to the race but failed to take control of City Hall.

Local politician Tom Butt, a Democrat, was elected mayor with 51 percent of the vote, beating the Chevron-backed candidate, Nat Bates, by 16 points. Richmond Progressive Alliance representatives Eduardo Martinez, Jovanka Beckles, and outgoing  Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also won three of the four open seats on the City Council.

Collectively, those candidates became known as Team Richmond.

In a victory speech from his campaign base, Butt said, “I’ve never had such a bunch of people who are dedicated and worked so hard. It’s far away above anything that I’ve ever experienced.”

The sweeping win in the David-and-Goliath story was seen by many as an excoriation of corporate influence in elections after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Uche Uwahemu, who finished third in the mayoral race, said, “The election was a referendum on Chevron and the people obviously made it clear they did not appreciate the unnecessary spending by Chevron so they took it out on the rest of the candidates.”

Chevron spent more than $3 million funding three political action committees that executed an opposition campaign including billboards, flyers, and a mobile screen, spending roughly $72 per voter in hopes of electing a slate of candidates that would be friendly to the oil giant.

Martinez, Beckles, and McLaughlin have all criticized the company and promised to tighten regulations on it. Chevron has an ugly history in the city, particularly in the wake of a large and destructive fire at their refinery in 2012, for which Richmond sued the company.

Butt spent roughly $58,000 on his campaign—a shoestring budget relative to Chevron’s resources.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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It’s Corruption … and Corruption is Corruption!

by Sen. Bernie Sanders

When I read the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, I had to ask myself a question: What democracy is Chief Justice John Roberts living in? Because it doesn’t look anything like ours.

In McCutcheon, just like in Citizens United, the Roberts majority of the Supreme Court essentially legalized corruption, first by corporations and now by super-wealthy individual donors. So, in John Roberts’ democracy, corporations are supposed to have the same rights as people and more influence on our government. And when a billionaire spends thousands of dollars on every Congressional race in the country, they’re not looking for anything in return, they’re just speaking their mind.

It’s absurd. When my friend Russ Feingold joined with John McCain and passed campaign-finance reform, they did it because huge, unlimited checks were corrupting our government. There was proof, and the Supreme Court agreed: When corporations call all the shots, that’s not democracy, that’s corruption.  That’s allowing the billionaire class to buy elections.

But that was then. Today’s conservative court, in 5-4 votes, embraces corruption.  That has to stop or this country will rapidly evolve into an oligarchic form of society where virtually all power rests in a handful of wealthy hands.

Join me to tell the Supreme Court that corruption is corruption!
Sign-the-Petition-blu.fw

This matters to our middle class. The more corporate money is allowed to corrupt our government, the more elected officials are beholden to the rich and the powerful, the harder it becomes to win fights for working Americans. Corruption affects everything. Corruption makes it harder to pass an increase in the minimum wage, to expand Social Security benefits, to reverse climate change and to block the horrible trade deals that send jobs overseas. Corruption means letting Wall Street run wild.

So it’s important to talk about what specific contribution limits should be, or how much any one person should give, and how we keep corporate interests like the Koch brothers from pouring hundreds of millions into our elections. But before we do, we have to make sure the Supreme Court understands the most fundamental reason why we fight: saving our democracy from corruption.

I’m partnering with my friends at Progressives United, who have been on the front line of this fight, to tell the Supreme Court that corporate influence isn’t part of American democracy. It’s corruption.  Please, join me today and tell the Supreme Court that we cannot allow the billionaire class to buy our elections!

IRS Finally Taking a Stand Against Citizens United by Fixing Their Interpretive Error

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have announced they will issue initial guidance regarding qualification requirements for tax-exemption as a social welfare organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.  This proposed guidance defines the term “candidate-related political activity,” and would amend current regulations by indicating that the promotion of social welfare does not include this type of activity. The proposed guidance also seeks initial comments on other aspects of the qualification requirements, including what proportion of a 501(c)(4) organization’s activities must promote social welfare.

There are a number of steps in the regulatory process that must be taken before any final guidance can be issued.  Given the significant public interest in these and related issues, Treasury and the IRS expect to receive a large number of comments.  Treasury and the IRS are committed to carefully and comprehensively considering all of the comments received before issuing additional proposed guidance or final rules.

“This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations,” said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark J. Mazur.  “We are committed to getting this right before issuing final guidance that may affect a broad group of organizations.  It will take time to work through the regulatory process and carefully consider all public feedback as we strive to ensure that the standards for tax-exemption are clear and can be applied consistently.”

“This is part of ongoing efforts within the IRS that are improving our work in the tax-exempt area,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel.  “Once final, this proposed guidance will continue moving us forward and provide clarity for this important segment of exempt organizations.”

TP501c4

Organizations may apply for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code if they operate to promote social welfare.  The IRS currently applies a “facts and circumstances” test to determine whether an organization is engaged in political campaign activities that do not promote social welfare.  Today’s proposed guidance would reduce the need to conduct fact-intensive inquiries by replacing this test with more definitive rules.

In defining the new term, “candidate-related political activity,” Treasury and the IRS drew upon existing definitions of political activity under federal and state campaign finance laws, other IRS provisions, as well as suggestions made in unsolicited public comments.

Under the proposed guidelines, candidate-related political activity includes:

  • Communications
  • Communications that expressly advocate for a clearly identified political candidate or candidates of a political party.
  • Communications that are made within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) and clearly identify a candidate or political party.
  • Communications expenditures that must be reported to the Federal Election Commission.
  • Grants and Contributions
  • Any contribution that is recognized under campaign finance law as a reportable contribution.
  • Grants to section 527 political organizations and other tax-exempt organizations that conduct candidate-related political activities (note that a grantor can rely on a written certification from a grantee stating that it does not engage in, and will not use grant funds for, candidate-related political activity).
  • Activities Closely Related to Elections or Candidates
  • Voter registration drives and “get-out-the-vote” drives.
  • Distribution of any material prepared by or on behalf of a candidate or by a section 527 political organization.
  • Preparation or distribution of voter guides that refer to candidates (or, in a general election, to political parties).
  • Holding an event within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) at which a candidate appears as part of the program.

These proposed rules reduce the need to conduct fact-intensive inquiries, including inquiries into whether activities or communications are neutral and unbiased.

Treasury and the IRS are planning to issue additional guidance that will address other issues relating to the standards for tax exemption under section 501(c)(4).  In particular, there has been considerable public focus regarding the proportion of a section 501(c)(4) organization’s activities that must promote social welfare.  Due to the importance of this aspect of the regulation, the proposed guidance requests initial comments on this issue.  The proposed guidance also seeks comments regarding whether standards similar to those proposed today should be adopted to define the political activities that do not further the tax-exempt purposes of other tax-exempt organizations and to promote consistent definitions across the tax-exempt sector.

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Fair Elections — RIP

The Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling aids a Republican plan to win more elections without winning support from more voters.

— by Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins

imageVoting rights are under attack again — this time it’s the Supreme Court’s turn.

The majority’s ruling in the Shelby County vs. Holder case gutted key Voting Rights Act provisions at a time when minority access to the polls faces new obstacles.

As Justice Ruth Ginsburg explained and proved in her dissent, the law is working well but remains necessary. She likened the ruling to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

But not everyone is peeved. The decision cheered up any Republican leaders who remained sour that their hospitality to the far-right fringe came back to bite them last November.

In what’s turning into a tradition, tea-partying enthusiasts forced rabid Senate candidates onto the ballot in 2012. Some of them lost what might have been easy wins when they turned out to be too radical for the general public.

Then there’s the White House. Despite spending a record $1.2 billion to win the presidency, Mitt Romney and the GOP blew that race.

Yes, the GOP did hang onto its majority in the House of Representatives. But Republicans now only have a 33-seat edge on the competition in that chamber, down from the 49-seat margin they enjoyed before the 2012 elections.

Now, you might guess these great leaders would move swiftly to rebrand the GOP to appeal to more voters. Or distance their party from those vote-repelling tea partiers. Well, guess again. They’ve settled on a different strategy: cheating.

An earlier Supreme Court ruling helped make this new approach possible. Remember that Citizens United decision? It allowed corporations for the first time to buy directly into elections with unlimited contributions.

The Republicans found out in November, when Romney outspent Barack Obama by more than $100 million, that it will take more than gobs of corporate cash to win big.

But money is only one GOP angle. Another is fraud. No, no, not that Republicans will vote twice or anything so pedestrian.

Instead, they accuse poor people of voting fraudulently, and thereupon get legislatures to pass laws making voting a serious hassle if you’re not part of the in-group with a government-issued photo ID. Republican operatives are also fond of flyers and announcements that threaten insecure new citizens and poorly educated voters with arrest if their papers are not exactly in order.

Another voting deterrence tool is inconvenience. Other nations — and many states — have long worked to increase polling places, lengthen voting hours, stimulate mail balloting, and simplify procedures.

Contrarily, numerous Republican-controlled states are seeking to reverse all those trends. The GOP’s theory is simple enough: We know who poorer, less mobile people tend to vote for, and it isn’t us. Hey, let’s make it as hard for them to vote as we can.

Yet another tactic is gerrymandering. State legislatures normally draw boundaries not only for their own districts but for Congress as well. In some states, lawmakers exert this power mainly to protect their own personal seats.

Ginsburg calls these tactics “second-generation barriers to minority voting.” Thanks to that shiny new Supreme Court ruling, they’re now easier to pull off.

Now the Republican Party, wherever it’s in charge, is going further. It’s crowding Democratic voters, especially around urban centers, into a few contorted pockets. This practice spreads the Republican voters around, helping the GOP accumulate additional “safe” legislative and congressional seats.

The GOP’s creative redistricting explains why President Obama won Wisconsin by more than 200,000 votes while Democrats only carried three of the state’s eight congressional districts.

There’s more. Coming soon to a gerrymandered state near you: an attack on presidential elections.

Here’s how this trick works: Each state gets to determine how its own electoral votes will be allocated — either by a statewide “winner-take-all” system or by congressional district. Republican-gerrymandered states are moving quickly to distribute their electoral votes by congressional district.

Isn’t that convenient? Even if the Republican Party doesn’t need any more help from the Supreme Court, our democracy sure does.


Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org  Photo credit to Denver Post Blog

Help Make Campaign Contributions More Transparent

WeThePeopleHelp make the money in politics more transparent. Please sign this petition to ensure 501c4 organizations must devote their efforts “exclusively” to social welfare. That would force organizations like FreedomWorks, Crossroads, CrossroadsGPS, and yes, OFA (Organizing For America into tax-exempt categories where their donor contributions would need to be disclosed.  No longer would they be able to say they’re “social welfare organizations” that do relatively nothing to promote “social welfare” but do pretty much everything to promote an ideological political agenda.

Currently, at whitehouse.gov, there is a petition on the We the People page titled:

 “Issue an Executive Order nullifying IRS ‘regulation’ re: 501c4’s and mandating the original statute be enforced.”

The replacement by the IRS of the word “exclusively” in the original and still-extant pre-1959 501 c (4) statute, with the word “primarily” in the procedural ‘regulation’ manual,simply put, violates the law. At whatever cost to those who have ridden this loophole to the absolute corruption of our political system by money, the original wording of “exclusively social welfare” needs to be enforced.

As I write this post, that petition at whitehouse.gov has only 16,104 signatures.  That means it needs 83,896 more signatures for President Obama to make good on his promise to address any petition which garners 100,000 signatures.  I’m not sure that President Obama can actually take that action via Executive Order, or whether, since it’s an IRS Regulation, it would have to go through the process by which regulations are updated/changed, but needless to say, if nothing else we could force the President to force the IRS to amend their regulation and properly administer the long-standing statute.

Sign-the-Petition-green.fw

If you don’t already have a logon for whitehouse.gov, you’ll need to create one so you can sign the petition (that’s how they ensure one person can’t sign a single petition thousands of times).  But, PLEASE sign this petition!

After you’ve signed the petition, if you have a Facebook or Twitter account, make sure you share a link to your friends and followers.  We can do this!  It’s time to put some integrity back into our politics and finally know where all those campaign dollars are coming from.

Tell Congress: Only people are people!

Tell Congress: Only people are people.

We deserve a country where our elected officials are not bought and paid for by big corporations.

But the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court decision overturned over a century of precedent and opened the floodgates for unlimited amounts of corporate money to flow into our political system.

Shockingly, the court came to this decision based on the notion that a corporation is legally a “person” entitled to First Amendment rights, and by equating a corporation’s right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing an election with our right to free speech.

Even before the Citizens United decision, we too often saw the interests of Main Street subverted in favor of the interests of Wall Street.

But with the Citizens United decision now the law of the land, large corporations have the power to spend unlimited amounts of money from their general treasuries to buy elections.

What’s more, Citizen United opened loopholes that allow corporations to hide their campaign expenditures by laundering the money through non-profit advocacy organizations.

It’s very unlikely that the Supreme Court will fix the issue any time soon.

And because Congress cannot pass a law that supersedes a Supreme Court ruling, it may take a constitutional amendment to undo the worst aspects of the Citizens United decision and end corporate personhood.

Clearly, the bar to successfully amending the Constitution is very high. But with 85% of the public opposed to the Citizens United decision, there is a potential for a broad coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents who all want to restore our democracy.

And let’s remember, the stakes are too high to allow inaction on this issue. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Citizens United decision fundamentally threatens the integrity of our democracy.

We need a government of, for and by the people. And sadly, we might need to work really hard to re-establish the common sense and democratic view that only people are people, not corporations.

Your senators and member of Congress need to hear from you, regardless of where they stand on this issue. We need to show them that their constituents are part of a broad movement demanding action — not only to convince them that overturning Citizens United is the right thing to do, but also that it’s possible.

Today, take a step to be part of that movement.

Tell your senators and member of Congress to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and end corporate personhood.

Take-Action

It’s Well Past Time to FIX our Citizens United Problem

— by Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary for President Bill Clinton

The Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments today and tomorrow on same-sex marriage, has become the nation’s de facto decider of social policy. The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, whose monetary policy is pumping $83 billion into the economy every month to keep long-term interest rates down, has become the nation’s de facto decider of economic policy. And the Department of Defense, now in the twelfth year of an undeclared war on terror, has become the nation’s de facto decider of foreign policy. As politics becomes inundated with big money and paralyzed by partisanship, key government functions are being parceled out to entities having little or no accountability to the public, and whose decisions are far removed from public scrutiny. Future historians may well ask: What happened to American democracy?

Whatever issue you may be most concerned about — climate change, widening inequality, declining real median wages, rising poverty among the young, the soaring costs of healthcare, bailouts for Wall Street, the sprawling military-industrial-congressional complex, the morality brigade that wants to dictate who can marry and whether a woman has control over her body, a government captured by corporations and the wealthy — nothing can be done until we get big money out of politics and reclaim our democracy. It is the first step to all reform. It’s difficult, it’s frustrating, it’s not sexy — but it’s a necessity.

And where do we begin on this arduous task? How do we choose between getting behind a constitutional amendment to reverse “Citizen’s United,” or public financing of major federal and state elections, or requiring all media using public airwaves or cables to provide free advertising to candidates, or fighting against gerrymandering at the state level? What’s most important? All of it, and more. When I’m not spouting off about the problems of our economy and democracy I chair a citizen’s group called “Common Cause,” which is leading the charge on these issues nationally and in many states. At the very least, I urge you to join up and get involved. (I’ll provide you with the link in the next post, in a moment.) Complaining is easy, and it may be even therapeutic. Rolling up your sleeves and doing something about all this is much harder — but, in my view, the most important thing you can do as a citizen.

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Rights Extended by the Constitution are Rights of Natural Persons Only

As a form of Valentine to the U.S. public, Rep. Richard Nolan [D-MN8], introduced H.J.Res. 29, which proposes an amendment to the U.S. Constitution (overturning the Citizens United ruling by) providing that rights extended by the Constitution, are rights of  ”natural” persons only:

Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]

The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.

Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]

Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.

Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

H.J.Res. 29 has been referred to the Judiciary committee and is facing a serious uphill battle to make it out of committee as  well as to the floor for a vote. From 2011-2013, only 12% of House joint resolutions made it past committee and only 5% were enacted or passed.

twitter (2)Rep. Mark Amodei, our representative to Congress from Nevada’s CD2, sits on the Judiciary committee.  It’s time for us to twitter-mob Amodei with tweets to pass #HJRes29 out of committee and then demand that it receive a vote of the House.  We need to get that Citizens United ruling overturned, and to do that we have to amend the U.S. Constitution.  We can’t do that until we can get an amendment passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.  Here’s a sample tweet:

@MarkAmodeiNV2 #HJRes29 referred to Judiciary cmtee upon which YOU sit—expect you to work to pass it out of cmtee for vote by House!

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