What Is Dark Money?

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/7578235

Author bio: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Alison_M_Gunn,_Ph.D.

Republished with permission from the author

Americans are in the dark when it comes to ‘dark’ money, and our collective confusion—amounting to ignorance—won’t help in the months and years ahead while we watch stakes rise in each new election cycle.

Illumination into the nature of dark money won’t come from analyzing the innocuous (and often misleading) names of the groups formed under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, the status ascribed to tax-exempt social welfare groups permitting anonymity for donors. The key to this tax-exempt status, however, is that any group claiming its protection must not exist ‘solely for political reasons’ (Opensecrets.org).

Disagreement with ‘dark’ money—also known as ‘outside’ or third-party money—comes from politicians who have felt the sting of attacks from unidentified, ‘obscure’ nonprofits who, currently, do not have to disclose sources of funding, or the amounts they’ve raised.

Positive use of so-called ‘dark’ money occurs when politicians who lack funds receive an influx of cash from outside sources. Political aspirants who can’t afford to counter big money are at a disadvantage; outside, or ‘dark’ money levels the playing field for many potentially worthy candidates whose message might not otherwise be heard. It’s also thought to be a protective measure for those who would otherwise not engage politically, due to the wish to maintain privacy, or protect their reputation from public scrutiny.

Uses and Abuses of Dark Money

Does ‘dark’ money always accomplish its objectives? Apparently not. Montana became the state to watch for trends during the 2012 election season. Sixty-four outside groups poured $21 million into the Montana Senate election, almost as much as the candidates themselves. Party committees spent another $8.9 million on the race. More television commercials ran in the Montana race between June and the election than in any other Senate contest nationwide (Salon.com) saturating the airwaves with someone’s message, but whose?

The incumbent, Democrat Jon Tester, won, in spite of dark money contributions made in the eleventh hour of the race supporting one of his opponents, third-party Libertarian Dan Cox. Support for Cox seems to have skewed the outcome, since Tester’s numbers show his strongest opponent was his Republican counterpart, State Representative Denny Rehberg. Tester recently told the Montana State legislature: “Dark money needs to be reined in at both the federal and state level. Outside groups, on both sides, spent tens of millions of dollars with little transparency and no accountability” (Montana Public Media).

In response, however, Republicans in Montana are now calling to increase spending to fight what some see as the insidious effects of third-party dark money. Stating that the advantage to this proposal comes from insisting on public disclosure, Representative Scott Reichner wants candidates to be able to “compete with anonymous third-party spending” (Billings Gazette). Reichner’s bill goes before the House State Administration Committee, but it already faces severe opposition in a state renowned for its efforts to discourage corruption.

Montana, The New Battleground State For Dark Money Issues

It is poignant that Montana is on the frontline of this controversy, since “The Treasure State,” nicknamed for its rich mineral reserves, has a one hundred year history of fighting political corruption. Montana even went so far as to resist the Supreme Court-sanctioned Citizens United ruling of 2010, having banned all corporate political spending in 1912, after Williams Andrews Clark, one of the Copper Kings who gave the “Treasure State” its nickname, infamously won his election to the U. S. Senate through blatant bribery (Montana Law Review, “Once Upon A Time In The West: Citizens United, Caperton, and the War of the Copper Kings”).

However, the U. S. Supreme Court recently overruled Montana’s strict campaign finance laws, reinforcing the protected role of corporations, further fomenting a divide between those who would like to limit the influence of special interest groups, and those who are willing to spend increasing sums to ensure their message is heard.

Shouldn’t this access be the right of any candidate for office in America? And shouldn’t the individual be free to make up his or her own mind which candidate they will support financially? In the controversial Citizens United decision, the U. S. Supreme Court made it clear that ‘experimental uses’ of free speech inspired by the First Amendment had moral supremacy over concerns that corporate political speech might be misused or even lead to corruption. As Justice Kennedy said in his Citizens United ‘Opinion,’ “The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”

What’s Hiding Behind Dark Money

In spite of the overarching moral supremacy of the First Amendment, what’s at issue for the voter when it comes to the uses of ‘dark money’ is the definition of ‘independent expenditure,’ and whether or not an ‘independent expenditure’ is as corrupting as a ‘direct contribution’. Further, the sole dissenter to the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Montana’s campaign finance law, Judge Stephen Breyer, stated in response to the controversial decision, that independent expenditures have the potential to be as corrupting as direct contributions.

The distinction between ‘direct contribution’ and ‘independent expenditure’ and what makes one more potentially ‘corrupting’ has roots in attempts to prevent unbridled excess in political expenditure. “Before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), federal law prohibited—and still does prohibit—corporations and unions from using general treasury funds to make direct contributions to candidates or independent expenditures that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, through any form of media, in connection with certain qualified federal elections” (Justice Kennedy: ‘Opinion’, Citizens United, Appellant v. Federal Election Commission, Jan. 21, 2010).

The loser in the race to Election Day will be the voter. If the 2012 Montana Senate race is any indication, candidates will be forced to raise money earlier and earlier, if they are to have a chance against outside groups. Bombarding voters with advertising, disingenuous tactics and mailings from groups hiding behind protected ‘social welfare’ status will only serve to further erode faith in the democratic process. Laws designed to promote secrecy do a disservice to democracy, at the same time they protect special interest groups. Timely and adequate disclosure is essential if voters are to make informed decisions and remain civically engaged.

Remaining unaware of dark money, its uses and purposes, is not the answer. Demand to know who and what you’re buying into when you vote for something or someone, because it is currently in the interests of political action groups to keep you in the dark. Voters and voting will lose out, as will American democracy. This should matter to you, since it’s dangerous to be apathetic.

Tool Up To Stop The Corporate COUP & Flush the TPP

Tripod Blockade of TPP Negotiations

Join Veteran Strategists and Expert Action Trainers for a Weekend of Action-Oriented Workshops, Skills Trainings, and Strategizing in Bellingham, WA June 14th-16th.
REGISTER TODAY!

TPP: Corporate Greed vs. Human Needs? – You Decide…

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will impact every one of us in the Pacific NW; as eaters, as workers and as people who care about healthy communities. It is a super-sized version of NAFTA, and after 20 years of corporate gains on the backs of workers and communities-we can’t afford more of the same.

TPP Action Camp offers a unique opportunity to come together, just before the TPP enters into its 18th Round of negotiations in July. A weekend to collectively strategize on how to best educate and activate our communities, as well as build the necessary skills. TPP resisters throughout the NW will emerge from TPP Action camp energized and inspired to lead the movement that will bring down the TPP! Join us!

TPP Action Camp is jointly organized by Occupy Bellingham, Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, TPPxBorder, the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, Backbone Campaign, with in-kind support from Laborers 276, and Mary Mullen.

Trainings and Workshops Offered (descriptions linked)

Cost: Sliding Scale $100-$150 (No one turned away because of lack of funds).

Make Organizing a Sustainable endeavor: The best organizers mobilize their community to invest in their work. If we really want to dethrone the corporate coup, we’ll need to honor our vocation and regard our work as valuable. One way of doing this is to muster the financial resources to support our collective work commensurate with the opposition we face and the efforts that it will take to bring into reality our vision for a more just world. Our costs are $100 – $150 per person. Please pitch in as much as you can afford. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Get creative with funding your participation and check out our tips for crowd funding HERE

If you have the means, PLEASE consider increasing your contribution to $200 or more in order to help us cover the cost of scholarships. If you cannot attend please help sponsor the attendance of other enthusiastic organizers by donating to scholarships. Contact the Backbone office if you have questions at 206-408-8058.

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Northwest Democracy Convergence: Move to Amend conference in Portland May 3-5

Are you ready to join us for our Regional Grassroots Democracy Convergence in Portland, Oregon, May 3-5? REGISTER TODAY!

This event will bring you together with Move to Amend activists and supporters from throughout the surrounding region, and will be a valuable opportunity to:

★ Receive training in the skills you’ll need to organize more effectively in your community and beyond;

★ Strategize how best to build this movement on the local, state, regional, and national levels; and

★ Network, brainstorm, and cross-pollinate with other Move to Amend groups and supporters in your region.

REGISTER TODAY!

Move to Amend Grassroots Regional Democracy Convergence!

Friday, May 3 to Sunday, May 5, 2013

MOVE TO AMEND

PO Box 610, Eureka CA 95502 | (707) 269-0984 | www.MoveToAmend.org

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

Portland Community College — Cascade Campus
705 N Killingsworth St
Portland, OR 97217

If you pay in advance before April 8 we will give you a copy of the book Corporations Are Not People!

Click here for more information or to register.

Bad math: Corporate lobbyists, conservative think tanks hawk snake-oil economics for WA

Economist Arthur Laffer is touted as a go-to source of wisdom by conservative think tanks and corporate lobby groups in Washington state like the Washington Policy Center, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, National Federation of Independent Businesses, and Association of Washington Business. But a recent report shows Laffer’s economic prescriptions are more likely to hurt than heal our economy. selling-snake-oil-cover large

Report: Selling Snake Oil to the States: The American Legislative Exchange Council’s Flawed Prescriptions for Prosperity – from Good Jobs First and the Iowa Policy Project [PDF]

This year marks the fifth anniversary of Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index. Written by Arthur Laffer and others and published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Rich States, Poor States embodies the policy agenda that ALEC pushes to state legislators: reduction or abolition of progressive taxes, fewer investments in education and other public services, a smaller social safety net, and weaker or non-existent unions. These are the policies, ALEC claims, that promote economic growth.

But a hard look at the actual data finds that the ALEC-Laffer recommendations not only fail to predict positive results for state economies – the policies they endorse actually forecast worse state outcomes for job creation and paychecks. That is, states that were rated higher on ALEC’s Economic Outlook Ranking in 2007, based on 15 “fiscal and regulatory policy variables,” have actually been doing worse economically in the years since, while the less a state conformed with ALEC policies the better off it was.

That is true whether the outcome is growth in jobs or growth in per capita or median income. There is virtually no relationship between the ALEC ranking and state Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Further examination of the predictive power of other key components of ALEC’s rankings (income tax rates, existence of an estate tax, overall tax levels, right-towork status) shows that none had a statistically significant effect on growth in state GDP, non-farm employment, or per capita income.

Further analysis finds that key ALEC-Laffer claims contradict longstanding peer-reviewed academic research on how state economies grow:

  • ALEC-Laffer claim that lowering state and local taxes produces much greater job growth; in actuality, such taxes are such a tiny cost factor for businesses, and come with higher taxes on others or lower quality public services, that such a strategy fails (see Chapter 3).
  • ALEC-Laffer claim that a low top personal income tax rate is a key to small business success; in actuality, property and sales taxes – ignored by ALEC-Laffer – are far more important issues (see Chapter 1).
  • ALEC-Laffer claim that high top personal income tax rates and the presence of estate and inheritance taxes cause large-scale out-migration of high-income individuals; in reality, migration has little to do with taxes, and there is no plausible case for state estate taxes affecting job-creating investment (see Chapters 3 and 4).
  • The ALEC report asserts that state tax rates in many instances approach “Laffer Curve” territory, where tax cuts would actually increase tax revenue; in reality, tax cuts reduce revenue and result in the defunding of public goods such as education and infrastructure, which really do matter for economic development (see Chapter 5).
  • ALEC-Laffer claim that wage suppression policies (anti-union “right-to- work” laws and the lack of a state minimum wage law) lead to greater job creation and prosperity; in actuality, such laws reduce wages and benefits but have little to no effect on job growth (see Chapter 6).

Overall, Rich States, Poor States consistently ignores decades of published research, making broad, unsubstantiated claims and often using anecdotes or spurious two-factor correlations that fail to control for obviously relevant factors. Indeed, the report repeatedly engages in methodologically primitive analysis that any college student taking Statistics 101 would be taught to avoid.

Consensus academic research derives far more plausible explanations for recent differences in state results. For example, instead of ALEC’s extreme policy recommendations, the composition of a state’s economy – whether it has large or small shares of the nation’s fastest-growing industries – is a far better predictor of job and income growth.

The evidence cited to support Rich States, Poor States’ policy menu ranges from deeply flawed to nonexistent. Subjected to scrutiny, these policies are revealed to explain nothing about why some states have created more jobs or enjoyed higher income growth than others over the past five years.

In actuality, Rich States, Poor States provides a recipe for economic inequality, wage suppression, and stagnant incomes, and for depriving state and local governments of the revenue needed to maintain the public infrastructure and education systems that are the true foundations of long term economic growth and shared prosperity.

Click here to read the full reportSelling Snake Oil to the States: The American Legislative Exchange Council’s Flawed Prescriptions for Prosperity” from Good Jobs First and the Iowa Policy Project.

Originally published at Washington Policy Watch

Political Fables for a Political Year

The WA Post has back to back stories in my digest this morning that I found interesting.

In the first story, the Government Accountability Office found that the Republican’s budget showdown over the debt limit coast the county 1.3 billion dollars last year. That is money that we could have used somewhere else in my opinion. But it shows the hypocrisy and stupidity of the current republican congressional legislators. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the democrats are just chomping at the bit to pass the kind of legislation that the country needs, look at their record in 2009-10 when they controlled Senate, House and White House and we could get banker bailouts, but not the public option for health care. Single payer was not even on the table. The dems are clearly beholden to their corporate funding sources, but they don’t engage in wasteful theatrics like the debt ceiling fight or endless votes to repeal legislation that clearly go nowhere. There are significant differences between the parties, but both parties understand that they cannot legislate against the interest of the wealthy interests that now decide our elections (thanks to Citizens United and Scotus Inc.)

GAO: Debt fight cost at least $1.3 billion

Last summer’s fierce political debate over raising the federal debt limit cost taxpayers more than $1 billion in extra borrowing costs, including hundreds of hours in overtime for federal employees responsible for avoiding default, according to a new government report.

Delays in raising the debt limit forced the Treasury Department to pay an extra $1.3 billion in borrowing costs — and the final sum is expected to climb higher as multi-year obligations and other outstanding costs are added later, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Monday.


In the second story, the League of Conservation Voters is reported to planning to launch a global warming campaign to unseat 5 flat-earth Republicans who have been a little too vocal about their ignorance.

I think it has become more and more difficult for the red-staters to deny global warming. What’s wrong with Kansas is starting to shift from the question about how they can vote against their own best interest over and over to just how bad is the drought going to be? As folks see the crops dry up and experience the consequences of supporting electoral candidates and parties who guarantee that we do nothing about global warming, they may have an epiphany. A lot of folks are going to become believers in global warming through the rough lessons of direct experience.

Torrential rains, floods, derecho windstorms, super tornados, droughts, may provide a wake-up call to folks in the heartland that was never going to be delivered by the threat to polar bears and penguins or rising sea levels that are threatening the coastal states that can’t afford to harbor politically-rooted doubts about climate change.

Here is a bit of the second story and link to the whole thing:

Environmentalists target 5 Republicans who question humans’ impact on climate

The League of Conservation Voters will launch a $1.5 million campaign Tuesday targeting five House Republicans who question the connection between human activity and climate change, in an effort to test whether the issue can sway voters.

Prominent conservative Republicans have challenged the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources are transforming the Earth’s climate. But it has not emerged as a central issue in a national political campaign, and President Obama, who pushed unsuccessfully for national limits on greenhouse gas emissions at the start of his term, has played down the issue over the past two years.

 

Thurston Public Power Initiative!

Thurston Public PowerThe campaign to get the Thurston County Public Power Initiative on the ballot is rumored to have collected more than 11K signatures!   It should be assumed that there are hundreds of invalid, duplicate signatures, so the campaign continues.  We need to round up a couple thousand more signatures to make sure that the public power initiative makes it on to the ballot.   

Puget Sound Energy can be expected to pump a lot of money into a campaign to defeat the initiative, but only folks with short memories are going to forget the ice storm last winter and the long power outages provided by Private, Profitable Power.   We can do better than that.  A public power district will value line maintenance and jobs trimming the trees more than profit. 

If you are a Thurston County registered voter and you haven’t signed the petition for public power yet, come and sign up.  Need more information? 

I am pretty excited by this news. It’s not easy to gather signatures without using paid signature gatherers. The Koch brothers and Tim Eyman are not behind this initiative.

Raids On Journalists At NATO Protests – A Report on Chicago

by Mark Taylor Canfield

Protest Marches

Anti-war protesters at the NATO Summit in Chicago faced off with Chicago police all day on Sunday May 20th in a cat and mouse game that lasted late into the night.

War veterans wanting to return their medals led a march of thousands early in the day.

Later in the afternoon CPD blocked Michigan Street and pushed back on the crowd. Police officers alternately donned gas masks and then took them off while dispersal orders were announced. The confrontation at Michigan and 25th Street continued for approximately two hours.

Some of the marchers were injured by police. A few activists had bloody faces, apparently caused by riot sticks. Eventually the demonstrators were caged in by police and had to retreat.

Live Fox news coverage on WGN cast the protesters as nothing but a nuisance. When a WGN reporter at the march finally approached an activist for an interview, he was abruptly cut off and the live coverage ended.

Eventually marchers left the area of the police line on Michigan. Meanwhile, helicopters hovered above in the sky all day as the demonstrators marched for many miles shouting, “Who’s street? Our streets!”

One group of protesters faced off with police and 2 LRAD vehicles at the fences on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.

After this confrontation the group marched up East 26th Street followed by a large number of riot police.

Some protesters moved North on South State Street.

Chicago police also blocked off 21st Ave and State Street with a row of riot cops. Several arrests were made and more injuries were reported by folks at that location.

Protesters encountered riot police all night as they marched around the city. None of the activists were allowed to get near McCormick Place where the NATO summit had been held.

At one point, it was announced that marchers were headed to the Art Institute.

Live Streamers Raided At Gunpoint

Apparently, live video streamers are now subject to search and seizure by the Chicago Police Department.

Livestreamers Luke Rudkowksi Tim Pool, Jeoff Shively, Dustin & Jess were raided at gunpoint by police on Saturday night. They were driving home and were pulled over and cuffed, searched and released with no charges.

Apparently, this is what a police state looks like…

Tim Pool said he and another man were detained and he was searched again by Chicago police on Sunday.

Go to wearechange.org for the video of the first raid.

Freedom of the press?

Originally posted @ http://chicago.indymedia.org/…

http://chicago.indymedia.org/node/916

Free Speech Battle Over Protests Looming at Seattle Colleges

A major battle over free speech is being waged on local college campuses in Seattle. The Seattle Community College District Board of Trustees wants to revise the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) for Seattle colleges. The district is proposing new rules that would regulate protests on all three of the city’s state funded community college campuses.

Organizations opposed to the board’s proposals include the ACLU, the Seattle chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, student councils at all three of the district’s colleges, and Occupy Seattle.

About a hundred Occupy Seattle participants set up camp at Seattle Central Community College last fall after being pushed out of Westlake Park by police. SCCC president Paul Kilpatrick and the school administration went to court to evict the demonstrators from the campus, and on December 10, 2011, the occupiers were forced to leave. A Thurston County Superior Court judge has allowed the college to impose new rules which prohibit camping on the campus, on an “emergency” basis.

Prior to this ruling, there had been no rules regulating encampments on state college campuses in the state of Washington.

Among other proposals, the new set of rules would:
-restrict the size of protest signs to a maximum of 3 feet by 5 feet
-impose a limit of one sign per person.
-place restrictions on where protests can take place and how long they can last. Student groups would be forced to end their demonstrations after eight hours, whereas off-campus organizations like Occupy Seattle would only be allowed to rally for five hours at a time.
-prohibit protests outside of designated “free speech zones” on campus
-require non-student groups to notify the college 24 hours in advance of demonstrations.

Protesters who violate the rules could be arrested by Seattle police and charged with trespassing.

At the first board hearing on Tuesday March 27, Karen Strickland, president of the Seattle chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said that if the changes are adopted, her organization’s march banner will not be allowed on campus.

“Some people’s views have not been appreciated,” she told them. “Free speech, just like access to public higher education, is a core part of democracy. And that’s what we need to fight for! Right now in our country there are all kinds of threats to democracy.”

Although the school district claims that the process of adopting new rules actually began in 2010, Occupy Seattle activists have interpreted the proposed rule changes as a direct response to their occupation of the college. They claim that the district is placing a prior restraint on any future protest activity at the school.

Washington State law requires an open public comment period before any new state college rules can be established. In compliance with this requirement, the SCCD Board of Trustees held a public hearing on March 27. Due to the overwhelming community response to these proposed rule changes, the school district scheduled another hearing a week later.

On April 5, about 200 people participated in the second hearing held at the Broadway Performance Hall on the campus of Seattle Central Community College. Seattle Community College District Vice Chancellor Carin Weiss was “the presiding official over the proceedings.” SCCC president Paul Kilpatrick was in attendance, along with a representative from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Derek Edwards.

Weiss opened the hearing by stating that the purpose for the new rules is “to establish reasonable controls on demonstrations at the college campuses.”

She asserted the Board of Trustees is attempting to propose rules which will maintain a balance between the rights of people to protest and the needs of the administration to limit disruptions to the educational process.

LaRond Baker from the Washington ACLU spoke against the proposed rules, citing limitations on the rights to freedom of speech and assembly that are protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

“We are opposed to the rules on several grounds and we believe they will not be upheld by the courts,” she said.

The ACLU maintains that any rule which requires non-student groups to notify the college 24 hours in advance of protests is illegal and would be considered ‘prior restraint’ under the Washington State Constitution.

Baker also criticized a proposed prohibition on the distribution of potentially “libelous” material on campus. She described the language of the proposed school district rule as “vague” and warned that under the board’s proposal, “persons passing out handbills on campus could be charged with a criminal offense.”

She concluded her public testimony with the following statement: “The Washington ACLU is opposed to these new rule changes and we ask the Board of Trustees to withdraw their proposal.”

Seattle Central Community College staff member Kelly McHenry told SCCC President Paul Kilpatrick, “As a college librarian, I love the free exchange of ideas. Because of this, I have to stand up against anything that infringes on the First Amendment.”

McHenry opposes the regulation of demonstrations because she believes colleges and universities should encourage rather than limit public discussion.

“Allowing for free expression is part of the educational process,” she argued. “Are you also going to limit what films students should see and what books they can read?”

Zack Robertson, head of the SCCC student government, read a statement to the board of trustees:

“We oppose the new rules because we find them unnecessary. Regulations already exist that prohibit disruptions of classrooms, vandalism, etcetera. Why do we need new rules when these issues have already been addressed?”

Robertson also opposed the idea of ‘free speech zones’.

“We have measured the area on campus that is being designated for this purpose ,” he said, “and found it to be less than 400 square feet. It’s about the size of a small one bedroom apartment. That is clearly unacceptable.”

 

One eloquent statement came from Sange, a 20 year old immigrant from Gambia who is enrolled at Seattle Central Community College.

“You may have forgotten why people from around the world come to this country,” he said. “Where I lived we had no protections on our freedom, so let me say something to you.”

Sange then proceeded to read the Declaration of Independence .”We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he recited.

When he was finished reading he received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Broadway Performance Hall.

Although hundreds of people have participated in the public hearings, no one has spoken in favor of the new college district rules.

A board of trustees meeting is scheduled for April 12 to access the results of the public comment period. Despite the community outcry, school district officials could vote to approve the proposals on that date. There is nothing in the state law that requires the board to follow all public recommendations. Student groups say they will picket the meeting if they are not allowed to participate in the next step of the decision making process.

According to the state law governing changes to the WAC rules, if the community college district board decides to make significant changes to their original proposal, another series of public hearings will be required to provide for more public comment.

After the college school district hearing on April 5, one anonymous Occupy Seattle activist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask addressed a large crowd of students and teachers outside the building.

“If they approve these new restrictions on our freedom of speech and assembly,” he said, “We will have to be ready to immediately challenge the rules by breaking them. We need hundreds of people on campus holding two signs or standing outside of the designated protest areas. We can’t let them take away our First Amendment rights! I’m willing to go to jail to defend my freedom of speech! Are you?”

 (originally published at HuffPost)

Taking on Critics of Move To Amend

After reading an article by Steven Rosenfeld on Salon.com, I think it is important to begin to address some of the criticisms of the movement to amend the Constitution to state that Corporations Are Not People and Money Is Not Speech.

Rosenfeld writes:

Proposals from two leading grassroots groups, Move To Amend and Free Speech For People … would strip constitutional rights from all corporations, for-profit and non-profit. That provision, were it in effect during the Civil Rights movement, could have stopped the NAACP from operating. That very issue—did the NAACP, as a non-profit corporation, have First Amendment rights to assemble and speak for members—arose in the famous 1963 Supreme Court case and ruling, NAACP v. Button, a where they affirmed the NAACP’s First Amendment freedom to assemble and speak.

The NAACP case did say a corporation could assert constitutional rights, but only because those rights correspond to the rights of its members. The case goes on to argue that a Virginia law that made it an offense to solicit business for any attorney must be struck down not solely because it would have curbed the rights of associations such as the NAACP, but but because it infringed on the rights of individuals. I don’t see how the case would collapse under the MTA Amendment since we clearly state that artificial entities have privileges under law, but these privileges are not inherent or inalienable, much the same as the logic used by the Supreme Court in the NAACP v. Button case.

Rosenfeld also argues that President Truman’s attempt to seize the property of the steel mills in 1952 could have been allowed if corporations are not granted Fifth Amendment “due process” protections. This case has more to do with limits on executive powers than corporate rights, so it is a poor example, but nothing in the MTA Amendment language changes the distinction between private property and public (government-owned) property; however, it clarifies that corporations are property, not persons.

I also believe that public campaign financing is not something that our Amendment should stipulate, as Rosenfeld implies by his “too much, too little” critique. Nonetheless, public financing won’t be possible without limits on corporate electioneering spending, so he puts the proverbial cart before the horse, in my opinion.

I continue to support the language of the Amendment as proposed by Move To Amend.

Making most of 2012 means acting, not sitting

If there’s a single lesson to be drawn from the events of 2011, it’s this: Democracy is based on acting and doing, not sitting and watching.

The actions of a sole protestor in Algeria, magnified by thousands of others, toppled dictators in Algeria, Egypt and Libya. People did not just watch — they marched, they protested, and they risked their livelihoods and their lives. No one even saw the “Arab Spring” coming until it had happened.

In Israel, in July, a few citizens set up a tent city in Tel Aviv, demanding a tax increase on the wealthy, rent controls, free education, limits on privatization and an increase in the minimum wage. Eventually 150,000 people joined the protests; tent cities bloomed in 40 different cities and towns.

Citizen protest jumped the ocean and came to Wisconsin, where the new governor and Legislature thought they could just demolish unions and cut pay and pensions and benefits.

Some 100,000 people took over the state Capitol to protest, and two state senators lost their jobs by recall election. Now Wisconsinites have collected half a million signatures to force a recall election of Gov. Scott Walker this year.

In New York, a few people decided it was time to take on America’s financial dictators by occupying Wall Street, the center of financial power in the world. And as if for the first time, the national media discovered that the very rich are getting even richer while working families get less and the dream of middle class seems lost to many. Again, no one thought the “American Autumn” was even possible — until it was already upon us.

So democracy is the proverbial genie that cannot be put back in the bottle. The question is, what next? I think the answer depends on whether more people choose to “act and do” or “sit and watch.”

I hope we choose the former. While media and campaign advertisements would have us believe that politics should entertain us with America’s Top Model-level glitz, the more we wallow in that, the less power we have.

It’s now apparent to all — except for the talking heads and political shills who are paid to say otherwise, of course — that the fundamental question of who gets paid and how much has nothing to do with a magical “invisible hand” controlling the economy. Rather, it’s about who writes the rules for the market in the public halls of our democracy.

That’s why the giant financial corporations, saved by trillion dollar taxpayer bailouts, are getting even bigger and more powerful, while taxes on the very wealthy are going down. Look around and you will see that the middle class seems to have lost its place in America, and the national narrative has (until recently) been usurped by the fiction that the more money you have, the better you are.

When you’re worrying about losing your health coverage, or watching your paycheck falling behind, or wondering whether the kids will make it through high school (and if they do, how to afford college), it’s easy to see why sitting and watching the NFL, or the latest viral video, holds such appeal.

But “sit and watch” means power, privilege, income and wealth steadily accrue to the tippity-top, while the public priorities upon which we all depend — the roads, the schools, the water, sewer, and garbage services, state parks, public health, universities — slowly disintegrate.

If that happens, we can blame the 1 percent — but we can also blame ourselves. Because the 1 percent won’t choose to fix the problems we face. They won’t choose to rebuild the middle class, to raise the money from income and wealth to “pay it forward” for modern transit, clean energy systems, pre-K to college education, or for health coverage.

But we can choose to “act and do” instead. After all, in a democracy, that’s how it works. Either we petition our leaders — city and county councils, school boards and state legislators — or we go directly to a vote of the people for policy change via initiative.

If we don’t take action, 2011 won’t even be a footnote to social progress. But if we do, we can make 2012 a rebirth of democracy, hope, goodwill and a commonwealth of opportunity for all of us.

John Burbank is executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). His email address is john@eoionline.org.

(Originally published at HeraldNet.)