Dozens rally for voting rights in Santa Fe demonstration

by Dillon Mullan

reprinted from the Santa Fe New Mexican, May 9,  2021

At the intersection of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road, a few dozen Santa Feans rallied Saturday in support of expanding and protecting voting rights.

Since the 2020 presidential election, 28 bills with voting restrictions, such as limiting absentee and mail ballots, identification requirements and banning same-day registration, are moving through 18 state legislatures, including Texas and Arizona, according to a study by the Brennan Center, a public policy institute.

“I think our democracy is under siege. We got within a hair’s breadth of an insurrection at the Capitol where they could have murdered senators. It’s important not to forget that,” said John House, president of the New Mexico branch of nationwide nonprofit RepresentUs.

“They’re trying to take away people’s voting right and make it hard to vote. We need federal legislation to override these state restrictions.”

To override state restrictions, Democrats are pushing for the federal For the People Act, which includes a host of reforms, including expanding automatic and same-day registration and voting by mail as well as independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting instead of gerrymandering.

The For the People Act also would require the president, vice president and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns.

On Saturday, RepresentUs and the Santa Fe branch of national nonprofit Indivisible organized a demonstration at the intersection of St. Francis and Cerrillos, where signs called for statehood for the District of Columbia, filibuster reform and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is named for the late congressman and would strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“After 2020, all these states like Georgia, Texas and Arizona in 2024 can just say they think the president is illegitimate,” said Leslie Lakind, who held a sign that read, “2020 was a dress rehearsal.” “It’s a terrifying precedent.”

 

Dozen Megadonors Gave $3.4 Billion, One in Every 13 Dollars, Since 2009

by Shane Goldmacher

April 20, 2021

reprinted from The New York Times

A dozen megadonors and their spouses contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups since 2009, accounting for nearly one out of every 13 dollars raised, according to a new report.

The report, produced by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, shows the top 12 donors split equally between six Democrats and six Republicans. The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age.

The study quantifies the intensifying concentration and increasing role of the super rich in American politics following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

“This is a stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and chief executive of Issue One. “Today, a handful of megadonors wield outsized influence in our politics.” Mr. Penniman called on Congress “to pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone.”

The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.

Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.

Some of the top ZIP codes for giving weren’t even populated by any people at all; instead, they were primarily associated with skyscrapers and post office boxes that were used as business addresses by the wealthy.

The single biggest spender on federal campaigns from 2009 to 2020 was Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, who spent $1.4 billion. Of that, $1 billion went toward his own failed campaign for president in 2020 and $314 million went to other federal candidates, super PACs and political groups.

He is the only donor to spend more than $1 billion. The No. 2 contributor is another Democrat, Tom Steyer, who, like Mr. Bloomberg, lost his bid for president in 2020. Mr. Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, have spent $653 million, with more than half going toward his own presidential campaign and $311 million to other federal candidates and committees.

The report does not include giving to state-level campaigns or politically connected nonprofit groups, which can often remain undisclosed.

The largest Republican contributor was Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, and his wife, Miriam Adelson, a physician. The Adelsons have contributed $523 million to Republican candidates and committees since 2009.

Mr. Adelson’s death in January 2021, at age 87, leaves a potential major shortfall for Republicans who have come to rely upon his largess. Republican operatives have privately fretted that while Dr. Adelson has been politically engaged, she may not have the same appetite for political giving as her late husband.

The report said that all 12 top donors were white and that the top 100 ZIP codes for donations were “typically both more white and more affluent” than the nation as a whole.

The other top contributors among Republicans were Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein ($138 million), founders of Uline shipping; Ken Griffin ($107 million), the investor and founder of Citadel LLC; Patricia and Timothy Mellon ($70 million), an heir to the Mellon fortune and chairman of Pan Am Systems; Marlene and Joe Ricketts ($66 million), the founder of T.D. Ameritrade and whose family owns the Chicago Cubs; and Paul Singer ($63 million), an investor and founder of Elliott Management.

Among Democrats, the other biggest donors were Donald Sussman ($98 million), the founder of Paloma Funds; Jim Simons ($93 million), the founder of Renaissance Technologies, and his wife, Marilyn; Fred Eychaner ($92 million), a media mogul; and Dustin Moskovitz ($83 million), the co-founder of Facebook, and his wife, Cari Tuna.

 

The 43 Senators of the Republican Sedition Caucus Are Every Bit As Guilty as Donald Trump

Voters must be reminded in 2022 that senators like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson chose partisanship over their constitutional duty.

re printed from The Nation

February 18, 2021

by John Nichols

The 43 Republican senators who blocked the conviction of Donald Trump for the high crime of inciting insurrection to overturn the results of the 2020 election refused—for reasons of ideological delusion and blind partisanship—to hold a guilty man to account.

Despite Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s pathetic attempt to suggest otherwise—in one of the most intellectually dishonest speeches ever delivered in a chamber that has considerable experience of intellectual dishonesty—the senators who sided with Trump are now every bit as guilty as the seditious former president to whom they sold their political souls.

For that to happen, however, Democrats must recognize the genius of impeachment: that the impeaching of a president occurs on two levels. There is the formal process that occurs in the House and the Senate. And there is the informal process of indicting an errant president, and his defenders, in the eyes of the American people.

The 43 Republican senators who blocked the conviction of Donald Trump for the high crime of inciting insurrection to overturn the results of the 2020 election refused—for reasons of ideological delusion and blind partisanship—to hold a guilty man to account.

Despite Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s pathetic attempt to suggest otherwise—in one of the most intellectually dishonest speeches ever delivered in a chamber that has considerable experience of intellectual dishonesty—the senators who sided with Trump are now every bit as guilty as the seditious former president to whom they sold their political souls.

And every bit as deserving of electoral rejection.

For that to happen, however, Democrats must recognize the genius of impeachment: that the impeaching of a president occurs on two levels. There is the formal process that occurs in the House and the Senate. And there is the informal process of indicting an errant president, and his defenders, in the eyes of the American people.

History tells us that impeachments do not have to conclude with a conviction, or even a Senate trial, to matter. They can continue for so long as the people demand accountability. The fight simply moves from the Capitol to the polling place—as it did in 1974 when Richard Nixon quit the White House and avoided a House impeachment vote and a Senate trial, only to see Republicans lose four Senate seats and 48 House seats.

The 1974 election results remind us that one of the vital aspects of any meaningful impeachment is the extension of the indictment beyond the president who has committed specific high crimes to include those members of Congress who engage in the high crime of defending a guilty man. The key is to recognize that a process that may not bring accountability in the Capitol can do so at the ballot box.

AN ELECTORAL RECKONING

Voters in 2022, 2024, and 2026 can and should punish the 43 Republican senators who now make up the chamber’s sedition caucus. A few of the senators who protect Trump will avoid political justice by choosing not to run again. The rest must face an electoral reckoning.

In some states, the work has already begun. A billboard outside Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s hometown identifies the Trump-aligned Republican as “Treason Johnson” and stamps the word “Resign” across his face. It was erected by Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, one of a number of Democrats who are preparing to challenge the incumbent. “The trial may be over, but we won’t forget this,” Nelson said on Saturday. “The billboard I put up is a reminder that Ron Johnson should be held accountable for today’s vote and his traitorous actions. He should resign, and if he doesn’t, I’ll be the one to beat him in 2022.”

In Missouri, Democrat Scott Sifton launched his challenge to Senator Roy Blount, the chair of the Republican Policy Committee, with a double-pronged assault on Blount and the state’s most controversial Trump sycophant, Senator Josh Hawley. A former legislator, Sifton produced a powerful video that opens with an image of Hawley raising his fist in solidarity with the fascist mob that was preparing to storm the Capitol on January 6. “When he raised his fist and betrayed our democracy, Josh Hawley showed us who he really is. And when Senator Blunt was too weak to stand up to his party’s lies, he showed us who he is too,” says Sifton. “So next year when that Senate seat is on the ballot, we, the people of Missouri, need to show who we are.”

Nelson and Sifton are doing it right. So is the Florida Democratic Party, which ripped into Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who embarrassed himself during the trial by floating the delusional suggestion that if Trump were convicted as an immediately former president, then Hillary Clinton could be impeached as a distantly former secretary of state. Florida Democratic Party chair Manny Diaz argued that Rubio had “declared open season on our democracy by voting to condone an insurrectionist attack on our government, an attack unquestionably incited by Donald Trump.” Along with the state’s other Republican senator, Rick Scott, Diaz said that Rubio had “pledged loyalty to Trump above their duty to our country and the Constitutional oath they swore to uphold before God.”

RON JOHNSON’S CONSPIRACY THEORIES

On the top of any list of vulnerable Republicans is Ron Johnson. Like Missouri Senator Hawley and Texas Senator Ted Cruz—both of who are serving terms that run through the 2024 election—Johnson positioned himself during the impeachment trial as a belligerent Trump loyalist. On Saturday, the Wisconsinite yelled at a fellow Republican, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, for voting to hear witnesses. After the clash, Johnson complained that hearing the facts would only “inflame the situation” and screeched, “We never should have had this impeachment trial. It’s just like opening up a wound and just rubbing salt in it.”

On Monday, he tried to explain away his vote by questioning the seriousness of the attack on the Capitol, telling a Wisconsin right-wing radio host, “This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.”

Why was Johnson so determined to downplay the violence that shocked the world on January 6? Why was he so aggressive in seeking to block witnesses and avert accountability? Because the senator knew that an honest examination of Trump’s guilt would shed light on his own culpability as an inciter of insurrection. In December, when he still chaired the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson fed the hysteria that culminated in the attack on the Capitol by organizing a hearing that entertained the most outrageous of the lies Trump was promoting with regard to the election.

Since then, Johnson has continued to peddle conspiracy theories—speculating before the trial that Democrats were impeaching Trump in order to divert attention from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s supposed “blame” for the deadly riot. The senator offered no evidence to support his claim about the California Democrat, who was a target of the insurrectionists. Yet he asked, “Is this another diversionary operation? Is this meant to deflect away from potentially what the speaker knew and when she knew it?” A breathless Johnson concluded, “I don’t know, but I’m suspicious.”

What was suspicious was the senator’s ludicrous speculation. The same could be said of his claim that the Democrats were guilty of mounting a “vindictive and divisive political impeachment” that got in the way of “healing.” By Johnson’s standard, no political figure would ever be held to account—not even for inciting deadly violence.

THE PEOPLE ARE WHAT COUNT

Johnson and the other 42 Republicans who opposed accountability now want to “move on.”

But voters should never forget that these Republican senators refused to respect the essential calculus of the Constitution.

Lead impeachment manager Representative Jamie Raskin laid out that calculus: “Our Framers were so fearful of presidents becoming tyrants and wanting to become kings that they put the Oath of Office into the Constitution. They inscribed it into the Constitution to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the Constitution of the United States.”

While the founders hoped that the oath would inspire honorable leaders to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,” Raskin explained, they were not so naive as to imagine a future in which only the honorable would occupy the Oval Office. So they awarded policing authority to the Congress.

“We’ve got the power to impeach the president, but the president doesn’t have the power to impeach us. Think about that. The popular branch of government has the power to impeach the president; the president does not have the power to impeach us,” said Raskin, continuing: “All of us who aspire [to] and attain a public office are nothing but the servants of the people. And the way the framers would have it is: The moment that we no longer act as servants of the people but as masters of the people, as violators of the people’s rights, that is the time to impeach, remove, convict, disqualify, start all over again. Because the interests of the people are so much greater than the interests of one person, any one person, even the greatest person in the country. The interests of the people are what count.”

 

 

Our democracy faced a near-death experience. Here’s how to revive it.

Washington Post

Opinion: Stacey Abrams

Feb. 7, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. EST

The violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, coupled with ongoing threats to election officials, election orkers and lawmakers at all levels, represent unprecedented attacks on the foundations of our democracy. Certainly, President Donald Trump and others in his party who inspired the attacks must be held accountable through all available means. But accountability alone will not be nearly enough.

Only meaningful reforms can undo the damage done — and establish a government that is truly representative of the people. The next real test of our democracy comes now.

Make no mistake: Democracy may have survived this year, but President Biden and Vice President Harris were elected despite, not thanks to, weakened electoral systems. Together with the Democratic Congress, they now have the opportunity to implement reforms that reaffirm our nation’s promises that our country represents and works for everyone. We as Democrats must act before it is too late.

Our democratic system faces extraordinary threats today because of sustained attacks from Republican leaders who throw up roadblocks to voting and, among the worst actors, stoke the flames of white supremacy and hyper-nationalism to cling to power. There can be no clearer example than the covid-19 pandemic. The deaths of more than 450,000 people in the richest country in the world are symptomatic of a democracy in crisis and a political system that rewards cronyism over competence. Despite strong public support for the Centers for Disease Control’s work, the Affordable Care Act, and other economic justice and safety-net policies that could save lives, millions nevertheless continue to contract the disease without adequate access to health care.

No thinking person can deny that the communities of color disproportionately suffering and dying from this pandemic are also the people whose votes — and ability to hold failed leaders accountable — have been continuously suppressed.

The pandemic has been a collision of tragedy and corroded institutions, and the challenge is in how we respond. We can either engage in collective amnesia about what we have just lived through, and leave an unaccountable government in place, or we can rise to meet this moment by fixing the broken social compact. Defeating Trump was not enough. Meaningful progress on health care, racial justice and the economy requires aggressive action on voting rights, partisan gerrymandering and campaign finance.

One of the first steps must be an overhaul of the Senate filibuster, which has long been wielded as a cudgel against the needs of millions who struggle. Today, the parliamentary trick creates a more sinister threat to our nation: the ability of a minority of senators, who represent 41.5 million fewer people than the Senate majority, to block progress favored by most Americans.

Democrats in Congress must fully embrace their mandate to fast-track democracy reforms that give voters a fair fight, rather than allowing undemocratic systems to be used as tools and excuses to perpetuate that same system. This is a moment of both historic imperative and, with unified Democratic control of the White House and Congress, historic opportunity.

The agenda to restore democracy also includes passing the For the People Act to protect and expand voting rights, fight gerrymandering and reduce the influence of money in politics; the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the full protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and the Protecting Our Democracy Act to constrain the corruption of future presidents who deem themselves above the law. These landmark bills have broad-based support, and would have passed long ago were it not for obstructionist leaders who fear losing their own influence if the American people have more power of their own.

Further, fixing our democracy requires we finally allow our fellow Americans in D.C. and Puerto Rico, the vast majority of whom are people of color, to have full access to our democracy. That means D.C. statehood and binding self-determination for Puerto Rico. In the District, as white extremist mobs destroyed the Capitol, murdered a police officer, and threatened the lives of elected officials and residents, Washingtonians were left defenseless because D.C. is not a state and its chief executive had no authority to deploy the National Guard.

Time is short. The forces standing against a democracy agenda seek to preserve and expand paths to power by shrinking the voting pool rather than winning voters over. In reaction to the historic turnout of 2020 and Democratic victories in places such as Georgia, already this year more than 100 bills have been put forward in state legislatures seeking to restrict voting access. Those efforts will not end without a fight.

We don’t know how many chances we will get to reverse our democracy’s near-death experience. We must not waste this one. We must go big — the future of democracy demands it.

Stacey Abrams is a former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and founder of the group Fair Fight.

Trump actions illustrate why Congress must pass the For the People Act

reprinted from The Hill

BY Matt Keller, opinion contributor

01/22/21 04:30 PM EST 253

https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/535431-trump-actions-illustrate-why-congress-must-pass-the-for-the?fbclid=IwAR2bDa06Hxcfwa0NWe5PFkeFUln-JVuM6A5OHTG49S5N6TS3bd8Kod_L6AM

President Trump took the United States down the path trod by scores of developing-world nations which — after letting their guard down for just a second — ended up on a path of violence, insurrection and dictatorship.

When Trump began sowing the seeds of doubt in vote by mail and absentee balloting, he set the stage for both inciting and organizing an insurrection whose violence is not yet over. Before this, his shameless purges of administration officials who questioned both the legality and the morality of his attempts to pressure Ukraine into assisting his reelection campaign were done to clear his administration of any pesky naysayers who might give voice to democratic values.

These ploys are reminiscent of the various strongmen who have ruled many foreign nations for decades. In my 16 years of work that stretched from Libya to South Africa, from Sri Lanka to Brazil, from Afghanistan to Moscow, I saw the same brazen lying, the same awful cynicism, and the same clear-eyed contempt for any rule designed to check absolute power. In many of these countries, the playbook is the same. Sophisticated propaganda methods, force, denigration of the press, and a contemptible cabal of enablers who live in the reflected sunlight of the great man they choose to serve.

And let’s not forget the equally brazen ways in which Trump — like those same strongmen — enriched himself while in office.

Let’s not forget Vice President Mike Pence staying at a Trump property on the west coast of Ireland while his meetings were across the country in the east. Let’s not forget the hundreds of foreign dignitaries paying thousands of dollars to stay at the Trump Hotel just blocks from the White House, directly benefiting the president. Let’s not forget the ugly and brazen nepotism as the president appointed family members to key positions in his administration even though they are unable to pass basic background checks. These appointments are for jobs that demand extensive background checks precisely because they require access to highly classified material.

And let’s never forget candidate Trump taking from his charitable foundation to enrich both himself and his campaign. Some of these charitable contributions were used to buy a nine-foot portrait of Trump that he later had displayed at one of his country clubs. As any tin-pot dictator will tell you: Above all, omnipresence.

Zimbabwe’s late dictator Robert Mugabe and a dozen other corrupt leaders like him were masters of no-bid contracts, and of tribute payments to the strong man. Mugabe’s government was infamous for using public money entrusted to the government for personal and political gain.

Trump and the late Mugabe would probably have a good laugh about how easy it is to get away with self-dealing right in plain sight. Indeed, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cites over 2,000 conflicts of interest involving Trump and his administration, his businesses and those seeking to influence him.

Our duty as reformers is to root out corruption by officeholders and government officials at every level of government. We must demand that all future presidents divest themselves completely of any assets or holdings that can be used to benefit them monetarily during their time in office. And we must pass the kinds of comprehensive campaign finance laws that restore faith in the men and women who represent us in the United States Congress.

Many of the provisions of H.R. 1 — the For the People Act — would go a long way in ensuring that the representatives we send to Washington would work for the common good, and not primarily for their own political advantages or personal financial gain. Other H.R. 1 provisions would bolster much-needed election integrity measures so that a master propogandist crying foul will never be taken seriously again.

Now is not the time for small steps or half-measures designed to provide incremental solutions to the deep wounds that the lawless and utterly corrupt Trump administration has inflicted upon our nation.

Now is the time to act.

If we don’t, then we will become indistinguishable from those countries where corruption and violence are simply a matter of course. Countries where corrupt strong men rule, and notions of democratic representation are thrown aside. Where the strong man’s personal gain is put ahead of the people he is entrusted to serve.

If we do nothing after watching the president of the United States enrich himself, lie about the election, and use the tools at his disposal to incite unspeakable violence against the American people, then the specters of corruption and violence that have haunted the Trump administration will never be put to rest. They will be as embedded in the American system of government as they are in any country ruled by those for whom corruption and violence are a way of life.

The For the People Act can help us make sure that a would-be tinpot dictator can never take advantage of our political system again.

Matt Keller is Vice President of Democracy 21 in Washington, DC, former Executive Director of the Global Learning XPRIZE, and legal counsel at the United Nations World Food Programme.