Free Speech for People » Blog http://www.freespeechforpeople.com Reclaim democracy for the people Tue, 31 May 2016 16:42:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BREAKING: SB 254, The Overturn Citizens United Act Passes CA Senate Vote http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/breaking-sb-254-the-overturn-citizens-united-act-passes-ca-senate-vote/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/breaking-sb-254-the-overturn-citizens-united-act-passes-ca-senate-vote/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 18:09:11 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3977 Today in Sacramento, the California Senate passed SB 254 The Overturn Citizens United Act in a 26 to 11 vote. More »

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Today in Sacramento,  the California Senate passed SB 254 The Overturn Citizens United Act in a 26 to 11 vote.  The bill now goes to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.  SB 254 would place a voter instruction on the November ballot that would ask Californians if their representatives should “use all of their constitutional authority to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and other applicable judicial precedents.”

Supporters of the bill traveled from across the state to gather in the Senate gallery as the bill’s lead author, Ben Allen of Santa Monica, urged his colleagues to join him in support of the bill:

“Citizens United is but one of the many U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have made effective campaign finance reform more difficult.  It rolled back the previous ban on corporate spending in federal elections, opening the door to unlimited corporate funds being spent on influencing elections,” said Senator Allen.

“At the core of these decisions is the belief that spending money in an election is a protected form of free speech and those rights extend not only to human beings but to other entities as well, including corporations. I believe most Californians do not share that sentiment and we should give them the opportunity to make their collective voices heard.”

Following the vote, supporters of SB 254 submitted to the Governor’s office a letter asking Governor Brown to sign the bill into law and let the people vote to overturn Citizens United.

To read the text of that letter, click here.

“We asked Governor Brown to let democracy work” said Michele Sutter of MOVI, money out voters in.  “America needs to have the conversation about how to fix a broken system where those who have everything get more and those with nothing get less.  I think that fix will require a Constitutional amendment.  Others disagree, but we need to have the conversation. With the governor’s signature we will have that conversation here in California.”

California voters are hoping that their representatives in the California Legislature and Governor Brown will give them the opportunity again to instruct their representatives on a matter of grave concern to all Americans. Governor Brown has a June 8th deadline to decide on whether to take no action, to sign the bill, or to veto it.

BACKGROUND:

Californians were poised to vote on a similar measure in 2014 when the CA Legislature passed SB 1272, The Overturn Citizens United Act” and that bill became law and qualified for the ballot as Proposition 49.

But Californians did not vote on Prop 49 in 2014.  The California Supreme Court ordered Prop 49 removed from the ballot while the Court considered the measure’s legitimacy.  The California Supreme Court had never before in the history of California removed a ballot measure enacted by the CA Legislature.

In January 2016, the CA Supreme Court ultimately ruled 6 to 1 that Proposition 49 was a legitimate exercise of legislative authority, but neglected to order the measure restored to the November 2016 ballot, as the CA Legislature had requested, insisting instead that the legislature pass a new bill.

In her dissent from her colleagues at the time Prop 49 was removed from the ballot, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakayue cautioned her colleagues against taking the “extraordinary step” that would “disenfranchise voters.”

In the October 2015 hearing on the Prop 49 case the Chief Justice responded to the often cited “ballot clutter” argument against the voter instruction measure saying “[W]hat does ballot clutter matter if it leads to substantive law?”

Substantive law is exactly what California’s last voter instruction measure led to.  It was 1892 and the question posed to the electorate concerned the direct election of Senators.  Californians passed that voter instruction and 21 years later the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified.

California voters are hoping that their representatives in the CA Legislature and Governor Brown give them the opportunity again to instruct their representatives on a matter of grave concern to all Americans.

Free Speech For People joined partners: Money Out Voters In, Courage Campaign, Common Cause Calfiornia, CALPIRG, California Clean Money Campaign, and Friends of the Earth to support this ballot.

To arrange interviews, please contact Edward Erikson at Edward.Erikson@gmail.com or call 202-420-9947. Read our full press release here.

 

 

 

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John Bonifaz Interview with “Turning Point Radio” On Progressive Radio Network http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/john-bonifaz-interview-with-turning-point-radio-on-progressive-radio-network/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/john-bonifaz-interview-with-turning-point-radio-on-progressive-radio-network/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 01:15:48 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3971 John Bonifaz,spoke with radio host Mike Feder as part of an interview with the radio show "Turning Point", featured on the Progressive Radio Network More »

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Today, John Bonifaz, Free Speech For People President and co-founder, spoke with radio host Mike Feder as part of an interview with the radio show “Turning Point”, featured on the Progressive Radio Network.  During the discussion, John spoke of the significance of the Supreme Court’s 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo and the longstanding effects of that decision on campaign finance today. John also addresses solutions to overturn Citizens United.

Stream and download the interview here:

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Truth Out: The Overturn Citizens United Act, One Step Closer http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/truth-out-the-overturn-citizens-united-act-one-step-closer/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/truth-out-the-overturn-citizens-united-act-one-step-closer/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 17:33:45 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3967 Michele Sutter, co-founder of Money Out Voters In, penned an op-ed posted to Truthout on the importance of the California State Assembly voting in support of The New Overturn Citizens United Act.
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Michele Sutter,  co-founder of Money Out Voters In, the sponsors of the bill that became Proposition 49, shared an op-ed with Truthout.org on the importance of the California State Assembly voting in support of The New Overturn Citizens United Act, previously billed as Proposition 49.

The people of California were denied a vote in 2014 on Proposition 49, The Overturn Citizens United Act. The question posed by the ballot measure was whether a constitutional amendment is necessary in order to restore the people’s right to regulate money in our elections and make clear that that rights enumerated in the US Constitution are for human beings and not for corporate entities.

This is a conversation that America must have and we’d have gotten it going here in California in 2014 if not for the wrongful interference by the California Supreme Court.

In a 5-1 temporary ruling and in response to a petition from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California’s high court ordered then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen to remove Prop 49 from the November 2014 ballot.

Only Chief Justice Tani Cantil- Sakayue cautioned her colleagues against taking this “extraordinary step” that would lead to, among the other concerns she cited, “disenfranchising voters.”

By January 2016, when the Court issued its 6 to 1 ruling that Proposition 49 was always legitimate, the 2014 election was long past. Instead of placing the Prop 49 on the 2016 ballot as the legislature had filed to request, the Court told the California legislature that they would have to pass a new bill.

That is what the California Legislature is doing now. And, so far they aren’t wasting any time about it either. SB 254 had its first Assembly committee hearing on April 27, 2016. On May 12, 2016, the full Assembly, in a bipartisan vote, passed the bill and sent it to the California Senate. That’s lightning speed.

There’s more motivation behind the California Legislature’s drive to pass the “new” Overturn Citizens United Act than belief in the opportunity SB 254 presents and concern for the voters (though both those components are present for many legislators.)

When the California Supreme Court inserted itself into the Legislature’s function in an unprecedented way, discovered they were spectacularly wrong and then, instead of trying to make things right or do justice, told the Legislature that they needed to do it again when only the Court’s error prevented this ballot measure from moving forward in 2014, the Legislature wasn’t happy. One Capitol staffer told me it was “like the Court poked a stick in the Legislature’s eye.”

Senator Ben Allen, the lead author on SB 254, said in Assembly committee hearing: “[I]t would set an unacceptable precedent if we didn’t stick to our guns.”

Senator Allen is right. There’s a separation of powers issue here that should concern us as much as it concerns the California Legislature.

Judicial overreach leads back to the substance of SB 254 and the question it poses around what to do in response to US Supreme Court rulings that are rewriting the Constitution and encroaching in unprecedented ways on the functions of the other two branches of government.

America needs to have this conversation. The California Assembly has taken a meaningful step towards sticking up not only for themselves, but also for us, the disenfranchised voters of California.

To read the original article on Truthout.org, click here.

 

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Big money strikes again in Montana http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/big-money-strikes-again-in-montana/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/big-money-strikes-again-in-montana/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 19:31:07 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3963 On Tuesday, the federal district judge in the Lair v. Motl case struck down Montana’s campaign contribution limits (passed by the voters through a 1994 ballot initiative) as “too low.” More »

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On Tuesday, the federal district judge in the Lair v. Motl case struck down Montana’s campaign contribution limits (passed by the voters through a 1994 ballot initiative) as “too low.”

The history of this case is complex (see our blog post from September for a brief explanation) but the question before the judge was not: whether Montana’s campaign contribution limits are “closely drawn” to the state’s interest in preventing “quid pro quo corruption.” This isn’t really the right question—there are other interests at stake, such as protecting a meaningful right to vote, as we explained in a 2014 friend-of-the-court brief in an earlier iteration of this case—but it’s the question that the Court of Appeals instructed the district judge to answer.

Even so, the judge’s analysis was remarkably cramped. The state offered specific evidence, both from the 1990s and more recently, of quid pro quo corruption through campaign contributions, including (among other examples) testimony from a state legislator about a quid pro quo offer from National Right to Work of $100,000 for introducing and bringing a requested bill to a floor vote, and recent state court decisions that found that state legislators had engaged in quid pro quo transactions.

The judge rejected these examples, on the theory that the legislators involved either rejected the quid pro quo offers (who would testify that they agreed to receive a bribe?) or would have voted that way anyway. But just because a legislator rejects a bribery offer doesn’t mean that the state shouldn’t be concerned about the fact that the offer was made. And the fact that those offering the “quid” focused on persuadable legislators simply shows that bribers are not stupid.

The second part of the judge’s analysis addressed whether Montana’s contribution limits were “closely drawn” to preventing quid pro quo corruption. He ruled that they aren’t, for two reasons. First, when Montana’s voters passed these limits by ballot initiative in 1994, the Supreme Court didn’t insist that contribution limits be focused solely on quid pro quo corruption, so the ballot pamphlet from 1994 doesn’t talk in the magic words that the Supreme Court expects after Citizens United. Second, the judge ruled that many campaigns cannot be sufficiently funded without higher contribution limits. But that’s not right either. In 2014, we showed that candidates for state House of Representatives who had just 129 donors (the minimum number of signatures required to get onto the ballot) could raise $6,811 (the average budget for a House campaign) from contributions averaging just $52.80 each—well below the contribution limit of $320. (Senate districts are bigger and campaigns are more expensive, but interestingly enough, the math yields a nearly identical required average contribution: $52.73.) Maybe that’s why a study showed, that after the state’s contribution limits were enacted in 1994, the number of contributors increased by 51%, and the overall average contribution is still less than half the maximum limit.

 

What next?

For the time being, the state has reinstated the pre-1994 contribution limits. Meanwhile, the governor has urged the state attorney general to appeal the decision.

Stepping back, there’s a larger trend of big money interests suing to overturn contribution limits in rural states, from Vermont to Montana to Alaska. (In the Alaska case, the parties just finished a seven-day trial, and are awaiting for the judge’s decision.) Opponents of campaign finance reform like to piggyback on the unpopularity of the U.S. Congress, or claim that campaign finance reform is incumbents protecting themselves from difficult re-election campaigns. But the big money litigation strategy challenging contribution limits passed directly by Montana’s voters themselves unmasks the game: reform opponents’ real concern is not about mistrusting Congress, and it’s definitely not about incumbent self-protection. It’s about preserving the unequal power of wealthy donors and weakening the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Free Speech For People will continue to monitor this case (and the pending Alaska case) and help as we can. But in the big picture, we can’t keep playing defense under the Supreme Court’s cramped precedents. We need to move from defense to offense and overturn the Court’s toxic anti-democracy decisions, not just Citizens United but also Buckley v. Valeo, and build a new constitutional framework based on political equality. We do that on two fronts: in the courts, with a democracy agenda for a post-Scalia Supreme Court, and in the public arena, with the campaign for constitutional amendment to get big money out of our politics forever.

 

 

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Doris Kearns Goodwin: A 28th Amendment to Restore The American Promise http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/doris-kearns-goodwin-a-28th-amendment-to-restore-the-american-promise/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/doris-kearns-goodwin-a-28th-amendment-to-restore-the-american-promise/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 16:19:48 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3955 Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses the Democracy For All Amendment, a solution to reclaim our republic to ensure that America is governed by 'we the people', not big money. More »

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Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jeff Clements, and others explain why a 28th Amendment to overturn ‪‎Citizens United‬ is 100% possible and 100% necessary. The video discusses the Democracy For All Amendment, a solution to reclaim our republic and to ensure that America is governed by ‘we the people’, not big money.

We amended the constitution 12 times in the 20th Century and we can do it again now! Watch this video to find out how.

To learn more about The American Promise, co-founded by Corporations Are Not People author and Free Speech For People Board Chair, Jeff Clements, visit here.

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Breaking: The Overturn Citizens United Act is One Step Closer to November Ballot in CA http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/the-overturn-citizens-united-act-is-one-step-closer-to-the-november-ballot/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/the-overturn-citizens-united-act-is-one-step-closer-to-the-november-ballot/#comments Thu, 12 May 2016 23:55:21 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3946 The California Assembly voted today to pass SB 254, The Overturn Citizens United Act in a 48 to 26 vote. More »

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CA Victory

 

SACRAMENTO, CA: The California Assembly voted today to pass SB 254, The Overturn Citizens United Act in a 48 to 26 vote.  The bill now goes to the California Senate. SB 254 would place a voter instruction on the November ballot that would ask Californians if their representatives should “use all of their constitutional authority…  to overturn Citizens United v FEC and other applicable judicial precedents.”

“We are very pleased that the Assembly advanced this bill towards the ballot,” said Michele Sutter, co-founder of MOVI, Money Out Voters In. “Californian voters were silenced in 2014 and I hope we’re allowed to speak in 2016 to overturn Citizens United.

“People across the nation are rising up to call for a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution which will end the big money dominance of our elections and the fiction of corporations being treated as people with constitutional rights,” says John Bonifaz, the Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People.  “With today’s vote in the California Assembly, we are now one step closer to ensuring that the people of California will have their voices heard this November on this critical question of our time.  We the people, not corporations and big money interests, shall govern in America.”

“Money is not speech, and corporations are not people. Full stop. This is obvious to anyone not on the payroll of an enormous corporate outfit,” explained Eddie Kurtz, president and executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign.  “As we’ve seen recently in the People’s Report Card of California, Sacramento is drowning in millions of dollars from corporations, leading to more and more legislators voting for the best interest of those corporations, not their constituents. Now is the time to let Californians help lead that movement to overturn Citizens United and formally weigh in on the most vital political issue of our time.”

“If our democratic system of representative government is to survive, the deeply damaging Citizens United and related rulings must be overturned,” said Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. “Billionaires should not have thousands of times more free speech than the average American just because they have so much more money to spend on elections.”

“Today’s vote moves California closer to reclaiming our democracy and undoing the corrosive impact of Citizen’s United,” said Jon Fox, senior democracy campaigner at Friends of the Earth.“It’s clear that we must act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and we can’t do that while big oil and gas giants like Chevron and Exxon keep pumping money into our politics to block the policies we need to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the safety of our communities.”

“The need to limit the influence of extremely wealthy and corporate donors is clearer than ever during this election cycle. At the urging of their constituents, the legislature put Prop 49 on the ballot back in 2014, and we are counting on the legislature to do what it takes to allow Californians to hold a vote on the 2016 ballot.” Emily Rusch, Executive Director, CALPIRG.

“Voters across the political spectrum are clamoring for something to be done about the problem of big money in our political system.,” said Sylvia Moore, Southern California Organizer for California Common Cause. “Everyone should have an equal voice in our democracy – not just those with access to the biggest pocketbook.”

Californians were poised to vote on a similar measure in 2014 when the CA Legislature passed SB 1272, The Overturn Citizens United Act” and that bill became law and qualified for the ballot as Proposition 49.

But Californians did not vote on Prop 49 in 2014.  The California Supreme Court ordered Prop 49 removed from the ballot while the Court considered the measure’s legitimacy.  The California Supreme Court had never before in the history of California removed a ballot measure enacted by the CA Legislature.

In January 2016, the CA Supreme Court ultimately ruled 6 to 1 that Proposition 49 was a legitimate exercise of legislative authority, but neglected to order the measure restored to the November 2016 ballot, as the CA Legislature had requested, insisting instead that the legislature pass a new bill.

In her dissent from her colleagues at the time Prop 49 was removed from the ballot, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakayue cautioned her colleagues against taking the “extraordinary step” that would “disenfranchise voters.”

In the October 2015 hearing on the Prop 49 case the Chief Justice responded to the often cited “ballot clutter” argument against the voter instruction measure saying “[W]hat does ballot clutter matter if it leads to substantive law?”

Substantive law is exactly what California’s last voter instruction measure led to.  It was 1892 and the question posed to the electorate concerned the direct election of Senators.  Californians passed that voter instruction and 21 years later the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified.

California voters are hoping that their representatives in the CA Legislature and Governor Brown give them the opportunity again to instruct their representatives on a matter of grave concern to all Americans.

Please direct all press inquiries to Edward Erikson at Edward.Erikson@gmail.com 

Click here to download the Press Release

 

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Ron Fein Interview With Boston Herald Radio http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/ron-fein-interview-with-boston-herald-radio/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/ron-fein-interview-with-boston-herald-radio/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 19:53:50 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3942 Our Legal Director, Ron Fein joined the team at Boston Herald Drive for a special conversation on money in politics. More »

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On Tuesday, our Legal Director, Ron Fein joined the team at Boston Herald Drive for a special conversation on money in politics. Ron speaks with the hosts about the need for campaign finance reform across the aisle and discusses potential solutions.

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Free Speech For People and Money Out Voters In Host Event With Actress Debra Winger to Fight Big Money and Reclaim Our Democracy http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/free-speech-for-people-and-money-out-voters-in-co-host-event-with-actress-debra-winger-to-fight-big-money-and-reclaim-our-democracy/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/free-speech-for-people-and-money-out-voters-in-co-host-event-with-actress-debra-winger-to-fight-big-money-and-reclaim-our-democracy/#comments Tue, 10 May 2016 18:16:49 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3925 Free Speech For People and Money Out Voters In hosted a house party on Sunday, April 10, at the home of actress Debra Winger in Los Angeles, California. More »

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Free Speech For People (FSFP) and Money Out Voters In (MOVI) hosted a house party on Sunday, April 10, at the home of actress Debra Winger in Los Angeles, California. FSFP and MOVI discussed the latest updates on the fight to defend our democracy, including FSFP’s work in the courts to challenge big money in politics and unchecked corporate power and our joint work in California on a ballot measure calling for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and reclaim our democracy.

Speakers for the event included Debra Winger, Congressman Ted Lieu, Free Speech For People Co-Founder and Board Chair Jeff Clements, and Michele Sutter, Co-Founder of Money Out Voters In.

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(FSFP Co-Founder and Board Chair Jeff Clements, Congressman Ted Lieu, Actress Debra Winger, and FSFP Co-Founder and President John Bonifaz at our LA house party on April 10, 2016, at Debra Winger’s home. Photo courtesy of Barry Levine.)

Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33rd District) spoke to the urgency of overhauling our broken campaign finance system, focusing on the opportunity for people in California cast their votes in support of a 28th Amendment.

Tweets below captured moments from the speakers.

Debra Winger, who generously opened her home for the event, spoke on the shifting tides of our democracy and the silencing effect of money in politics. The full text of Debra’s remarks is shared below:

“In 1974, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann introduced an influential theory she called the Spiral of Silence. In it, she takes a look at the political and social behavior of the time.

The theory suggested that individuals, afraid of feeling isolated, monitor their environments to see whether their beliefs align with or contradict the ‘ambient majority’ opinion. And then, her theory says, that when one senses a climate of opinion that has shifted away from their own, that person’s willingness to speak out is reduced. Over time, this leads to silence, a spiraling down of minority attitudes and it poses an existential threat to healthy democratic discourse.

Now, six years after the Citizens United decision, we’re seeing that, in fact, what the Supreme Court decision said about lifting certain restrictions on corporate campaign contributions enabling greater free speech has actually had the opposite effect, in the state and local elections with the highest level of unrestricted corporate money flow – individual donations to candidates reached their lowest level in decades.

It’s as if the more we sense the tidal waves of money poured into the waters around us, the weaker our individual voices feel.

But we’re here because the tides are shifting – this coming week there will be sit-ins to protest the role of money in politics – our conversations have all been happening against the backdrop of a lively primary season that has brought these and other issues to the forefront and has involved millions of new voters.

But even as the political debate intensifies we have to be careful not to pour our individual voices only into the choice between candidates – instead it becomes even more important to speak openly about our concerns – many of which we find to be shared across the political spectrum, in new and interesting ways so that we can perhaps write our way out of the fiction of our current spiral and into the reality of WE THE PEOPLE.”

Jeff Clements, the third speaker for the evening, introduced our work in the courts to challenge the influence of big money and unchecked corporate power.  And, he talked about our ongoing work helping to lead the growing national movement for a 28th Amendment.

Michele Sutter, co-founder of MOVI, closed out the speakers with a passionate appeal to guests to get involved with the California ballot measure calling for a 28th Amendment.  Michele shared a history of the ballot measure, including: its removal by the California Supreme Court from the November 2014 ballot; our victory before the California Supreme Court this past January reversing that prior ruling; and our current work in the California Legislature to restore the measure to the November 2016 ballot for voters to have their say.

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(Actress Debra Winger, Congressman Ted Lieu, MOVI Co-Founder Michele Sutter, and Actress Mimi Kennedy at our LA house party on April 10, 2016, at Debra Winger’s home. Photo courtesy of Barry Levine.)

Our Los Angeles house party was a huge success and a great opportunity to connect long-time supporters to those new to the dialogue.

We thank Debra Winger for graciously hosting us and for standing with us in this fight to reclaim our democracy.

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Free Speech For People Announces Jasmine Gomez as Winner of 2016-18 Democracy Honors Fellowship http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/free-speech-for-people-announces-jasmine-gomez-as-winner-of-2016-18-democracy-honors-fellowship/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/free-speech-for-people-announces-jasmine-gomez-as-winner-of-2016-18-democracy-honors-fellowship/#comments Mon, 09 May 2016 15:54:23 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3917 Free Speech For People, a national non-profit public interest advocacy organization dedicated to challenging unchecked corporate power and big money in politics, is pleased to announce Jasmine Gomez as the winner of the 2016-18 Democracy Honors Fellowship. More »

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Free Speech For People, a national non-profit public interest advocacy organization dedicated to challenging unchecked corporate power and big money in politics, is pleased to announce Jasmine Gomez as the winner of the 2016-18 Democracy Honors Fellowship.

Ms. Gomez, who will graduate from Boston University Law School this spring, serves on the Journal of Science and Technology Law and has written about potential state responses to corporate “Big Data” surveillance. She has held a number of leadership roles at the law school, including as Co-President of the Latin American Law Student Association, Vice President of the American Constitution Society, and Networking Chair for OutLaw, and she received the Emerging Leader Award from the Black Law Students Association. During law school, she interned at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice and the National Consumer Law Center, and has done pro bono work for the Mississippi Center for Justice and several Boston public schools.

Ms. Gomez will join Free Speech For People’s Boston-based Legal Advocacy Program in September 2016, where she will work with Legal Director Ron Fein on advancing the national movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United and restore a pro-democracy Constitution.

 

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Supreme Court Defeat For Corporations Raising Constitutional Challenge to Seattle Minimum Wage http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/supreme-court-defeat-for-corporations-raising-constitutional-challenge-to-seattle-minimum-wage/ http://www.freespeechforpeople.com/supreme-court-defeat-for-corporations-raising-constitutional-challenge-to-seattle-minimum-wage/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 21:49:14 +0000 http://freespeechforpeople.org/?p=3912 This week, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal of a constitutional challenge to Seattle’s minimum wage law brought by a franchise industry trade group. More »

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This week, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal of a constitutional challenge to Seattle’s minimum wage law brought by a franchise industry trade group. The decision probably puts the kibosh on corporate constitutional challenges to minimum wage laws for the foreseeable future.

Some background: In 2014, Seattle passed a new minimum wage ordinance, raising the minimum wage to $15 over the course of several years. The law’s schedule allowed small businesses several extra years to get to $15. Crucially, the law puts franchise locations of large chains (such as McDonald’s) on the schedule for big business, rather than small business.

A trade group representing the franchise industries challenged the law as unconstitutionally discriminating against franchised businesses.

This wasn’t the first time corporations have claimed that a minimum wage law violated their constitutional rights. In recent years, we’ve seen a wave of corporate constitutional challenges to minimum wage laws all over the country. And so far, these challenges haven’t worked. But the industry bet big on this case. They prepared for a major Supreme Court battle, hiring a top-notch Supreme Court litigator to argue the case from day one.

But Free Speech For People was also there from day one, standing with the City of Seattle. We filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the trial court and the court of appeals rebutting the industry’s claim that the minimum wage law’s implementation schedule for somehow violated the constitutional rights of corporations. (Our brief in the court of appeals was joined by our allies at DemosCourage Campaign, and the Equal Justice Society.) Meanwhile, in a similar case filed in Los Angeles by the hotel industry, after we filed an amicus brief opposing the industry’s constitutional claims, the industry withdrew all of its constitutional claims. (We don’t take a position on minimum wage laws as such; our concern is when businesses cook up “corporate constitutional rights” theories to challenge these laws.)

The Seattle litigation has been an unmitigated disaster for the franchise industry. Their claims were rejected in the trial court and again at the court of appeals. By the time they filed their long-planned Supreme Court appeal, their grand constitutional claims were reduced to a single claim involving interstate commerce. And the Supreme Court has refused to hear even that.

What does this mean for the long term? In the Seattle case itself, it’s probably over. Technically, this was an appeal about the trial court’s refusal to enter a preliminary injunction against the law, and the industry could still seek to conduct an actual trial. But that’s very unlikely; the law’s initial increases have already taken effect, and by the time a trial could be held (before the same judge who already rejected their claims), the implementation schedule could easily be halfway through. And perhaps more importantly, there’s no reason to think that the decision would come out any differently after a trial.

More broadly, this decision could mark the end of corporate challenges to minimum wage laws. Technically, the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case does not set binding national precedent; it simply lets the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (which covers much of the West) remain in place. But it sends a signal that will be read by corporations considering filing more of these lawsuits. They had their chance, and they failed. Unless the composition of the Court were to veer in a more corporatist direction (which is unlikely right now), there probably won’t be five votes to overturn minimum wage laws on constitutional grounds. If anything, the Court may be poised for a rollback of some of its most toxic anti-democracy decisions.

That doesn’t mean the fight is over. Corporations continue to raise far-reaching constitutional challenges to laws regarding everything from food labeling to securities disclosure. And now banks are claiming a constitutional right to billions of dollars in federal subsidies. That’s why we at Free Speech For People continue to advocate not only in court, but also for a permanent constitutional amendment reaffirming that constitutional rights belong to people, not corporations.

But for now, “We the People” can take a victory lap.

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