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The DI Report: Democracy Awakening

Friday, April 22, 2016

This weekend, a mass movement of thousands of activists and advocates from more than 300 labor, environment, civil rights, and faith organizations, descended on Capitol Hill for Democracy Awakening in a brilliant display of solidarity and action to demand an equal voice in our democracy and government that is accountable to people. Collectively, the democracy movement is fighting the power of money in politics on our political system, to protect and advance voting rights, while demanding a hearing and vote on the Supreme Court vacancy in the Senate.

Reporters and journalists covered the weekend’s events, with stories appearing in The Nation,Washington PostTIMEMSNBCUSA TodayVoxThe American ProspectPolitico, and Bill MoyersCheck out our Storify for social media coverage of the weekend’s events.

Democracy Awakening, a three day event that followed the earlier Democracy Spring protests last week, began on Saturday with a full day of panels, teach-ins, and workshops on the crisis our democracy is facing. Hosted at All Souls Church in Washington, DC the kick-off panel was moderated by Stacey Long Simmons of the National LGBTQ Task Force and featured voting rights expert Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot, money in politics reform advocate Derek Cressman, author of When Money Talks, and People for the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker to discuss and answer questions about how voting rights, money in politics, and the Supreme Court vacancy obstruction are damaging our democracy and how we can fight back.

Another panel featured the Democracy Initiative Education Fund’s reportDemocracy at a Crossroads: How the One Percent is Silencing Our Voices with CWA’s Jessica Newman, Nick Nyhart of Every Voice, and Greg Moore of the NAACP National Voter Fund.

Sunday commenced the Rally for Democracy, where thousands of people joined together in front of the Capitol for a day packed with music, powerful speakers, and dancing, culminating with a march in solidarity that passed the Capitol and Supreme Court. Speakers included NAACP President & CEO Cornell Brooks, CWA President Chris Shelton, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard, Common Cause President Miles Rapoport, actor Kathleen Turner, and others. With music by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Aztec Sun, the day was an inspiration for all to fight for our democracy.

 

Monday was dedicated to non-violent direct action on the Capitol steps, followed by an advocacy day with congressional offices. Beginning early in the morning at Union Station with nearly 3,000 people, including immigration activists in solidarity, a short ceremony preceded a march directly to the Capitol steps. Despite warnings from the Capitol Police, more than 300 activists, including dozens of high profile leaders, stayed on steps to protest money in politics and Congress’ inaction on voting rights and the Supreme Court vacancy, while demanding a Congress of Conscience. Leaders included Democracy Initiative Chair Larry Cohen, Public Citizen President Rob Weissman, Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard, Every Voice President Nick Nyhart, NAACP President & CEO Cornell Brooks, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, and others.

Their dedication and solidarity led to 306 arrests – a strong statement against Congress and a call to arms for everyone concerned about the future of our democracy.

Following the direct action and led by People for the American Way, more than 150 advocates held 50 meetings with members of Congress including Rep. Capuano, Sen. Kirk, and Sen. Tillis to articulate the vision for strong, healthy democracy.

The movement for democracy is just beginning. People are joining together to fight for the strong democracy our country needs in order for all Americans to have an equal voice. In the coming months, Democracy Initiative endorsers and allies will continue to fight to end the power of money in politics and expand voting rights, while holding Congress accountable. There will be opportunities in states to make a difference in the way people can affect the political process. The Democracy Initiative will be working closely with our partners to build a democracy that is of, by, and for the people.

Thank you for reading this edition of the DI Report and we look forward to continuing our democracy work with you in 2016!

Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Report in your inbox. And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

The DI Report: 2015 Year in Review

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy Holidays!

As the final edition of the DI Report for the year, we would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the tremendous work of the entire Democracy Initiative network. This has been an exciting year as the DI organized our first mobilization, engaged in a winning campaign in Maine to restore fair elections, and completed our message and research project uniting voting rights and money in politics messaging under a democracy frame. These efforts, among others, are propelling us into 2016 and as we build on our successes and fight for a democracy that is of, by, and for the people.

Continue reading for some of our favorites highlights from the past year, and check out this page to see an interactive chronology of the Democracy Initiative.

2015 Annual Meeting

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On Wednesday, December 9th, endorsing organizations of the Democracy Initiative (DI) adopted a four-part strategic action plan for 2016, calling for joint action in states; a major grassroots mobilization; a national education, communications, and outreach strategy; and a strategic strengthening of the growingDI network.

Democracy Initiative organizations are mobilizing this spring bringing together actions originally envisioned by the NAACP and Public Citizen. The spring mobilizations will bridge demands for voting rights and money in politics reform, and working to unite traditionally distinct communities and reform proposals. Americans know there is a problem; it’s time to bring people together to act for change.

Additionally, we are looking to build power in key states where there is organizational capacity and interest. For immediate action, we agreed to work in Maryland and Illinois, with long term interest in Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Mobilizing for Democracy

Americans are demanding change and an equal voice. However, voting and access to elected officials are becoming out of reach to Americans who want their voice heard. The Democracy Initiative is fighting back, building step-by-step and action-by-action a movement of Americans to claim democracy.

Rally in Roanoke, VA

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In June on the 2nd anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, more than 500 hundred environmental, labor, and civil rights activists joined member organizations of the Democracy Initiative and The Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, in Elmwood Park in Roanoke, VA to rally for voting rights and an equal voice for all in our democracy.

Demonstrating our collective passion for justice and our democracy, our community rallied in solidarity across organizations and communities. The Democracy Initiative member organizations turned out hundreds of people, with activists from the environmental, labor, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, and faith communities standing together in a brilliant display of compassion and urgency to show Roanoke and America what democracy looks like. Check out this Storify documenting the event.

America’s Journey for Justice

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As NAACP President & CEO Rev. Cornell William Brooks often remarks, voting is a civic sacrament. This summer, the NAACP with support from member organizations of the Democracy Initiative, embarked on America’s Journey for Justice on a march from Selma, AL, to Washington, DC demanding voting rights and carrying the message that our lives, our votes, our jobs, and our schools matter.

  • 1,000+ participants in the march
  • 1,002 miles in 46 days across 5 states from Alabama to Washington, DC
  • Op-eds from allied voices from DI organizations explaining how the march addressed environmental advocates, union members and democracy activists in addition to those concerned about education and justice featured in local and state publications
  • Nearly 2 million social media impressions from DI organizations on Twitter and Facebook
  • Local events and teach-ins organized by DI organizations along the way that brought in local activists and marchers to learn about voting rights and other critical issues
  • Final Advocacy  Day Rally joined by 1,000+ people at the U.S. Capitol from 27 organizations
  • 200+ visits with Members of Congress and staff about restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act

America’s Journey for Justice demonstrated that together we are more than the sum of our parts. Take a look at this Storify celebrating the culmination of the Journey for Justice arriving in Washington, DC.

Accountable Elections in Maine

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In 1996, Maine passed the historic Clean Elections Act creating a robust public funding system for candidates running for statewide office. At its high point in the 2006 and 2008 elections, 81% of legislative candidates opted into this system, creating one of the most blue-collar legislatures in the country. However, in 2011, the Supreme Court weakened the law and it made it less attractive for candidates to use. The original purpose of the Maine Clean Election Act – fairness, accountability and transparency in elections, along with Mainers’ free speech – was compromised.   

The Democracy Initiative identified a ballot initiative as a strong opportunity to advance a democracy agenda and mobilize key advocates to organize in the state. Profiling  the efforts of CWA and the Sierra Club, the commitment from DI organizations like Every Voice, U.S. PIRG, Friends of the Earth, and others was instrumental in the victory as they committed organizers and advocates to work hand in hand with Mainers for Accountable Elections to canvass the state, knock on doors, and educate voters on the importance of this law. 

Whether it was through the two joint tele-town hall calls with thousands of participants or at the door one-on-one, DI organizations made a difference in Maine. The Democracy Initiative’s efforts were invaluable as we worked together in order to mobilize Mainers to take back control of their elections. 

On Election Day, voters overwhelmingly voted to restore the Clean Elections Act. The Democracy Initiative’s efforts to mobilize labor and environmental organizations on behalf of the campaign demonstrate the power of our coalition and illuminated a path for democracy centered on state-based initiatives. As a result, all Mainers who care about the state can run for office, not just those with a network of wealthy friends and all those elected need to care about voters before wealthy special interests. 

A United Message

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Message and Research Project

The Democracy Initiative Education Fund, in partnership with Demos, and Lake Research conducted public opinion research to equip DI organizations, with a narrative around democracy that speaks to their members. This umbrella message unites voting rights, money in politics, and other issues under the idea of equal voice in our democracy. The project focused on the views of the diverse constituencies that comprise Democracy Initiative organizations including African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, youth, workers, environmentalists, and advocates. 

We need strong protections in our democracy so every voter’s voice is heard, and every voice counts equally. That way we can all have an equal say over the decisions that affect our lives. Otherwise, big money yells loudest, sets the agenda, and rigs the rules in their favor, with tax breaks for the wealthy paid for by cuts in education or health care for the rest of us. We need to strengthen our democracy so that the government works for all of us.

In providing this information to the larger community, we have created an umbrella message that emphasizes the need for a balanced democracy where everyone has an equal voice. We have shared results with a focus group viewing party, post-focus group briefings, and specialized briefings since the research was released in September. This work provides the basis for communicating with activists on these issues, and, in the next year, we will work to ensure that others continue to use this message guidance. In the New Year, we will be working with endorsing organizations and allies to incorporate this messaging into their communications to their members.   

Unity Principles

This year, we worked with money in politics organizations to develop and share a set of Unity Principles which provided a statement of principles to which groups publicly agreed. Supported by more than 150 organizations, the Principles outline five basic ideas:

  • Everyone participates and should have a voice in the decisions affecting their lives;
  • Everyone’s voice is heard, where one person equals one vote, not one dollar equals one vote;
  • Everyone knows who is trying to influence our views and gain influence over our representatives;
  • Everyone plays by common sense rules, where access and influence aren’t determined by the size of your wallet;
  • Everyone is held accountable with elected officials responsible and held accountable to the people.

These principles unify our democracy goals among a diverse cross-section of organizations committed to systemic change and send a strong message to the American people that our government can work for all of us if everyone has an equal voice in the political process.

Mobilizing Together

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Integrating Democracy Work

Essential to our national and state-based work, the Democracy Initiative endorsing organizations share a narrative that unites our work around which organizations, advocates, and activists can coalesce that ties together work on voting rights and money in politics, but also elevates each in new and novel ways that allow for organizations to participate and take action within their capabilities and capacity. Democracy reform is becoming integrated into the work of issue-based groups within the DI who see this work as central to their agenda – whether workers’ rights, climate change, or civil rights, organizations are connecting democracy with these issues in their mission and to their memberships.

The Democracy Initiative’s power correlates directly with the strength of our endorsing organizations. Building a movement is about more than elevating and coordinating their efforts, but leveraging actions, mobilizations, and research toward the common goal of a stronger democracy in which every American has an equal voice in a government of, by, and for the people.

Working toward this, the Sierra Club has organized a periodic meeting with representatives from other environmental organizations, including LCV, NRDC, Greenpeace, Center for Environmental Health, and Food & Water Watch, to discuss and plan democracy engagement and integration. We see this as a model for other sectors, and in addition to her work with this “caucus,” we will look to seed similar conversations with the idea of creating a democracy caucus in other communities.

Fighting Forward on Voting Rights

Voting rights are under attack, and it is time we fight back. The Democracy Initiative has developed model legislation meant to represent the core pieces of an inclusive, pro-voter election system in a state. The package addresses nine specific areas: automatic registration, online registration, early registration, portable registration, pre-registration, same-day registration, rights restoration for previously incarcerated people, transparency requirements, and language assistance requirements. Working with key partners in states, we will be advancing the agenda with the support of legislators and advocates to shift the narrative around voting rights from defense to offense.

Democracy Resources

The Democracy Initiative, in partnership with CWA and Every Voice, published its first report this year, Democracy at a Crossroads: How the One Percent is Silencing our Voices, detailing efforts to consolidate power in the hands of the few through attacks on labor and our democracy. Click here for a four-page summary and stay tuned for details about the formal launch!

Additionally, we have released two resource newsletters this year on money in politics and voting rights, designed to give organizations and their staff a compendium of information to bring them up to speed on the issues and how to stay connected.

Our Vision Remains the Same

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Originally formed as the Democracy Initiative (DI), we have recently established ourselves as a stand-alone 501(c)(3), the Democracy Initiative Education Fund, and a 501(c)(4), the Democracy Initiative. Despite these changes our vision remains the same. We seek a vibrant democracy where everyone can participate fully in the democratic process, every voter has an equal voice, and policymakers are accountable to the people and the public interest.  

Thank you for reading this edition of the DI Report and we look forward to continuing our democracy work with you in 2016!

Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Report in your inbox. And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

The DI Report: On the Ground in Maine Vol. 2: Organizing for Accountable Elections in the Pine Tree State

Monday, November 2, 2015

“We have the opportunity to show the country that getting money out of politics is a moral issue; that ordinary people deserve the opportunity to run for office without having to rely on wealthy donors and special interests.” —Joan Saxe, Sierra Club Maine Chapter

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Joan Saxe (left), Sierra Club Maine Chapter volunteer leader, and a volunteer speaking to Mainers about accountable elections.

Next Tuesday, November 3rdcitizens across the state of Maine will head to the polls and vote on Question 1 to restore and re-establish accountable elections to counteract the role of big money in state races, while putting Mainers in control of their elections and giving them an equal voice in the political process.

The Democracy Initiative recognizes that working to restore Maine’s clean elections could provide a crucial win in our efforts to build a strong, healthy democracy. Working with the Yes on 1 Campaign we recruited Democracy Initiative endorsing organizations to lend their resources to the effort. The Sierra Club answered the call, encouraging their local members and activists to join the tele town hall and enlisted their help with canvassing, organizing, and other activities throughout the state over the last couple of months.

Last week, we spoke with CWA organizer Serina DeWolfe of CWA Local 1400 about her reflections on the work to restore accountable elections in Maine. In this week’s installment of the DI Report, we had the opportunity to speak with Joan Saxe, Sierra Club Maine Chapter volunteer leader about her on-the-ground efforts. Continue reading for Joan’s reflections on the campaign in its final week before the election.

Democracy Initiative (DI): Why are accountable elections important to the Sierra Club? Why do you care about passing the ballot initiative?

Joan Saxe (JS): Fair elections counter big money from fossil fuels, polluters, and lobbyists who all overshadow the interests of real people protecting the environment. Voters need to know where the funds are coming from so they can be better informed. Special interests are able to have outsized control over the legislature, not just on environmental issues, but on all issues that are affecting our citizens. We need to know who is influencing our vote and our elected leaders.

DI: Why do accountable elections matter for our democracy?

JS: Our founding fathers intended for government to be of, by, and for the people, and all citizens must have the opportunity to be heard. We need to know who is paying the bills and hold politicians accountable for their actions. If we have the opportunity to know where campaign money comes from, it makes a huge difference.

More and more, Mainers have been able to run for office representing all citizens, not just big money, which will allows us to have better environmental and health policies. There are great examples where we have been able to pass great legislation on environmental and health issues since 1996, when the first accountable elections bill was passed. We are extremely proud of our citizens’ legislature and ordinary people are able to run as a result. That’s the way it should work.

DI: How does it help your organization to work with other Democracy Initiative organizations on issues like accountable elections in Maine? 

JS: As John Muir once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” and we can apply his strong sense of interconnectedness to building this cross-cutting movement. When we march in New York, we heighten the value of this effort in Maine, and when we pass clean elections in Maine, it will prove to be a model for other states. This is a great opportunity for the Sierra Club to help unite movements across the country. It’s all connected.

DI: How does the campaign in Maine impact other states and America as a whole?

JS: The whole country is watching us – Maine is the model for clean elections. We hear the candidates for president talking about the need for clean elections. Americans are concerned and aware of our crisis. We have the opportunity to show the country that getting money out of politics is a moral issue, that ordinary people deserve the opportunity to run for office without having to rely on wealthy donors and special interests.

 

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The DI Report: ON THE GROUND IN MAINE: Organizing for Accountable Elections in the Pine Tree State

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

 “When we band together for common goals like we have with other Democracy Initiative organizations, America becomes an even better place for middle class Americans.” –Serina DeWolfe, CWA Local 1400

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On November 3rdcitizens across the state of Maine will head to the polls and vote on Question 1 to restore and re-establish accountable elections to counteract the role of big money in state races, while putting Mainers in control of their elections and giving them an equal voice in the political process.

Accountable or clean elections, approved overwhelmingly by Maine voters in 1996, established the first-ever public funding system in the United States for candidates running for a state office in Maine. Elections were decided by the voters, not by wealthy special interests. However, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2011 eliminated the matching fund component, dramatically weakening Maine’s Clean Election Law and making it easier for wealthy special interests to influence the outcome of campaigns. The original purpose of the Maine Clean Election Act – fairness, accountability and transparency in elections, along with Mainers’ free speech – was compromised.   

The Democracy Initiative recognized the campaign to restore Maine’s clean elections as crucial and exemplary of a strong and healthy democracy. Working with the Yes on 1 Campaign we recruited endorsing organizations to lend their resources to the effort. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) was one of the organizations that answered the call, committing two organizers to the campaign to help with canvassing, organizing, and other activities throughout the state.

The Democracy Initiative recently had the opportunity to speak with one of those organizers,  Serina DeWolfe of CWA Local 1400 and the District Vice President in Maine about her organizing efforts on the ground. Below are some of Serina’s reflections on the campaign in its final weeks and its importance to the broader democracy movement.

Democracy Initiative (DI): Why are accountable elections important to the Communications Workers of America?

Serina DeWolfe (SD): The Communications Workers of America prides itself on fighting for the middle class. Accountable elections would bring true democracy back to the election process as mainstream candidates have become so entrenched with lobbyists and special interest groups. They have lost sight of the issues that are important to not only middle class Americans but all Americans. We need to take back our voice in the American political process and vote on issues and not be misled by wealthy special interests.

DI: Why do accountable elections matter to our democracy?

SD: I would pose this question: How do you have a true democracy without accountable elections? Elections won by the most affluent candidates supported by the richest special interest groups are not examples of the democracy that the United States was founded on. There is no true “one person, one vote” when elections are bought by lobbyist groups.

DI: How does it help your organization to work with other Democracy Initiative organizations on issues like accountable elections in Maine?

SD: As CWA likes to say, “When we fight, we win!” We pride ourselves on advocating and representing the issues and struggles faced by the middle class in America and making elections about the issues that the middle class face day-to-day : income inequality, minimum wage, and the high cost of healthcare to name a few. When we band together for common goals like we have with other Democracy Initiative organizations, America becomes an even better place for middle class Americans.

DI: Why do you think accountable elections matter in Maine? In other states?

SD: There is truth to the old slogan “as Maine goes, so goes the nation.” There is a watchful eye on our small, rural state where we pride ourselves on doing what is right. I am confident that Mainers will go to the polls on November 3rd and do the right thing. This is a pivotal referendum question. If Mainers do the right thing by voting for accountable elections, I am confident other states will realize the positive impact this will have on elections throughout the United States and we, the voters, will have our voice back.

As the campaign to restore accountable elections in Maine races toward the finish line, Democracy Initiative organizations like CWA are working hard to turn out every single Mainer to make their voice heard on Election Day. Their efforts on the ground, along with additional partners like Common Cause, Every Voice, Sierra Club, Maine People’s Action, and others are critical to building a true democracy movement and building a government of, by, and for the people.

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Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Report in your inbox. And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

The DI Report: Money in Politics Resources

Monday, September 14, 2015

This special edition of the DI Report is an overview and resource on money in politics to which you can refer and use in your work. While much of this week is focused on the Journey for Justice and voting rights, we are committed to keeping both issues at the center of our democracy reform efforts.

At our December convening last year, groups indicated that they wanted DI to act as a “Democracy Docent,” providing guidance for groups for which democracy has not been a primary focus. This newsletter is meant to fulfill that purpose and this is our second newsletter in the series following our first DI Report: Voting Rights Edition.

This year marks the 5th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case in which it held that political spending is protected under the First Amendment, as well as the first anniversary of McCutcheon, in which the Supreme Court declared aggregate limits on political spending unconstitutional. These decisions, with Citizens United in particular, have transformed the landscape for election related fundraising – a fact most find distressing as poll after poll indicates Americans feel that our elected officials are out of touch with our real needs.

We anticipate you using this newsletter as a starting point for resources to engage your members, supporters, and constituents as we collectively mobilize millions to build a government that fulfills the promise of American democracy – a government of, by, and for the people.

1. Expert Money in Politics Organizations

2. Information and Resources

3. Messaging, Reporters, & Social Media

4. Opportunities for Reform 
  

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1. EXPERT MONEY IN POLITICS ORGANIZATIONS
Within the Democracy Initiative, organizations with an expertise in money in politics are a core component of our network and coalition. Their research, advocacy, and organizing capabilities help provide all of us with the expertise and with the resources necessary to educate, organize and advocate.
 

Democracy Initiative Organizations: 

 

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Other Resource & Advocacy Organizations: 

 

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2. INFORMATION & RESOURCES
This section highlights key reports and resources for the Democracy Initiative network. 

Featured Reports from Democracy Initiative Partners:

Democracy & Elections

  • Across the Aisle
    In the fall of 2014, Free Speech For People released an updated report highlighting more than 100 Republican officials across the country who have called for a 28th Amendment to reclaim our democracy, along with other prominent Republicans who have condemned the Citizens United ruling. [Free Speech For People]
  • Billion Dollar Democracy
    Demos and U.S. PIRG analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers. [Demos & US PIRG]
  • Democracy At Stake 
    It’s no secret that money has dominated American politics for decades or more—and that its grip on our democratic process has never been tighter. [Demos]
  • The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Elections 
    Democracy has at its heart a basic promise: citizens have an equal voice in deciding who represents them. Large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. [Demos]
  • Elections Confidential
    This report describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through “social welfare” non-profits that are really political vehicles and via shell corporations formed as conduits to hide a funder’s identity. [US PIRG & Center for Media and Democracy]
  • The Money Chase
    This report examines the role of money in the 2014 congressional elections from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives, and demonstrates how matching small political contributions with limited public funds can change the campaign landscape for grassroots candidates. [Demos & US PIRG]
  • Super Connected
    Super Connected is a series of reports by Public Citizen that highlights the growing trend of unregulated independent expenditure groups devoted to a single candidate or party. [Public Citizen]
  • Undefeated: “People’s Pledge” Maintains Near Perfect Record at Deterring Unregulated Outside Spending
    The number of candidates proposing variations on the “People’s Pledge” to deter outside groups from spending large sums to influence elections increased dramatically in 2014. [Public Citizen]

Environment and Climate Change

  • Kingpins of Carbon 
    Greenpeace research has shed light on the sources of paralysis, a multi-decade war on democracy by the kingpins of carbon – the coal, oil, and gas industries allied with a handful of self-interested libertarian billionaires. [Greenpeace USA]
  • Polluting our Democracy and our Environment: Dirty Fuels Money in Politics 
    The Sierra Club and Oil Change International connect the amount of money spent by fossil fuel industry to influence elections and the return on investment they receive in the form of subsidies and other anti-regulatory changes in their favor. [Sierra Club & Oil Change International]
  • Silencing Science 
    How Citizens United and Fossil Fuel Campaign Cash Has Silenced Public Debate on Climate Change. [Common Cause]

Race & Money

Transparency & Outside Spending

Newsletters & Clips 

  • Every Voice: Big donors just spent a lot of money on the 2014 election, what will they expect in 2015? Keep track of those stories, news on 2016, election law changes, and more with our daily money in politics newsletter.
  • ReThink Media Echo Chamber: Newsletter featuring topics reverberating in Money in Politics and Fair Courts.
  • Common Cause Democracy Download: Occasional updates on money in politics and voting rights legislation and litigation. 
  • Brennan Center: Newsletter featuring news and updates in the world of money in politics.

Blogs, Listservs & Other Resources

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3. MESSAGING, REPORTERS, & SOCIAL MEDIA

Messaging
Two brand new polling and message projects exploring democracy and money in politics issues have just been completed by the Democracy Initiative and ReThink Media. Join us and the Ford Foundation, Lake Research Partners, Demos, and Topos Partnership next Thursday September 24 at 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at ReThink Media in DC for a double briefing of the freshest research on communicating democracy issues. Lunch will be provided and RSVPs are required for building security. Click here to reserve your spot and stay tuned for more information!

For a comprehensive look at money in politics polling and messaging over the past couple years, please contact Tyler Creighton at ReThink Media for access to their library.

Reporters
The following reporters and journalists are frequent writers about all things money in politics. This list will be helpful in pitching a story or even just figuring out who to follow. Available contact information and Twitter handles are included. Additionally, check out this handy twitter list of top money in politics Reporters from ReThink Media. For a complete database of money in politics reporters, contact Tyler Creighton at ReThink Media.  
 

REBECCA BALLHAUS

National Politics and Campaign Finance

Wall Street Journal

rebecca.ballhaus@wsj.com

202.862.9239

@rebeccaballhaus

 

PAUL BLUMENTHAL

Money in Politics Reporter

Huffington Post

paulblumenthal@huffingtonpost.com

212.652.6400

@PaulBlu

 

ELIZA NEWLIN CARNEY

Political Money & Election Law

Congressional Quarterly

ecarney@cqrollcall.com

202.650.6832

@ElizaRules 

 

RUSS CHOMA

Money in Politics Staff Reporter

Mother Jones

rchoma@motherjones.com

202.347.7958

@russchoma

 

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE

Money in Politics Reporter

New York Times

nconfess@nytimes.com

212.556.1234

@nickconfessore

MATEA GOLD

National Political Reporter

Washington Post

matea.gold@washingtonpost.com

202.334.9301

@mateagold

 

ERIC LICHTBLAU

Money in Politics Political Reporter

New York Times

ericl@nytimes.com

202.862.0396

@EricLichtblau

 

PETER OVERBY

Power, Money, & Influence Correspondent

NPR

poverby@npr.org

202.513.2264

@peteroverby

 

FREDREKA SCHOUTEN 

Money in Politics Reporter

USA Today

fschouten@usatoday.com

202.906.8158

@fschouten

 

JON SCHWARZ 

Money in Politics

Senior Editor

The Intercept

jon.schwarz@theintercept.com

@tinyrevolution 


 

Social Media
Here are some hashtags to follow on social media, keeping you up to date on money in politics topics.
 

#GetMoneyOut – General hashtag 

#BetterPolitics – Executive Order Campaign to disclose contributions by federal contractors 

#FightBigMoney – New general hashtag pertaining to the 2016 election 

#DemocracyForAll – Constitutional amendment campaign 

#SECDisclose – SEC corporate disclosure campaign 

#NHRebellion – New Hampshire money in politics campaign
 

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4. POLICY & OPPORTUNITIES FOR REFORM
These categories for reform encompass the scope of the work on money in politics nationally and in states. There are already many efforts in states to bring these reforms to fruition. Please reach out and stay tuned for more information on ways your organization can get involved!

Key Federal Legislation & Campaigns

Featured State & Local Legislation and Campaigns

  • New York Fair Elections: Instead of accepting a handful of huge donations from corporations, lobbyists and the rich, candidates would raise a large number of small contributions from everyday voters, because each time a small-dollar donor makes a contribution, it’s matched by public funds.
  • Mainers for Accountable Elections: The ballot initiative will give Mainers the opportunity to restore the Maine Clean Elections Act, supporting small donor contributions with a matched funds component to ensure that candidates have adequate resources to compete against big money.
  • Honest Elections Seattle: Campaign for the public financing (I-122) shines a light on dark money in our elections by restricting campaign donations from city contractors, regulated businesses, and their lobbyists, by speeding up disclosure of campaign donations, and by setting strict lower contributions limits.
  • Fair Elections Maryland: Fair Elections Maryland is a joint project of Common Cause Maryland and Progressive Maryland to establish small donor funding for local and statewide elections. Taking a county-by-county approach, Montgomery County has successfully enacted small donor funding, with the Howard County campaign ready to launch in the coming months.
  • NH Rebellion: The New Hampshire Rebellion is a cross-partisan movement of citizens mobilizing the public and presidential candidates to declare their independence from big money in politics by denouncing outside spending and committing to fundamental reforms. 

    Please note: Although this newsletter is expansive, it is by no means exhaustive and we may have left out important tools and resources. If you feel we missed something, please contact me atstrambley@democracyinitiative.org and I can incorporate your suggestions into future editions.


    Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

    Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Report in your inbox.And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

    The DI Report: Netroots Nation 2015

    Voter Rights Restoration and the Move Toward a Growing Democracy: How We Get There
    Tuesday, July 21, 2015

    The Democracy Initiative just returned from Netroots Nation in hot and sunny Phoenix, Arizona where we presented a joint panel with Common Cause on felon re-enfranchisement, voting rights, money in politics, and the growing democracy movement. This was an amazing opportunity to showcase the work of the Democracy Initiative and our partners to build a movement of millions of people across the country, ensuring an equal voice in our democracy.

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    Left to right: Matt Singer (Bus Federation), Tova Wang (CWA), State Senator Jamie Raskin(MD), Desmond Meade (Florida Rights Restoration Coalition), Nicole Austin-Hillery (Brennan Center for Justice), Elias Isquith (Salon), Greg Moore (NAACP National Voter Fund), and Allegra Chapman (Common Cause).

    Jointly moderated by the NAACP National Voter Fund’s Greg Moore and Common Cause’s Allegra Chapman, the panel explored how millions across the country are currently disenfranchised without the right to vote, despite having paid their societal debts, returned to greater society, and immersed themselves in their communities – by working and paying taxes.  

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    Tova Wang (CWA) discussing our democracy at a crossroads and how we are building a movement to take it back!

    Restoring their right to vote and reducing the influence of money in politics at the state and national level brings us closer toward the ideal of a truly representative democracy. So too does a growing movement by activists and individuals across the nation to move away from special interests – that take government out of the hands of the people – and toward reforms and measures that will ensure government is truly of, by, and for the people and that all citizens have an equal voice in our democracy.

    Tova Wang, Director of Democracy Programs at CWA discussed the Demos report Stacked Deck: How the Bias in our Big Money Political System Undermines Racial Equity, articulating how the distortions of money in politics also hold back the policies that would advance racial equity and fulfill the promise of a multiracial democracy.  


    Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

    Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click hereto receive the DI Report in your inbox.

    And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

    The DI Report: Democracy in Action: Rally in Roanoke!

    Thursday, June 25, 2015

    Yesterday, on the 2nd anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision which gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, more than 500 hundred environmental, labor, and civil rights activists joined member organizations of the Democracy Initiative and the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, and journeyed to Elmwood Park in Roanoke, VA to rally for voting rights and an equal voice for all in our democracy. 

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    Demonstrating our collective passion for justice and our democracy, our community rallied in solidarity across organizations and communities. The Democracy Initiative member organizations turned out hundreds of people en masse, with activists from the environmental, labor, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, and faith communities standing together in a brilliant display of compassion and urgency to show Roanoke and America what democracy looks like.

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    The energy all afternoon was tremendous, and the hundreds of passionate voting rights supporters celebrated alongside a packed program of influential speakers including Democracy Initiative Chair Larry Cohen, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights President Wade Henderson, Sierra Club National President Aaron Mair, NAACP President & CEO Cornell William Brooks, Common Cause President Miles Rapoport, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, SEIU Executive Vice President Rocio Sáenz, Jobs With Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Director of Public Policy Tanya Clay House, NAACP VA State Conference Chair Carmen Taylor, Norfolk Federation of Teachers President Tom Calhoun, NAACP National Voter Fund Executive Director Greg Moore, National Action Network Executive Director Janaye Ingram, Javonte McNear of the NAACP VA Youth and College Division, NAACP NC State Conference President Rev. William Barber, People for the American Way Director of African American Religious Affairs Rev. Leslie Malachi, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC Director of Census and Voting Programs Terry Ao Minnis, and many more.

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    Joining the chorus, 23 Democracy Initiative member organizations issued statements in support of the rally and called for a Congressional hearing on the Voting Rights Act. We ruled the day in social media, with#RestoretheVRA trending on Twitter. Activists, organizations, and attendees tweeted up a storm – check out the Storify for a wonderful synopsis of the day’s activities

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    The rally was covered extensively in local and national news, with a great segment appearing on MSNBC’s Ed Show with Larry Cohen elevating the call for voting rights to a nationwide audience. Additional coverage was featured on local affiliates for NPRFoxABC, and NBC

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    A special thanks goes out to all the organizations who turned out their members and activists for the long bus ride to Roanoke: AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Alliance for Justice, Amalgamated Transit Union, America Votes, American Postal Workers Union, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Campaign for America’s Future, Common Cause, CWA, Demos, Every Voice, Greenpeace, Jobs With Justice, Lawyers’ Committee, League of Conservation Voters, National Action Network, NAACP, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National LGBTQ Task Force, National People’s Action, People for the American Way, Project Vote, Public Citizen, ReThink Media, SEIU, Sierra Club, and United States Student Association.  

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    Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

    Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Report in your inbox.

    And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

    The DI Report: Voting Rights Resources

    Monday, April 25, 2016

    Core to the Democracy Initiative’s mission is to defend and expand voting access nationally and in states. This special edition of the DI Report is meant to be an overview and resource on voting rights to which you can refer and use in your work. At our December convening, groups indicated that they wanted DI to act as a “Democracy Docent,” providing guidance for groups for which democracy has not been a primary focus. This newsletter is meant to fulfill that purpose and we expect to produce a similar newsletter on money in politics as well as update this newsletter in the future.

    This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the 2nd Anniversary of Shelby Co. v. Holder, the Supreme Court decision that gutted the landmark legislation. We aspire to a democracy that is of, by and for the people and a crucial piece of that puzzle is ensuring that the voices of Americans are heard at the polls. We expect you can use this newsletter as a starting point for resources to engage your members, supporters, and constituents in a critical and landmark year in the fight for voting rights.

    Please note: Although this newsletter is expansive, it is by no means exhaustive and we may have left out important tools and resources. If you feel we missed something, please contact me at strambley@democracyinitiative.org and I can incorporate your suggestions into future editions.

    1. Expert Voting Rights Organizations

    2. Information & Resources

    3. Key Reporters & Social Media

    4. Opportunities for Reform  

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    1. Expert Voting Rights Organizations

    Within the Democracy Initiative, expert voting rights organizations are a core component of our network and coalition. Their research, advocacy, and organizing capabilities help provide the Democracy Initiative and our allies with the resources necessary to expand and defend voting access nationally and in states. Additionally, organizations allied with our work are invaluable to our reform efforts.

    Democracy Initiative Organizations

     

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    Allied Organizations 

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    2. Information & Resources

    This section highlights key reports and resources from the Democracy Initiative network and voting rights community.

    Select Research Reports:

    • The Presidential Commission on Election AdministrationAlso known as the Bauer-Ginsburg Report and established by Executive Order in 2013, it sought to identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience.
       
    • Evaluating & Implementing the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in Ten Swing StatesCommon Cause's Stephen Spaulding and Allegra Chapman parsed the PCEA, seeking to lift up its recommendations and evaluate its implementation.
       
    • Election Reforms and Voter Turnout Among Low Propensity VotersA voting rights report by Tova Andrea Wang on various election reforms and their effects on voter turnout.
       
    • Millions to the PollsDemos report outlining sixteen policies and practices that would make registration more accessible and seamless, lead to more effective and efficient election administration, and strengthen protections for voters’ rights.
       
    • National Commission on Voting Rights: In response to the Supreme Court gutting key Voting Rights Act protections, the National Commission on Voting Rights, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, conducted nationwide hearings to collect testimony about recent voting discrimination and election administration challenges and opportunities across all fifty states.
       
    • State of Voting 2014This Brennan Center report details the new voting restrictions put in place over the past few years, the laws that were in place for the first time in 2014, and the major lawsuits that could affect this year’s elections.
       
    • National Conference of State Legislatures Elections Legislation DatabaseThis comprehensive database tool lets you search state legislation related to the administration of elections introduced in 2011 through 2015. 

    Newsletters & Clips:

    • Fair Elections Legal NetworkTwice-daily state and national voting rights clips.
       
    • Brennan CenterFrequent newsletters to keep you up to date on voting rights around the country.
       
    • Project Vote: Monthly newsletter summarizing key legislation, voting rights news, and other vital updates on issues from around the country.
       
    • The Voting News: Produced by Verified Voting, this collection of voting rights news from around the country is a valuable resource to track recent and ongoing efforts in states.
       
    • Election LineNonpartisan, non-advocacy clearinghouse for election reform news and information.
       
    • The CanvassFrom the National Conference of State Legislatures, this is a newsletter designed to synthesize data, legislative practices, and insight into an executive summary for legislators and key staff.

    Blogs, Listservs & Other Resources:

    • StrikeforceStrikeforce is a weekly conference call with local, state and national organizations across the country to discuss restrictive and enfranchising voting laws, share best practices, resources, talking points, legislative strategies and ways for groups to engage in the work. Additionally, Strikeforce is a listserv for participants to share information and resources. You can join Strikeforce by emailing Chris Melody Fields at cfields@lawyerscommittee.org.
       
    • Election Protection Coalition: The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. During elections, volunteers enter data and information into Our Vote Live, an interactive environment painting the most comprehensive picture of election irregularities from the perspective of the voter available anywhere.
       
    • Rick Hasen Election Law Blog: Rick Hasen, a law and politics professor at UC Irvine, authors this blog covering the law of politics and politics of law, specifically covering election law, campaign finance, legislation, voting rights, redistricting, and the Supremem Court nomination process.
       
    • Ohio State University: Moritz School of Law Election Law CenterElection Law at Moritz is a nonpartisan research, education, and outreach program conducted by faculty and staff of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. As a center of election law expertise, Election Law at Moritz is a resource for lawyers, academics and educators, journalists, policymakers and other civic leaders, election administrators and citizens interested in election law issues.
       
    • Institute for Southern StudiesFounded by veterans of the civil rights movement, the Institute for Southern Studies has established a national reputation as an essential resource for grassroots activists, community leaders, scholars, policy makers and others working to bring lasting social and economic change to the region.
       
    • National Association of Secretaries of StateNASS serves as a medium for the exchange of information between states and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy.  The association has key initiatives in the areas of elections and voting and state business services, as well as several well-established awards programs.

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    2. Key Reporters & Social Media

     

    Key Reporters 

    The following reporters and journalists are frequent writers about all things voting rights. This list will be helpful in pitching a story or even just figuring out who to follow. Available contact information and Twitter handles are included.

    Ari Berman

    Contributing Writer, 

    The Nation 

    ari@thenation.com

    @ariberman

    Ryan Reilly

    Justice Reporter, 

    The Huffington Post

    ryan.reilly@huffingtonpost.com     

    212.652.6400

    @ryanjreilly

    Brentin Mock

    Justice Editor, 

    The Grist

    bmock@icloud.com

    @brentinmock

    Martha Moore

    National News Reporter, 

    USA Today

    mmoore@usatoday.com

    212.715.5477

    @USATMoore

    Jamelle Bouie

    Writer, Washington Bureau,

    Slate

    jamelle.bouie@slate.com

    202.261.1310

    @jbouie

    Eugene Robinson

    Associate Editor & Columnist, 

    The Washington Post

    eugene.robinson@washpost.com

    202.334.5306

    @Eugene_Robinson

    Zachary Roth

    MSNBC

    zachary.roth@nbcuni.com

    212.664.4444

    @zackroth

    Greg Sargent

    The Plum Line, 

    The Washington Post

    greg.sargent@washpost.com

    202.334.6000

    @ThePlumLineGS

    Social Media

    Here are a handful of hashtags to follow on social media, keeping you up to date on trending voting rights topics.

    #VRA4Today

    #VotingRights

    #ElectionProtection

    #NewMotorVoter

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    4. Policy & Opportunities for Reform

     

    Key Federal Voting Rights Legislation

    • Voting Rights Amendment Act: A bipartisan bill introduced on January 16, 2014 in the last Congress, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (H.R.3899/S.1945), includes many elements of an effective approach. A new version is expected to be introduced in the coming months. For specifics, please see the Advancement Project and Leadership Conference's summaries and stay tuned for more information on the forthcoming bill.
       
    • Voter Empowerment Act: Originially introduced by Rep. John Lewis in 2013 and reintroduced in the 114th Congress this bill aims to increase accessibility, accountability, and integrity in the electoral process. Key components include modernizing voter registration efforts with reforms like online, same-day, and automatic voter registration. Additionally, it seeks to to remove practices that interfere with a person’s right to cast a ballot. The Brennan Center has a good summary here, and check out this fact sheet and section-by-section summary.
       
    • Democracy Restoration Act: This bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Ben Cardin, seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to the 4.4 million disenfranchised Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community, but are still denied the right to vote despite having paid their debt to society. Be sure to check out the Brennan Center summary and fact sheet for more information.
       
    • Right to Vote Constitutional Amendment: Introduced by Reps. Keith Ellison and Mark Pocan, this proposed amendment would establish an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Take a look atFairVote's bill summary for more information.

    Opportunities for Reform

    These categories for reform encompass the scope of the work on voting rights nationally and in states. There are already many efforts in states to bring these reforms to fruition. Please reach out or stay tuned for more information on ways your organization can involved!

    Additionally, take a look at Project Vote's new Spring 2015 Legislative Threats and Opportunities for a detailed look at the voting rights landscape. 

    • Re-Enfranchisement of Previously Incarcerated Citizens: According to the Sentencing Project, nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement is an obstacle to participation in democratic life which is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in 1 of every 13 African Americans unable to vote. Project Vote has a great background primer on the issue andAdvancement Project has been heavily involved in this effort in Virginia. Current legislative examples are ongoing in Maryland and Minnesota.
       
    • Voter ID Expansion and Repeal: Every voter should demonstrate that they are who they say they are before voting. That form of proof should not include restrictive documentation requirements like overly burdensome photo ID or redundant proof of citizenship requirements that serve to block millions of eligible American citizens from voting. Check out the Brennan Center's voter ID page for more information.
       
    • Vote by Mail/No Excuse Absentee: Convenience voting, defined as access to voting at a time and place of the voter’s choosing, has grown exponentially in the United States within the last two decades. A majority of states now permit “no-fault” or “no excuse” absentee voting, early in person voting, and vote-by-mail (VBM), and it is estimated that approximately one-third of all voters in the 2008 general election took advantage of some form of early voting. Learn more from Project Vote.
       
    • Early Voting: Early voting provides a means for eligible voters to cast their ballots at a time and location other than in person on Election Day. Visit this explainer from Demos to learn more about the different types of early voting.
       
    • Automatic/Universal Registration (New Motor Voter): Automatic registration shifts the burden of voter registration from the individual to the state. States could automatically register eligible voters to vote at any opportunity where government agencies are in a position to verify a person’s residence and eligibility. Individuals could decline to register and protections would be built in to ensure only eligible citizens are registered. Data from the USPS, DMV, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other agencies could be used to generate voter lists, and automatically update voter registrations of existing voters whenever they move. This was recently enacted in Oregon and introduced in California. Check out Demos' explainer in their report, Millions to the Polls, for more information. 
       
    • Pre-Registration: States with pre-registration laws enable young people to register as future voters, even if they won’t turn 18 before Election Day.  Voters are then automatically registered once they turn 18. Allowing future voters to pre-register before they turn 18 — for example, when they first get a driver’s license — is an important policy to ensure that every voter is registered and able to vote as soon as she is eligible. Click here for more information from the Brennan Center.
       
    • Online Registration: Like many other ways that people use the Internet, voters with access to an online voter registration system can check and update their registration status, as well as check their voting location. Using a computer to update existing voter registrations—to change an address, for example—is particularly easy and efficient. Demos explored this in their report, Millions to the Polls.
       
    • Same/Election Day Registration: Same Day Registration (SDR) allows eligible voters to register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day. Depending on the state, this one-stop process for registering and voting may be offered on Election Day, during the early voting period, or both. Click here to read more about this from Demos.

    Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

    Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Report in your inbox.

    And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

    The DI Report: The DI's 3rd Annual Convening, 5th Anniversary of Citizens United, And Looking Ahead

    Monday, February 23, 2015

    Welcome to the first DI Report of the new year, it has been a busy and productive time! Since our last edition, the Democracy Initiative brought together 220 leaders of DI organizations and other groups in our largest and most dynamic annual Convening to date last December. Building off of the priorities set at the Convening, we have launched a comprehensive and coordinated planning process to set priorities and plans for 2015 and 2016 and helped organize a national day of action around the 5th anniversary of Citizens United. Keep reading to learn more.

    Democracy-Initiative-0.jpgLooking Ahead

    Coming out of December’s Convening, we promised to let you know what we are planning for the coming year.  Building on the consensus that emerged from leaders and key activists about where the Democracy Initiative should focus its efforts in the year ahead, we are planning our work around three strategic categories: 

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    Left: Sarita Gupta (Jobs With Justice) outlines her commitment to the DI.
    Right: Stacey Long Simmons (National LGBTQ Task Force) votes on potential 2015 issue priorities.

    • National days of action: Key dates throughout the year, such as last month’s anniversary of Citizens United and this year’s upcoming 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, are opportunities to organize Democracy Initiative partners, allies, and activists around voting rights and money in politics. The strength and purpose of the DI lies in the millions of activists in our member organizations that are seeking to build a stronger, healthier democracy. Harnessing that power is the key and specific days of action give us the structure and framework to build around.
    • Place-based organizing: Whether money in politics or voting rights, there are myriad opportunities to lead and support on-the-ground efforts to empower voters and make their voices heard. We are already looking at specific opportunities to support automatic registration in Oregon, fair elections in Maryland, and renewed efforts in Delaware for election-day voter registration. These are just a sample, but there is clearly an appetite for reform across the country and we need to begin to seed the sense that change can happen in victories across the country.  And we need to find places where each change can build on the last, whether it is a change to how campaigns are financed, or how people vote.   
    • Guiding membership organizations to engage in democracy reform: We know one of the key challenges for DI member organizations – and for the democracy movement broadly – is to how to connect with and mobilize millions of our members and activists in the fight to give true meaning to the promise of our democracy. The DI’s messaging project is focused precisely on meeting that challenge. We will be developing specific communications tools and materials for DI partners and to both sound the alarm on the attacks on our democracy and champion meaningful solutions to the threats imperiling our democracy. 

    The Convening made clear that these three outcomes are essential for the Democracy Initiative’s continued growth and success. We will share more detailed plans shortly for our work together in 2015 and 2016. We enthusiastically welcome your feedback and ideas. Please contact Marissa Brown (mbrown@democracyinitiative.org) with any thoughts or suggestions.

    5th Anniversary of Citizens United

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    January 21st, 2015 marked the 5th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, unleashing a massive onslaught of corporate and mega-wealthy donor money on our political system. As our first national day of action of the year, Democracy Initiative partners and allies coordinated multiple activities and events to fire up activists and educate the public at large about the devastating consequences of this decision.  

    There were more than 60 events in 50 cities and towns across the country, with thousands demonstrating nationwide on a cold winter day. The flagship event in front of the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC gathered a large crowd of activists and supporters. Present at the event were Common Cause, Sierra Club, NAACP, Greenpeace USA, CWA, Public Campaign, Every Voice, ATU, APWU, Public Citizen, People for the American Way, US PIRG, Jobs With Justice, Free Speech for People, and Alliance for Justice.

    Other efforts included:

    After months of planning, all of this work demonstrated the power of our coalition and activists, collectively fighting back as billionaires and corporations continue to buy our government at the expense of hardworking Americans. 

    DI Strategic Convening: Blueprint for Action to Restore Our Democracy
    On December 11th and 12th, the Democracy Initiative hosted its third annual convening, bringing together more than 200 leaders and activists from many diverse organizations and advocacy backgrounds for a discussion and opportunity to collaborate on some of the most important issues facing our democracy today.  It was the biggest convening by far, and the room remained packed when the conference concluded on its second day.

    Launching the two-day conference was a collaborative meeting with the leaders of DI organizations. With a warm welcome by CWA President Larry Cohen and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Democracy Initiative Executive Director Marissa Brown and Common Cause President Miles Rapoport led a discussion on what has been accomplished to date and the potential strategic directions for Democracy Initiative and choices about potential campaigns and priorities. As noted, this was the largest gathering of organizational leaders since DI’s founding and provided a great opportunity for face-to-face discussion to set priorities and how organizations can use their strengths and infrastructure to advance a democracy agenda in the coming year and beyond.

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    Left: Larry Cohen (CWA) 
    Right: Michael Brune (Sierra Club)

    As this meeting of “principals” concluded, the second and longer part of the conference was kicked off with a dynamic joint speech by Greenpeace USA’s new Executive Director, Annie Leonard, and the NAACP’s new President & CEO, Cornell William Brooks (below left). Together, they synthesized the guidance from the morning leaders meeting and set the stage on what to expect at the Convening.

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    Wendy Weiser (above right), Brennan Center’s Democracy Program Director, then took the stage for a presentation on the lay of the land for advancing a democracy agenda. Addressing the advance of restrictive voting laws passed since 2010, she then outlined a defensive and affirmative agenda for both protecting and expanding voting rights.

    The first breakout session commenced with opportunities for conference participants to participate in any of four groups:

    • The Road to a Constitutional Amendment – A discussion on how the amendment campaign can take further steps forward in the next two years and how it can positively impact other organizing efforts.
    • Advancing Voting Rights – A discussion on expanding voting rights, modernizing state voting systems, and restoring felon voting rights.
    • Big Money Tips the Scales of Justice – How judicial elections undermining the independence of our state courts.
    • Many Voices, One Chorus – This was a presentation by Lake Research’s Senior Partner, David Mermin, on the Democracy Initiative’s ongoing large-scale polling and research project. Aimed at developing umbrella message materials for DI organizations on democracy, David provided an update on what we have learned so far through the first focus groups and what organizations can expect in the months ahead.

     

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    Left: Slide from the Lake Research Partners presentation on DI message project 
    Right: Jodeen Olguin-Tayler of Demos.

    The conference reconvened for a presentation and panel discussion on the new Stacked Deck Report led by Demos Counsel Adam Lioz, and Director of Advocacy Jodeen Olguin-Tayler. Their passionate presentations on how a political agenda driven by the donor class exacerbates economic and racial inequities and undermine the fundamental principles of our democracy were truly moving and underscored the importance of democratic reform.

    The next day continued with additional breakout sessions and working groups:

    • Think Nationally, Act Locally – Focused on working locality by locality to build for public financing systems that empower small donors.
    • Fighting back in the States – Highlighted recent campaigns and explore state-level opportunities for efforts to protect and even increase access to the polls.
    • Mobilizing Millions – Strategized about how to seize opportunities for collective engagement in 2015 in the money in politics and voting rights fields nationally and in states.  
    • Redistricting – Focus on reforms that will create districts drawn to reflect community interests.
    • Lifting the Corporate Veil – How we will win fights to force disclosure of corporate political and lobbying spending.
    • Moving Forward on Voting Rights Step by Step – Building campaigns in states to move same-day registration.

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    Breakout sessions during both days of the conference.

    The conference concluded with a packed house as Greg Moore, the Democracy Initiative’s Senior Strategist, and Courtney Hight, the Sierra Club’s Democracy Program Director, led a collaborative discussion and debrief session on the Democracy Initiative’s next steps. Leaders and participants alike described the inspiration they drew from the conference, noting the impressive breadth of our coalition and the clarity that was present in developing a broad program to enact the changes that will make our government of, by, and for the people.


    Thank you for tuning in to this edition of the DI Report. Other publications and materials will follow in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned!

    Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click hereto receive the DI Report in your inbox.

    And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!

    The DI Report: Election Protection, Democracy For All Amendment, Fair Elections

    Tuesday, November 25, 2014

    This year and through the election, Democracy Initiative partners and allies came together and intensified efforts to protect our democracy, demonstrating the strength of our unified mission and goals. Many organizations, whose primary mission is elsewhere, were engaged in key efforts across the country. Volunteers stepped up to monitor the polls, we saw the culmination of years of effort with a vote on a Constitutional Amendment on the Senate floor with majority support, and new efforts in counties and states to enact fair elections were passed. 

    Keep reading to learn about our recent work.

    Citizen Poll Monitors in the Wake of Shelby County v. Holder

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    This fall, the Democracy Initiative and our allies supported on-the-ground, non-partisan citizen poll monitoring. For 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has stood as a bulwark against efforts to limit voting, but in the aftermath ofShelby County v. Holder, the absence of key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act have left many communities vulnerable to discriminatory voting rules and legislation. We saw it as critical that we engage in efforts to record and report what actually happened in this election.

    On October 15th, the Democracy Initiative and our partners hosted a Tele Town Hall with thousands of activists to recruit non-partisan poll monitors in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Speakers described the situation, explained what poll monitors would do and asked for volunteers.   The call’s 13,000 participants learned about the issues and volunteered to participate adding 150 additional poll monitors to aid local efforts. Partnering with Common Cause, NAACP, and the State Voices network that coordinated the on-the-ground operations in conjunction with the Election Protection coalition coordinated by the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, we recruited these volunteers from among members and activists from Public Citizen, Sierra Club, CWA, National LGBTQ Task Force, and NAACP. The volunteers were recruited from communities that were likely to face problems at the polls and observed the polling locations for instances of intimidation, disenfranchisement, and other abnormalities.

    The Election Protection hotline received more than 18,000 calls on Election Day from poll monitors and other concerned voters requesting direct assistance, a 40% increase from 2010. With more than 2,000 legal and grassroots volunteers, the hotline provided a nonpartisan resource for voters with questions and problems, the majority of which came from Texas, Georgia, and Florida. In 2015 we will continue to work with our partners to expand the network of volunteers supporting voting rights across the country.

    Democracy for All Constitutional Amendment

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    In the wake of the Supreme Court’s erosion of long-standing laws to regulate money in politics, the Democracy Initiative worked with a broad coalition comprised of internal partners and other allies to build nationwide support for a proposed constitutional amendment, giving Congress the renewed authority to regulate the ever increasing amount of money flooding our political process.  

    Democracy Initiative partners, led by Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and others have galvanized grassroots support across the country by organizing around recent Senate hearings with rallies, in-district meetings with Members of Congress, and an editorial and letter writing campaign nationwide featuring pieces authored by leading progressives. The Democracy Initiative worked with the coalition to amplify high profile and unusual voices in support of reform.  Ultimately,  op-eds were featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roanoke Times, Springfield News-Leader, Los Angeles Daily News, Portland Press-Herald, and Roll Call among many others.

    In addition to the op-ed campaign, rallies, events, and other activities were held nationwide demonstrating a strong commitment to the movement from activists. Here is a synopsis:

    • 3.2 million+ petition signatures delivered
    More than two dozen DI partners and other allies reached out their member lists, urging them to sign the petition. Led by People for the American Way, many groups including the Sierra Club, NAACP, CWA, and LCV contributed heavily in this effort to engage and mobilize our membership base. 

    • 15,000+ phone calls to Senators
    Thanks in large part to CWA toll-free number, the coalition generated more than 15,000 calls to Senators’ offices in the week leading up to the vote—an average of 300 calls per Senate office.  

    • In-district events
    To tap into the energy leading up to this pivotal vote, in-district events were held at Senators’ offices, organized in large part by Public Citizen. Partners encouraged participation through their member lists and the events had solid attendance across the board, from a small spirited event in Alaska at Senator Murkowski’s office, to a large rally in Chicago at Senator Kirk’s office, and a marching band that showed up to help provide support for the event in Portsmouth, NH at Senator Ayotte’s office. Media turned out for these events and the five remaining Democrats who had not cosponsored the Democracy for All amendment all made commitments to vote for it in large part as a result of these events – four of them putting out public statements directly mentioning the events and the impact on their decision.

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    Montgomery County Fair Elections
    On September 30th, the Montgomery County Council passed Bill 16-14, a landmark fair elections law empowering small donors. Specifically, the law allows candidates to raise low-dollar donations from individuals in their district to qualify for matching funds. Once a candidate meets the threshold to qualify, donations of $150 or less are matched with public funds, with smaller donations receiving a higher match. In exchange, candidates agree to turn down large donations from special interests. 

    Montgomery County is Maryland’s most populous county, home to more than 1 million residents. The bill’s passage is a major victory for fair elections advocates and is the first passed by a local government in Maryland since the state legislature permitted changes to campaign finance law in 2012.

    Common Cause Maryland and MD PIRG were heavily involved on the ground with support from national organizations such as Every Voice. The Democracy Initiative released statements of 11 DI partners, ensuring diverse voices from non-traditional allies in labor, environment, and civil rights organizations were raised in support of this momentous achievement.

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    Jeff Clements Book Signing and Reception
    On Constitution Day, September 17, the Democracy Initiative along with American Constitution Society, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Demos, Free Speech for People, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club hosted a reception and book-signing featuring Jeff Clements, author of Corporations Are Not People. At the event, both Larry Cohen and Jeff Clements addressed the attendees, thanking and encouraging their continued enthusiasm and dedication to fight corporate personhood. Jeff took questions from crowd, many of whom were activists and eager to share their passion for an equal voice in politics.

     

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    Fix the Senate Now
    The Fix the Senate Now coalition, a project of the Democracy Initiative, has continued its work on Senate rules reform, advocating for sensible changes to the rules governing the U.S. Senate to end gridlock and allow the institution to meet some of our country’s greatest challenges.  The changes made to Senate rules at the end of last year have enabled the Senate to finally confirm several judicial nominees, but many executive branch nominees remain caught in the gridlock that marks this Senate as one of the least productive in history. After the election we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that the Senate is doing its job and confirming the remaining nominees.  

    New Convening Member and Leadership 
    The Democracy Initiative would like to welcome Common Cause, joining the Sierra Club, CWA, NAACP, and Greenpeace as the DI’s newest convening member of the coalition! We look forward to working more closely as we fight to restore our democracy and political equality in states and across the country. 

    In addition to Common Cause becoming a new convening member, NAACP and Greenpeace have announced new leadership at their organizations. The NAACP National Board of Directors announced its selection of attorney Cornell William Brooks to be the Association’s next National President & CEO and will become the 18th person to oversee operations at the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization in its 105-year history. Greenpeace announced their new Executive Director, Annie Leonard, who began her career at Greenpeace International in 1988 and is returning now to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together. 

    New Democracy Initiative Members!
    The Democracy Initiative continues to expand, as more organizations recognize the growing democracy movement and its essential role in achieving our collective goals. We have now reached 50 organizations and count the following among our new members:   

     

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    Thank you again for supporting the Democracy Initiative and reading our newsletter. Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. If you are not already a subscriber, click here to receive the DI Reportin your inbox.

    And please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) and like us on Facebook!