The DI Report

The DI Report: Shelby County, Constitutional Amendment, CWA Legislative Conference, & Delaware

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This summer, the Democracy Initiative continued to fight for our democracy and engage activists around the country to stand up for our future. The stakes have never been higher as powerful interests are spending unprecedented amounts in campaign contributions and the health of our voting rights remains tenuous in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and new laws implemented since the last election that circumscribe the ability of many to vote.  

Anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder and the Voting Rights Amendment Act 

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June 25th marked the one year anniversary of Shelby Co. v. Holder, in which the Roberts Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that protected voters in places with a history and record of voting discrimination, ruling that Congress must update the law to protect citizens' right to vote. 

Introduced earlier this year, the Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 3899 and S. 1495) seeks to update the VRA, but so far has received limited support from members of Congress.  Seeking to build support, Democracy Initiative allies participated in a rally on the Capitol grounds following the Senate hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). This was the first and only hearing the voting rights legislation has received so far.

Democracy Initiative organizations including CWA, NAACP, AFT, Sierra Club, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP LDF, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Alliance for Justice and US Student Association participated in the rally and heard from members including House Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about the need for national action to protect voting rights.

Throughout June and July, the Democracy Initiative also mobilized citizens to contact their elected leaders to urge passage of the VRAA.  With the help of the NAACP, NAACP National Voter Fund, and the Communications Workers of America, the Democracy Initiative was able to organize nearly 1,200 local activists and concerned voters to call the offices of Senators Thad Cochran (R-MI) and Dean Heller (R-NV), in addition to Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Howard Coble (R-NC), and Doug Collins (R-GA), urging them to pass the VRAA.

The Democracy Initiative organized a Thunderclap on the anniversary of the Shelby County decision with the message: “Now is the time for Congress to fix the VRA and protect our right to vote!” That message was sent by more than 100 supporters and reached 638,754 individuals across the country.  

Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United 

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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 is working to build nationwide support for a proposed constitutional amendment to give 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 is also working with the coalition to amplify unusual voices in support of reform.  Recent op-eds have been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roanoke Times, Springfield News-LeaderWisconsin Journal-SentinelLos Angeles Daily News, Portland Press-Herald, and Roll Call among many others.

This campaign unites Americans around that central idea that this is a democracy of, by and for the people, and that all our voices should be heard.

Democracy Initiative Panel at the CWA Legislative Conference 

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This May, CWA hosted their 2014 Legislative-Political and Movement Building Conference in Washington, DC to strategize about how we move forward together on the issues we care about and were joined by CWA activists, leaders, and partners from 42 organizations.

More than 100 participants from partner groups and more than 500 CWA members attended the conference, spoke on the issues, and helped present at 17 workshops, including a panel hosted by the Democracy Initiative, “Redistricting and the National Popular Vote.” The Democracy Initiative’s Executive Director Marissa Brown moderated the panel featuring Dan Vicuña, Common Cause National Redistricting Coordinator, Scott Drexel, National Popular Vote Consultant, and Adam Lioz, Demos Counsel.
 
The panel discussed redistricting, the implications of the electoral college system, and the current system of registration and voting in addition to proposed solutions to make the U.S. more democratic, such as redistricting reform, the national popular vote initiative, and voting modernization.  

Delaware Same Day Voting Registration Campaign 

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The Democracy Initiative joined the Center for Popular Democracy to push for same day voting registration in Delaware, an effort to allow Delawareans the right to register to vote on the same day as a primary or general election. This voting rights effort nearly succeeded, falling short by just a few votes before the state House and Senate adjourned for the year.

Bringing together its allies and partners, the Democracy Initiative organized lobby visits to Delaware elected officials, brought supporters to rallies and events, and sent a letter signed by 22 organizations urging Delaware officials to expand voting rights to its residents. Additionally, the Democracy Initiative urged partner organizations to have their local members personally call their state representatives to support same day registration, resulting in hundreds of calls and strong show of support. Although this bill did not ultimately pass, the campaign will resume in full force next year when Delaware’s House and Senate return for the 2015 legislative session

National Commission on Voting Rights 

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The National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR), organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, wrapped up its series of 25 state and regional hearings.  The NCVR set out to learn about racial voting discrimination and election administration issues.  At the panel’s final hearing in Ohio this May, the Democracy Initiative’s Greg Moore highlighted the history of voter suppression efforts in Ohio and the right to referendum that is allowed under Ohio state law. The panel recently released a report documenting the the national record of voting discrimination since 1995.  The report findings include that “Voting discrimination is a frequent and ongoing problem in the United States.”  Click here to read the comprehensive report, Protecting Minority Voters: Our Work is Not Done.  The panel expects to release a report documenting issues with election administration in September.

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Senate Rules Reform 

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 end of last year have enabled the Senate to finally confirm several judicial nominees, but several executive branch nominees remain caught in the gridlock that marks this Senate as one of the least productive in history.

Check out some of our work below:

ICYMI: Two Dozen Ambassador Nominees Blocked By GOP Temper Tantrum in U.S. Senate

Harry Reid is Right: The U.S. Senate Should Adopt “Use it or Lose it” Reforms

ICYMI: Top Energy & Environmental Nominees “Languish in Confirmation Limbo” Due to Senate Gridlock

New Reminders Why Senate Rules Reform Remains Essential

Use it or Lose It: A Sensible Change for the U.S. Senate to Reduce Time Wasting on Nominees


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!

The DI Report: McCutcheon, NY Public Finance, and National Voter Registration Act

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Welcome to the second installment of the Democracy Initiative’s newsletter. We have continued our fast pace and remain actively engaged on the critical issues facing our country. This has been a tough month in the wake of McCutcheon, but we remain determined to save our democracy from big money and special interests.

Please continue reading for an update on our recent work.

Supreme Court Hands Down Disappointing Decision in McCutcheon v. FEC

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On April 2, the Roberts Court dealt a blow to our democracy by further undermining the campaign finance regime.In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that long-standing aggregate contribution limits were unconstitutional. These caps prevented donors from contributing more than $123,000 in total to federal candidates and national parties.

In a national show of solidarity, Americans organized more than 150 rallies in 41 states, demonstrating citizens’ engagement to fight for equal speech rights and not sell our democracy to the highest bidder. In Washington DC, the Democracy Initiative, People for the American Way, Sierra Club, NAACP, CWA, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People, and US PIRG held a rally that was joined by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on the Supreme Court steps to voice outrage at the Court’s continued erosion of campaign finance restrictions. 

Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, the Roberts Court continues to strike down restrictions on money in politics, while simultaneously eroding voting rights for millions of people. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne stated, “If Congress tries to contain the power of the rich, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face. And if Congress tries to guarantee the voting rights of minorities, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face again.”

The McCutcheon decision is precisely why the Democracy Initiative coalition must continue fighting to elevate people over money. 

Money out, voters in!

New York Fair Elections
Over the last few months, the Democracy Initiative actively engaged in the New York Fair Elections fight to establish a public financing system for state elections.

In 2010, Governor Cuomo promised to bring fair elections to New York, and the Democracy Initiative worked tirelessly alongside the New York Fair Elections coalition to amplify and increase pressure on Albany to include these critical campaign reforms in its state budget.

The Democracy Initiative sent a letter signed by 23 organizations urging Governor Cuomo to keep his promise and fight for publicly financed Fair Elections. This effort served as a galvanizing force among organizations and individuals to come together and fight the corrupting influence of money in our political system.  DI groups sent more than 250,000 emails in New York, prompting thousands of calls into the governor’s office calling for reform.  In addition, DI prompted high level contacts from among its member organizations to Governor Cuomo.  

It was a long, drawn-out fight in the statehouse and when the dust settled, Governor Cuomo caved on his promise.  This was disappointing, but certainly not the end of the road for advocates of fair elections. Many lessons were learned and Governor Cuomo is being held accountable.

Going forward, the Democracy Initiative will keep fighting for fair elections on the state and national level. This is not the end, but the beginning of a movement aimed at taking back our democracy.

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Affordable Care Act Compliance with the National Voter Registration Act
In March, 32 organizations called on President Obama to ensure that millions of Americans applying for benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are also provided their federally-guaranteed opportunity to register to vote.

The organizations expressed concern that the application process for benefits through federally-facilitated healthcare exchanges currently violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), and urged the administration to take immediate steps to ensure compliance with this important federal law. 

The letter stated, “As staunch supporters of voting rights, we believe that it is critical for the ACA to meet these legal requirements now and offer voter registration to the millions of Americans who will be shopping for insurance on the exchanges in the coming months and years.” 

The NVRA—widely known as the “motor voter” law—was enacted 20 years ago with strong bipartisan support from Congress. It made voter registration more accessible by requiring convenient voter registration opportunities to be provided in certain instances when Americans interact with their government. For the last 20 years, states have offered voter registration services in tandem with driver’s license transactions, Medicaid, and other government programs. It has provided an important and significant source for registration and more than 140 million Americans have applied to register to vote through provisions of the NVRA. 

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Fix the Senate Now Campaign
As the Senate continues its glacial pace in confirming nominees, the Fix the Senate Now coalition is committed to reforming the Senate rules to make the congressional body functional in the wake of last November’s changes to the nominations process.  These delay and obstruction tactics have significant consequences for national security and the delivery of justice.

The Democracy Initiative’s Fix the Senate Now coalition has been calling for the U.S. Senate to explore additional reforms. In particular, we highlighted the need for changes to “blue slips,” a courtesy practice not mentioned anywhere in the Senate’s rules that allows senators to block consideration of federal judicial nominees from their home states. It only becomes more frustrating as the Senate GOP shows selective memory as they continue to foster gridlock in the chamber

Democracy Initiative Around Town
This March, the United States Student Association (USSA) held its annual National Grassroots Legislative Conference in Washington DC. Thanks to the generosity of CWA and NAACP, students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities located in states previously covered by Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act joined more than 300 students from around the country to participate. The Democracy Initiative’s Greg Moore briefed the convening on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (HR3899) to equip the students to advocate for the VRAA in meetings on Capitol Hill along with other USSA legislative priorities.  

The Democracy Initiative partnered with USSA, the NAACP Youth and College Division, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to brief participants on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (HR 3899) prior to the students lobbying Capitol Hill.  


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. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter! (@Unite4Democracy)

The DI Report: Virtual Teach-In, Government By the People Act, and More

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome to the first installment of the Democracy Initiative's monthly newsletter. We have had an exciting start to 2014 and look forward to advancing the critical issues facing our nation: money in politics, voting rights, and Senate rules reform. 

We would like to take this opportunity to update you on our recent work. 

2014 Democracy Initiative Convening 

On January 8, 2014, the Democracy Initiative held a follow up meeting to our first large gathering in December 2012. More than 120 people attended from more than 55 organizations including leaders from several organizations. 

The group discussed immediate campaign opportunities for action around changes in Senate rules, federal legislation to amend the Voting Rights Act, as well as threats and opportunities in states around voting rights and money in politics. Participants discussed the intersection of these various issues and how to integrate democracy work into the mission of their organizations. Participants committed to follow up with similar events in one or two states, work to provide more resources for small groups, and to engage across comfort areas in new issues. 

Voting Rights TeleTownhall 

On January 8th following the convening, Democracy Initiative hosted a TeleTownhall on voting rights with more than 23,000 participants. Ably hosted by NAACP Interim President and CEO Lorraine C. Miller, the call featured CWA President Larry Cohen, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguia, America Sustainable Business Council CEO David Levine, and U.S. Student Association President Sophia Zaman. 

This was a great educational opportunity to engage our activists and involve them in the ongoing voting rights debate. 

Virtual Teach-In 

virtual teach-in engaged thousands of Americans on January 21 as Demos, MoveOn.org, and Democracy Initiative sponsored the effort to educate Americans on the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case on the 4th anniversary of the decision. Moderated by Demos' Heather McGhee and joined by panelists Garlin Gilchrist of MoveOn.org, Liz Kennedy of Demos, George Kohl of CWA, and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) also joined to discuss his Government by the People Act. 

The panel then discussed opportunities and happenings in states, what the country is like four years after Citizens United, and how people can get involved. Viewers were able to ask questions through Twitter making this an interactive digital experience. 

Democracy Initiative Around Town 

The Democracy Initiative's Greg Moore joined FairVote's Promote Our Vote Workshop: Act Locally, Think Nationally on January 31, bringing together voting rights advocates from across the country to connect and collaborate for a better democracy. 

Greg also moderated a forum on February 4 at the America Votes State Summit in Washington, DC featuring Bob Bauer, Co-Chair of the President's Commission on Election Administration. Bauer highlighted the recently released report of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration which makes some excellent recommendations for improving elections including modernizing voter registration, improving access to polls, utilizing state of the art techniques to effectively manage polling places, and reforming standards and certification for new voting technology. 

CWA President Larry Cohen presented at Brennan Center for Justice’s convening The Governing Crisis & Democratic Dysfunction: Exploring Solutions, articulating the continued need to reform the Senate so Senators can do the work they were elected to do. He specifically advocated for continued efforts to reform Senate rules to ensure a talking filibuster, and have 40 votes to continue debate as well as codifying into rules the changes that went into effect for this Congress. 

Government by the People Act 

 

On February 5th, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced H.R. 20, The Government by the People Act at a press conference with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In addition, Reps. Keith Ellison, Chellie Pingree, Beto O’Rourke, John Yarmouth, Anne McLane Kuster, and the leaders of more than 20 Democracy Initiative organizations were present to show their support. In addition to the 133 congressional cosponsors signed on in support of the legislation, more than 50 pro-democracy organizations have signed a letter in support of the bill

The Government by the People Act aims to put ordinary Americans back in charge of elections by allowing Congressional candidates to run for office by relying on small-dollar donations from constituents back home, rather than large contributions from wealthy donors and special interests. Learn more at Public Campaign's companion website: ofby.us 

New York Public Finance Campaign 

In the wake of Citizens United, elections have been inundated by a new wave of money: billions in increased spending by corporations and the super-wealthy. The state of New York, however, stands poised to be a national leader on reducing the influence of big money in politics. Governor Andrew Cuomo has included in the proposed state budget a voluntary public funding system for campaigns and robust disclosure of political donors. The Fair Elections coalition in New York is working with the Democracy Initiative to create a national complement to the New York campaign by engaging national organizations in the effort. 

Democracy Initiative in the News 

Over the last month, the Democracy Initiative has been making headlines for its hard work as part of a renewed progressive movement. 

NPR (2/13/14): "Citizens United" Critics Fight Money With Money:

One of those philanthropists is Phil Radford, co-founder of the Democracy Initiative. Radford says polls show rising anger as Americans see money's influence in Washington. "I think that outrage will translate into people, district by district, asking their members of Congress: What are they doing to make sure America is a democracy again?" he says.

Mother Jones (2/12/14): Potential 2016 Contender O'Malley Supports Bill to Wean Politicians Off Big Money

What makes the Sarbanes bill stand out is breadth of support it enjoys. The bill has 130 cosponsors...including Sarbanes and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) And practically every progressive group under the sun has stumped for the Government By The People Act, including the Communication Workers of America, the Teamsters, Sierra Club, NAACP, Working Families, Friends of Democracy super-PAC, and more. Through efforts like the Democracy Initiative...progressives are mobilizing around the issue of money in politics, and their championing of Sarbanes' bill is a case in point.

Grist (1/28/14): Greenpeace out: Parting shots from a battle-hardened climate leader Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford:

"The other thing we've been doing as a response to the power companies have is the Democracy Initiative. I got together with Ben Jealous of NAACP, Larry Cohen from Communications Workers of America, and Mike Brune from Sierra Club to develop a shared unified campaign to get big money out of politics, get all voters to vote, and fix the Senate."

New Democracy Initiative Members 

This month, Democracy Initiative welcomed four new members, ReThink MediaMoveOn.org Civic ActionNational Council of La Raza, and the Rural Coalition

A unique non-profit organization, ReThink Media is focused on building the communications capacity of nonprofit think tanks, experts, and advocacy groups working toward a more constructive U.S. foreign and national security policy, the protection of human and civil rights, and strengthening our democracy. 

With more than 5 million members across the country, MoveOn.org works to realize the progressive promise of our country. MoveOn.org Civic Action, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, primarily focuses on education and advocacy on important national issues. 

National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, and is focused on improving opportunities for Hispanic Americans. Through its network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, NCLR reaches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. 

The Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural is an alliance of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous, migrant, and working people from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and beyond. They aim to build a more just and sustainable food system which brings fair returns to minority and other small farmers and rural communities, establishes just and fair working conditions for farmworkers, protects the environment, and brings safe and healthy food to all consumers. 
 

Thank you again for reading our first newsletter! We look forward to keeping you informed as we work to restore the core principle of political equality by halting the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, preventing the systemic manipulation and suppression of voters, and addressing other obstacles to significant reform, including the abuse of U.S. Senate rules. 

And, please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) for even more updates and ways to get involved!