Government watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch has been engaged in a legal back and forth with Secretary of State Scott Gessler over a campaign finance rule adopted by the Secretary of State last spring. In a brief filed with a Denver District court Wednesday, Ethics Watch argues Gessler is rewriting the law instead of merely setting forth rules directing citizens on how to abide it, and, in a counter claim, Gessler is asking the court to effectively throw out a constitutional provision he has sworn he would defend as an elected official.
Gessler has asked the court to declare the legal definition of an “issue committee” unenforceable, meaning he effectively would do away with issue committees and the financial and reporting laws that apply to them until if and when the legislature would remake them.
“It’s breathtaking,” Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro told the Colorado Independent. “As a representative of the state, [Gessler] would normally be the defendant in such a case… But he’s effectively asking two private organizations to defend the Colorado Constitution from his complaint. How can he sue two organizations that don’t represent the state?
“Gessler would normally be expected to defend the laws defining issue committees… It’s a legal obligation. He has no authority to file a suit against them.”
Gessler is a longtime campaign finance attorney who has battled disclosure rules and donation limits. He sees them as hurdles to public participation and threats to free speech.
In November of last year, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Sampson v Buescher decided that the burden of the state’s reporting requirement was too high for a group organized around a municipal election. Gessler’s new reporting rule came in response to that decision. It shifts the registration and reporting threshold for issue committees from 0 to 00. The rule also eliminates the requirement to disclose any information about the first ,000 of issue committee contributions and expenditures.
Ethics Watch and Common Cause, also a state government watchdog organization, have asked the district judge to throw out Gessler’s “breathtaking” counter claim seeking to effectively explode issue committees as a category in the state and are fighting Gessler’s new issue committee finance rule as an attack on transparency.
The groups cite Amendment 27 passed by voters in 2002 which proscribes campaign finances in the state. It also established disclosure rules, including the 0 threshold for issue committees. The point of the law is to make it easier for citizens to know who is behind public proposals and to know from the beginning. Colorado voters want to know when a chemical company is pushing to roll back clean water regulations and when a labor union is fighting a free-market policy.
“With the passage of Amendment 27, Colorado voters overwhelmingly signaled that they wanted full disclosure in political campaigns,” Elena Nunez, program director of Colorado Common Cause, said in a release. “It is frustrating to see the Secretary of State actively working to undermine the Constitutional provisions he swore to uphold.”
The Gessler counter claim calls to mind complaints leveled at the Obama administration when its justice department announced it would no longer fight lawsuits targeting the Defense of Marriage Act because because it viewed the law as unconstitutional.
“That’s an interesting comparison, actually,” said Toro, meaning he thought it was revealing. “Gessler here is taking it a step further. The Justice Department merley said it would no longer defend the law. That’s different than effectively filing a suit to have it repealed.”
Toro pointed out that when pro-gay groups sued to repeal Amendment 2, a voter-passed initiative of the 1990s that prohibited anti-discrimination ordinances in the state, they sued Governor Roy Romer and representatives of the state defended the anti-gay Amendment even though they personally opposed it.
“That’s our tradition,” Toro said.
“As an elected official, Scott Gessler is expected to put aside his personal views and defend the Colorado Constitution,” Toro said in a release. “Instead, he has ignored our government’s separation of powers by attempting to use his office to not only enforce the law, but also to legislate as well as interpret the law.”
The survey — which was conducted Feb. 24-28 of 1,000 adults (200 reached by cell phone), and which has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — asked 26 different questions about reducing the federal budget deficit.
Rachel Maddow talks about the NBC/WSJ Poll
We Are Wisconsin
The most popular: placing a surtax on federal income taxes for those who make more than million per year (81 percent said that was acceptable), eliminating spending on earmarks (78 percent), eliminating funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says aren’t necessary (76 percent) and eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries (74 percent).
The least popular: cutting funding for Medicaid, the federal government health-care program for the poor (32 percent said that was acceptable); cutting funding for Medicare, the federal government health-care program for seniors (23 percent); cutting funding for K-12 education (22 percent); and cutting funding for Social Security (22 percent). In addition, 77 percent believe public employees should have the same collective-bargaining rights (when it comes to health care, pensions and other benefits) as union employees who work for private companies.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, says these results are a “cautionary sign” for a Republican Party pursuing deep budget cuts. He points out that the Americans who are most concerned about spending cuts are core Republicans and Tea Party supporters, not Democrats, Independents and swing voters. In the poll, eight in 10 respondents say they are concerned about the growing federal deficit and the national debt, but more than 60 percent — including key swing-voter groups — are concerned that major cuts from Congress could impact their lives and their families. What’s more, while Americans find some budget cuts acceptable, they are adamantly opposed to cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and K-12 education.
This poll again exposes the big lie that this country is too conservative for progressive legislation to be supported by average Americans. Democrats just have to learn how to properly frame the way they talk to the voters. Candidate Obama used a very progressive frame when he talked to the voters in 2008 and he won the presidency in an electoral landslide.
Transcript from the Rachel Maddow video clip in this post. If you were king for the day, if you got to make the decisions in this country and you wanted to bring down the deficit, would you raise taxes on people making more than million a year? Would you let the Bush tax cuts expire for the richest people in the country? Would you get rid of the subsidies, the tax breaks for oil and gas companies?
Would you do all those things? Really? Are you that liberal? Are you that liberal that you would do all those things?
If you are that liberal that you would do all of those things, then you are an average American. The support for these policies—look at this—the support for these policies is the support you get for the contention that puppies are cute. Eighty-one percent of the country supports raising taxes on millionaires to close the deficit, 81 percent.
If you look at the policies that Americans say they support, then we are the “Soviet Republic of Americanistan.” We are a bunch of commies in this country.
If you don‘t, tell somebody whether a policy is a liberal idea or a conservative idea. If you don‘t say who is proposing or supporting the policy, if you don‘t say where the idea is coming from, big majorities of Americans support really, really liberal economic policies—more liberal policies that are being supported even with Democratic majorities in Washington.
These are from the new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” Poll that just came out today. Same poll also asked nationwide whether or not people oppose or support what Governor Scott Walker is doing in Wisconsin. Seventy-seven percent of people — 77 percent of people in the country say that unions should be able to hold onto what the Republicans in Wisconsin are trying to take away from them. Seventy-seven percent of Americans are for public sector collective bargaining rights.
The American people turns out are a bunch of commie, pinko libs.
We‘re hippies. Dogs on streams. Soak the rich. Kumbayah.
Here‘s the most amazing thing, though. The same group of people who says that this is what they believe in, in terms of policy, the same group of people who believes this, mostly call themselves conservatives. Thirty-six percent of people in this NBC News poll, in this poll with these numbers, identify themselves as conservatives. Only 24 percent identify as liberals.
We like to use this word conservative. You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
How can you simultaneously be a country that believes in all of this stuff to this degree and be a country that calls itself conservative? You really can‘t be—not if the word conservative has any meaning. But the word conservative, the whole concept of conservatism has been treated to a really expensive rebranding campaign over the last generation or so, and that‘s what it‘s thought of.
People who don‘t believe in conservative ideas at all think that they do, because they like the idea of calling themselves conservative. In reality, in terms of real ideas, though, it‘s economic populism that‘s popular. Policies that benefit people who have to work for a living are popular in this country. Policies that single out and demonize and attack people who have to work for a living, those are not popular.
What‘s happening in Wisconsin right now, what Republicans are trying to do in Wisconsin, is really, really, really unpopular. Republicans appear to be shocked by that. After all, they picked this fight in Wisconsin because they thought they were going to win it and they thought they were going to nationalize it. They thought it was going to be part of their new post-Bush, post-McCain branding.
But they are at the point now of not just losing, but losing really dramatically, publicly, in a way that nobody will ever be proud of. They‘re now at a point of scraping the barrel of the barrel for the most desperate tactics they can think of to win.
Today, Scott Walker and the Republicans came up with some new ideas about how to ratchet up pressure on Wisconsin‘s Democrats who are preventing them from passing this union-stripping thing.
In addition to stuff like cutting Democrats‘ pay and cutting off Democrats staffers‘ access to the capitol building‘s machine, Republicans today move to zero out Democrats‘ office budget. They move to fine Democrats 0 every day. They moved to remove their parking privileges.
They‘re parking spaces? Seriously? Yes, their parking privileges.
That‘s the ground of which the Republicans are now trying to win this. That‘s the ground on which Republicans are left to fight this out in Wisconsin. That‘s what they have to stand on.
Republicans have gotten to the bottom of the barrel in terms of what they can do, and their support has just disintegrated.
As we talked about earlier this week, if the gubernatorial election were held in Wisconsin today, not only would Scott Walker lose according to one of the latest polls, but the state is evenly divided on whether or not they actually want to recall him out of office. Republican state senators who are supporting Scott Walker on this are now facing their own recall drives. The conservative-leaning “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,” which endorsed Scott Walker for governor, today that paper came out against what Walker and the Republicans are doing with this union-stripping bill.
And listen to this—listen to this: this is a Republican state senator from Wisconsin on a Wisconsin radio station today. This—listen to what he had to say about what his own party is doing now. This is amazing.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
STATE SEN. DALE SCHULTZ ®, WISCONSIN: All I know is we‘re not talking, we‘re wasting valuable time about collective bargaining, which I don‘t ever remember being a part of last election‘s discussion whatsoever. But, most of all, you know, to me this looks like the classic overreach.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: The classic overreach—this Republican state senator calls what his own party is doing.
Nationally, the American people are against what Governor Walker and the Republicans are doing. Statewide in Wisconsin, the people also appear to be against it. Among even some elected Republicans in conservative-leaning media that previously supported this Walker guy in Wisconsin, they are against it now, too.
They are down to their most desperate measures. They‘re down to parking spaces. They say they won‘t negotiate. They are hemorrhaging support to the point they may get recalled from office.
But you know who does support Scott Walker and the Republicans trying to strip union rights and isn‘t afraid to say so? One of the Koch brothers a real one, not a fake one on a prank call.
The billionaire Koch brothers are not from Wisconsin, of course. They do own a large oil and chemical company, however. And Charles Koch wrote in “The Wall Street Journal” that he is on Scott Walker‘s side—both a bit of an anti-climax and a rally instructive thing for why this is a national story.
There are two sides in this fight. There is the side that believes in this, right? There‘s a side that believes in all these populist economic policies. That‘s one side. And then there‘s a few guys like David and Charles Koch and the multibillion dollar oil and chemical conglomerate they inherited from their dad.
It‘s kind of a numerical mismatch between these two sides. But it always is. It‘s the upper crust versus the middle class. It‘s the few people who own the company versus the number of people who work for the company. It‘s the people who write the paychecks versus those who cash the paychecks. It‘s the economic elite versus the average person.
And what the elite lack in terms of numbers of people, they makeup for in leverage in terms of the amount of money they can spend in order to advocate for their side. And that—that split between these two sides, aside from social issues and civil rights and issues of political style, that‘s split is the reason that there are two different political parties in the United States of America.
The Chamber of Commerce spent more money in last year‘s election than any other outside spending group. They put 93 percent of their Chamber of Commerce donations towards Republican candidates. There are two sides.
And because the Democratic side is inherently the one that has more people in it, and this is a democracy, and it‘s one person, one vote, the Republican side, in order to compete with that, has to use money to leverage as many votes as they can, because their side represents the interest of fewer people. That‘s where they found social issues and abortion and gay rights and religion and all of these other things to come in handy.
There‘s an economic split between the two parties, between Democrats and Republicans, but more people are on the Democratic side of that economic split, almost by definition. So, Republicans, by and large, have had to use non-economic issues to get people to vote with the economic elite and against their own economic interest.
The other way this works, though, is this—to the extent that Democrats embrace their role as standing for the average American, standing for the rights of people who work for a living, to the extent Democrats embrace that, people who work for a living and the institutions that represent them, that represent working people, and even poor people, they have over the years pushed the Democratic Party to endorse populist policies—to endorse stuff that helps regular working people. Stuff like minimum wage laws, stuff like expanded health coverage, stuff like workplace regulation, stuff like responsible tax laws that don‘t soak poor people to subsidize rich people. That‘s economic populism.
Endorsing those policies and pushing for those policies has the happy progressive side-effect of paying real political dividends for the Republican Party. Fighting for issues like that just happens to work for Democrats at the polls. There‘s nothing I have ever seen that gooses Democratic turnout, that helps Democratic chances all the way down the ticket than putting something like a minimum wage law on the ballot.
Economic populism is really popular. People really like these policies. Even people who call themselves conservatives like these policies.
We never talk about the differences between the parties like this anymore, but see, it seems so old school. It seems almost too big picture to acknowledge. But the reason there are two different major parties in America is because one of the parties, the Republican Party, represents the interest of a comparatively smaller number of people.
They decided to represent the interest of corporations. You can see it in how the elections are funded. They have decided to represent the interests of people like the Koch brothers that own the corporations. The Republican Party represents those economic elites.
And on the other side, the other party, the Democratic Party, represents a much greater number of people, the non-elites, everybody who has to work for a living. That‘s the reason there are two different parties. That‘s the reason the two different parties exist, even if it is unfashionable to say so and recognize that it is.
And to the extent that the Democratic Party embraces that split and supports policies that make it clear where they stand, that they stand for most working Americans, to the extent that Democrats do that, it helps the Democratic Party. And to the extent that the Democratic Party forgets that and gets away from it, and starts chasing corporate money as well at the expense of its base constituency, not only is there less reason for two different parties to exist in this country, but the Democratic Party is sowing the seeds of its own demise.
As the poli-sic 101 fortune cookie says, given the choice between a real Republican and a watered-down Republican, people generally take the real one. The reason Democrats are even tempted to try to be more like Republicans, to chase corporate interest, to give up on what makes them different from Republicans is because they tend to forget that economic populism is so popular. They forget numbers like this. They forget that this is what this country believes in.
And now, Scott Walker and the great Republican overreach of 2011 has served to remind them. It has reconnected the Democratic Party with its reason for existing.
Scott Walker is looking at being recalled as governor in Wisconsin. What‘s happening on the other side? Well, the progressive group Act Blue put out a call for people to support the Wisconsin Democratic senators who fled the state in order to stop Walker and Republicans from what they‘re doing. So far, with that call, which I bet you didn‘t even hear about, they‘ve raised more than 0,000 for state senators.
The AFL-CIO, the biggest federation of unions in the country, they are now reveling in their newfound support. The AFL-CIO president saying, quote, “We‘ve never seen the incredible solidarity that we are seeing now.”
The head of the United Mine Workers quoted by “The Associated Press,” saying, “People are looking at this and saying, this is a struggle I want to be part of, this is our moment.”
A group called the Progressive Change Campaign C put out the most pointed “stand with the people who work for a living” ad that we have seen in a very long time. They asked for support online to keep it running. Within eight hours, they tell us they raised 5,000.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMILY PEASE-CLEM, TEACHER, MADISON, WI: Governor Walker and the Republicans just gave over 0 million in tax cuts to corporations, and now, they‘re asking teachers and nurses to pay for it, and attacking workers‘ rights to negotiate for benefits.
KRISTINE FANTETTI, SECRETARY, WHITEWATE, WI: I‘m just a secretary, and this bill that Walker‘s proposing is going to cost me over ,000 a year.
KATHLEEN SLAMKA, ELECTRICIAN, OAK CREEK, WI: This is Republican class warfare, an attack on the middle class. This is a battle and we need to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In Washington, Democrats like Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan find themselves looking into CSPAN cameras and making this kind of case for what the Democratic Party stands for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: The issue that we are talking about in Ohio, in Wisconsin is an issue of respect for the average worker in the United States of America. The issue is: are we going to respect work in the United States of America? Are we going to respect the workers in the United States of America while all these fat cats have gotten off scot-free? And we turn around and tell the workers in Ohio and Wisconsin and Indiana and the Big Ten Conference, you got to take the hit. It‘s unfair and it‘s disrespectful and it is not an American value.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When is the last time you heard Democrats talking like that in Congress?
Democrats are placing themselves on the side of Americans who have to work for a living and against the corporate interest and the political party those corporate interests pay for who are trying to strip them of their rights. This is happening among Democrats at the state level, right? The Wisconsin 14, those Wisconsin state senators have been out of the state 14 days now. They show no signs of wavering.
In Indiana—Indiana—Indiana, land of Democrats like Evan Bayh—in Indiana, state Democrats there did what the Wisconsin Democrats did. In Indiana, they fled the state. Once they fled the state, Republicans caved, and then the Democrats decided to stay out of the state in opposition to privatizing the state school system, too.
Indiana that happened? The fighting progressive Democrats of Indiana?
Indiana and Wisconsin Democrats have galvanized to take the kind of
stand and to show the kind of spine that the Democratic base has frankly
been weeping for my entire adult life. In the state, Democrats are remembering now that there‘s a reason there are two parties in this country
remembering why the Democratic Party is not the Republican Party, remembering that the Democratic Party stands for people who work for a living, stands for the kinds of economic populism that are wildly popular in the United States of America, even when people call themselves conservatives.
In the states, in the Midwest, in places like Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio, the Democratic Party is rediscovering its soul, remembering why it exists. No national Democrats remember that, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Understand this: if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively barring on when I‘m in the White House, I‘ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I‘ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America because workers deserve to know that somebody‘s standing in their corner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was candidate Barack Obama in 2007. There‘s no picket line in Wisconsin, but those rights are certainly being stripped.
What‘s happening in Wisconsin is galvanizing the Democratic Party in the States and reconnecting Democrats to what great majorities of Americans believe—economic populism, the interest of people who work for a living.
Republicans picked the wrong fight here. They are isolated and defensive and desperate on this. And even if they win—which I don‘t think they will—they will never be proud of how they won it. They will only be able to hope people forget how they won it.
This has become the Democrats‘ moment. When do we get to hear from our Democratic president on that?