by Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan
In his 2010 majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC, the case that opened the floodgates to limitless independent election spending by corporations and the wealthy, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that independent spending in elections “[does] not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
What has happened in the state of North Carolina since Justice Kennedy wrote those words illustrates just how misguided he was.
In the years since Citizens United, North Carolina has provided a clear example of what happens when a small number of corporate interests, allied with a far-right base, are allowed unbridled influence over elections. Since 2010, one North Carolina multimillionaire has marshaled the funds for a Republican takeover of the statehouse and governor’s mansion, leading to a slew of far-right legislation cutting benefits for working people, lowering teacher salaries, denying Medicaid coverage to half a million low-income people, defunding public education, eliminating protections against racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, gutting gun violence prevention efforts, attacking religious freedom and threatening women’s reproductive rights – all while cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy.
This effort has gone hand in hand with a concerted attack on the very mechanisms of democracy in North Carolina. Since coming into power, Republicans in North Carolina have launched one of the country’s broadest attacks on voting rights, decimated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws and contribution limits, heavily gerrymandered congressional districts, and politicized judicial elections.
These attacks strike at the foundation of democracy – the guarantee of one person, one vote – and serve as a cynical insurance policy for an agenda that serves the interests of those few who can afford influence in the new climate of pay-to-play elections.
A series of Supreme Court decisions deregulating money in politics, combined with the political marriage of the Tea Party and the corporate right, have created a climate where moneyed interests can hold sway over how a state holds its elections, who wins those elections and what those elected officials do once in office. North Carolina provides a case study of what can happen when the financial interests of a wealthy elite are allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary voters.
Buying North Carolina
North Carolina’s post-Citizens United Republican takeover has been largely financed by one man: retail magnate Arthur (Art) Pope.
When the Supreme Court handed down Citizens United in January 2010, states went to work to comply with the Court’s order vacating all federal and state bans on independent corporate expenditures in elections. In July of that year, North Carolina’s legislature passed the “Citizens United Response” bill, which was enacted just before the 2010 elections and opened the door to corporate election spending. Meanwhile, according to Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina, Citizens United led to a cultural shift that “provided a green light to financial interests to feel blessed by the Supreme Court to spend in elections.” The result was that outside spending in North Carolina’s elections increased by 400 percent from 2006 to 2010. And nobody took greater advantage of the new rules than Art Pope.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported in 2011 that a few months after Citizens United, Pope received a visit from Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, who was formulating a plan to strategically take over statehouses prior to congressional redistricting. Pope contributed some money directly to candidates, but his real impact came from the establishment of a handful of outside groups that were newly freed from outside spending limits. These groups, like the 501c(4) organization “Civitas Action,” spent $2.2 million over 22 state legislative races, 18 of which they won. Three-quarters of all outside money in state races that year came from groups linked to Pope. In the post-Citizens United election landscape, one man almost single-handedly succeeded in flipping party control of the state legislature.
Mayer documents the many misleading attacks that Pope’s groups used to unseat moderate Democrats in the state legislature. One Democrat who narrowly lost his seat after a Pope-funded onslaught of attack ads said, “I don’t feel like I was defeated by the person I was running against. I was defeated by Art Pope and his cronies, who bought themselves a legislature.”
In 2012, Pope and his cronies doubled down. That year, as documented by the Institute for Southern Studies, 70 percent of the $14.5 million spent by outside groups on state-level races in North Carolina went to benefit Republicans. $8.1 million of that was spent to elect Republican governor Pat McCrory; more than half of that came from the national Republican Governors Association, which itself is partly financed by Pope corporations.
In two years, thanks to an unprecedented flood of outside spending by moneyed interests, Republicans took control of both houses of North Carolina’s legislature and its governor’s mansion. And the funders of the effort began to get what they paid for.
Tax Cuts for the Wealthy, Salary Cuts for Teachers
A few weeks before the newly-elected Gov. McCrory was to take office, he announced a notable appointment to his cabinet: Art Pope.
McCrory named Pope his head of budget policy, charged with writing the governor’s budget proposal. McCrory and Pope, with the cooperation of the newly right-wing legislature, went about cutting the safety net for struggling North Carolinians while heaping tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations. McCrory signed laws cutting off unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of people in the state, in what US Representative David Price (D-NC) called “one of the most extreme and damaging acts I have seen in my time in government." He cut pay for public school teachers. He refused expanded federal Medicaid funds under the Affordable Care Act, denying half a million low-income people access to health care coverage.
But there wasn’t bad news for everyone in North Carolina. On July 23, 2013 McCrory signed a new tax plan that dramatically lowered corporate income taxes and created a flat tax, which raised taxes on some families and small businesses while heaping the bulk of its benefits on the state’s wealthiest families. And, in one of his first orders of business upon taking office, McCrory bestowed salary hikes on members of his own cabinet.
An Extreme Agenda
While Pope and his fellow funders of North Carolina’s Republican takeover may have been mostly interested in creating fiscal policy that would benefit their own bank accounts, there was a powerful corollary to their efforts. In a solidly purple state that wavers between parties in presidential elections, Pope helped create one of the most far-right state legislatures in the country. And, thanks to Pope and his cronies’ efforts to elect McCrory, the legislature’s forays into Tea Party extremism go largely unchecked.
Since the 2010 Republican takeover of the North Carolina legislature, a number of extreme social policies have become law.
- In 2009, the North Carolina legislature, in an effort to combat persistent racial disparities in death penalty sentencing, passed a bill that would commute a death penalty sentence to life imprisonment if the defendant could prove that race played a significant role in his sentencing. The bill was featured in Willie Horton-style racist attack ads against at least one state legislator unseated in 2010. In 2013, the legislature repealed the law, and Gov. McCrory added his signature on Juneteenth.
- In August of this year, North Carolina became the seventh state to pass a bill aimed at the imaginary threat of Sharia law in the U.S. justice system – a cover for blatant anti-Muslim fearmongering.
- In July, the legislature passed and McCrory signed a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons into playgrounds, parks, some places on college campuses….and bars.
- Finally, in July, Gov. McCrory signed into law one of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the country – despite a campaign promise that he would not back any new laws restricting abortion rights. The provisions, which were hidden in a motorcycle safety bill, impose unnecessary “TRAP” regulations on abortion providers in the state, threating to close most of the state’s 16 abortion providers.
The right-wing takeover of North Carolina has come with an insurance policy: a slew of laws taking power away from individual voters and putting it in the hands of campaign donors.
In July, the North Carolina legislature passed what election law expert Rick Hasen called “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades.” The new law requires voters to present one of a narrow set of IDs in order to cast a ballot – IDs that 318,000 registered voters in the state don’t have. It cuts the number of early voting days and eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting, an option disproportionately used by African American voters. The bill invalidates ballots accidentally cast in the wrong precinct. It attacks the voting rights of young people, by eliminating pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds, and of the elderly and disabled, by making it more difficult to establish satellite polling sites.
But the law doesn’t just make it harder for ordinary North Carolinians to vote. It also makes it much easier for moneyed interests to influence elections. The bill increased campaign contribution limits, repealed three public financing programs and – good news for Art Pope – weakened transparency requirements for outside spenders in elections.
Pope’s influence was particularly visible in the repeal of the popular program providing public financing for judicial elections. Until this year, North Carolina had for a decade maintained a nationally renowned clean elections program for judges, a voluntary public financing fund used by 80 percent of judicial candidates across the political spectrum. In June, after Republicans in the state legislature took aim at the program, a Republican legislator came up with a compromise to save the clean judicial elections. But Pope single-handedly convinced the legislator to drop his compromise proposal, and the pioneering public financing program died, leaving judicial elections vulnerable to partisan spending and the appearance of corruption.
Finally, Ed Gillespie’s original goal was achieved to great effect. In 2011, the newly elected GOP-dominated state legislature redrew the state’s congressional map to cram African-Americans and other largely Democratic constituencies into a small number of districts and increase the number of Republicans elected to Congress. It worked. In 2012, 50.6 percent of North Carolina voters cast their ballots for Democratic congressional candidates. But thanks to the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymandering, the state’s U.S. House delegation ended up being 69 percent Republican -- nine Republicans and only four Democrats.
Citizens Fight Back
North Carolina citizens, recognizing that their democracy has been ripped out of their hands, are fighting back. Since April, civil rights leaders have led weekly “Moral Mondays,” protests of thousands of people in front of the statehouse. So far, more than 900 people have been arrested in the protests, which organizers plan to continue in as the next election approaches.
Heavenly angels were singing when two Democratic state senators in Colorado were defeated in a low-turnout recall election that focused on the lawmakers’ support for tougher gun laws, at least according to “Dr. Chaps” Gordon Klingenschmitt. The exorcist and former navy chaplain actively campaigned for the Republican challengers, the Colorado Independent reports:
“I was praying tonight that God would inspire His people,” Gordon Klingenschmitt, assured Linda Herpin, wife of the GOP recall challenger, minutes before El Paso County Republicans announced that her husband had unseated Morse, a Democrat.
“I wanted to help recall John Morse specifically because of 2nd Amendment issues,” he said. “As a Christian, as a person who follows Jesus, I believe in the 2nd Amendment. I believe that when Jesus said, for example, ‘sell your cloak and buy a sword,’ that he endorsed the idea of self-defense, that defending yourself is not a crime. In fact, it’s a moral obligation to defend your wife, to defend your family, and John Morse stands against families who want to do that —stands against people who want to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.”
In an email to members of his Pray In Jesus Name Project, Klingenschmitt writes that Jesus was the real winner in Colorado:
Victory! Jesus and 2nd Amendment win Colorado Senate races
Not only do I live in southern Colorado, where conservatives just successfully recalled two gun-grabbing liberal Senators who voted to restrict our 2nd Amendment rights, but I got personally involved in the local politics (block walking, petition gathering, donating, making phone calls, and praying) that helped elect a new Republican State Senator Bernie Herpin and throw out the Democrat Senate President John Morse. This internationally-watched race confronted President Obama himself, who sent VP Joe Biden to lobby the Colorado Senate to punish gun-owners, but those efforts backfired.
That said, I still believe religious freedom is the First right, because even if you have the right to bear arms, assemble, speak, and petition, but you don't have the right to worship Almighty God or pray in Jesus' name, then the government still owns your soul. Let's tell them "not my soul" today.
Napolitano: Syria's Use Of Chemical Weapons Is Just Like President Clinton's Murder Of The Branch Davidians
Judge Andrew Napolitano was the guest on Glenn Beck's television program last night where Beck introduced him as "the man who actually can save our nation" before the two men sat down for a discussion about the possibility of military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Napolitano said any such action by the United States would be illegal because the US has not been attacked, is not in danger of imminent attack, nor has an ally been attacked.
Furthermore, he said, Syria's use of chemical weapons was no different than what the Clinton administration did to the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas back in 1993.
"Who's used chemical weapon on their own people," Napolitano asked. "How far are we from Waco, Texas where federal agents used chemical weapons to murder 76 Americans in 1993 in the Clinton Administration? Can you imagine if China or Russia wanted to bomb us to punish us for what we did at the time? Come on! Where are we going with this?"
Today’s WorldNetDaily News Alert was a true double-whammy, with two heavily slated reports phrased as questions so as to not take actual responsibility for the incendiary claims made in the articles.
As WND reported in June, an expert on Islamic terrorism believes a wildfire that ravaged the outskirts of Colorado Springs, Colo., killing two people and destroying more than 500 homes, should be examined by terror investigators.
“One thing that my investigators have given me the authority to state is that they have all but ruled out natural causes as the cause of this fire,” said Sheriff Terry Maketa at the time. “I can’t really go any further on that, but I can say we are pretty confident it was not, for instance, a lightning strike.”
In a message to WND’s Muslim readers, the NewsAlert offered this message: “If you are a Muslim … a Sunni Muslim … and you dream of the day the caliphate will be restored … then thank Allah for this man …”
Obama, of course!
WND reporter Aaron Klein’s post, “‘Manchurian President’ Ushering In Islamic Caliphate?,” argues that Obama has “empowered Islamic radicals” in order to create a global Islamic government. Klein, the author of “The Manchurian President,” is publicizing his new book “Impeachable Offenses.”
Since assuming office, President Obama has weakened America both domestically and abroad by emboldening U.S. enemies and tacitly supporting Muslim Brotherhood revolutions that have empowered Islamic radicals, charges a new book.
In “Impeachable Offenses: The Case to Remove Barack Obama from Office,”New York Times bestselling authors Aaron Klein and Brenda J. Elliott demonstrate that Obama’s policies have been helping to install Muslim Brotherhood-friendly regimes to the detriment of U.S. national security and world stability.
“Obama’s policies are installing political Islam throughout the Middle East and North Africa in a tidal wave of change already reaping disastrous results for those regions as well as for U.S. interests there,” write Klein and Elliott.
Mubarak was only the beginning, write Klein and Elliott. Obama’s support for a U.S. ally’s ouster and replacement with radical Islamic elements would be repeated numerous times in the Middle East and North Africa, to the great detriment of the American war on terror, the authors write.
For example, earlier this week Barton appeared on "Praise the Lord" where he told hosts Matt and Laurie Crouch that legal abortion will not be an issue in twenty years because God has sent a new generation of teenagers who are overwhelmingly pro-life.
Claiming that polls show that 72% of teens oppose abortion, Barton said they were "an answer that God has sent with a new generation; we just gotta train these guys right and turn them loose to get this thing fixed":
If you actually bother to find the poll Barton cites, you discover that it is from 2003 and it found that 72% of teens thought that abortion was morally wrong.
If you trust Barton, then abortion should be illegal within the next decade, since the poll he is using it over ten years old. The only problem is that the teens in that survey are now adults and according to a Gallup poll conducted in May of this year, 50% of adults ages 18-29 consider themselves to be pro-choice while 41% consider themselves to be pro-life.
Of course, as with so many of Barton's other talking points, he doesn't bother to mention any of that because doing so would completely undermine the very claim that he is making.
- PFAW: Memo: On D.C. Circuit, Senate GOP Faces Choice Between Governance and Obstruction.
- Brian Powell @ Media Matters: Alex Jones Links Syrian Weapons Proposal To Human Extinction Plot.
- Evan Hurst @ Truth Wins Out: Former American Family Association Staff Attorney Endorses, Contributes to NALT Christians Project.
- Daily Kos: Florida attorney general delays execution to attend fundraiser.
- Rob Shryock @ Religion Dispatches: Christian-Bashing Air Force Officer Story is Just That.
- Liberty Counsel is launching a "Liberty Prayer Network."
- National Review is going to sue Cory Booker.
- Russell Moore is telling Christians conservatives that "we can no longer pretend we are a moral majority in this country."
- It is not much of a surprise to see that FRC is jumping on the anti-Common Core bandwagon.
- Finally, Rep. Doug Lamborn once against joined anti-gay, demon-obsessed exorcist Gordon Klingenschmitt on his program today.
American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer yesterday tied together the closure of an Oregon bakery that refused to serve gay customers who were trying to find a wedding cake and the rapidly-collapsing story of an Air Force officer who insists he was punished by a superior over his views on gay marriage. Fischer said that the two accounts were proof of growing anti-Christian persecution in Obama’s America.
Lifting a line from WorldNetDaily, he accused gay rights advocates of using mob-like tactics and shouting “Homo Akbar!”
“This is happening everywhere,” Fischer argued. “That bakery couple in Oregon had their bakery completely shut down by a homosexual mob, a homosexual mafia; they cried ‘Homo-Akbar!’ and assaulted, stormed metaphorically, the bakery and got it completely shut down.”
Later in the segment, the Focal Point host maintained that President Obama “has made it a criminal offense to be a sincerely devoted follower of Jesus Christ in the United States Military” and accused Obama of “leading this purge of Christians from the military. This is ethnic cleansing, this is spiritual cleansing.”
Zack Taylor of the National Association for Former Border Patrol Officers has been a leading voice against immigration reform, charging that “America’s immigration laws are not broken” and estimating that there are around 20 million undocumented immigrants in the US. In an interview with the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios today, Taylor claimed that of the 20 million (a grossly inflated number), “potentially thirty percent” have criminal records – and that immigration enforcement officials must “cull the herd” of immigrants.
Actually, immigrants – both documented and undocumented -- are far less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans, and many of those who are in prison are there as a result of immigration violations rather than violent crimes.
Taylor then went on to falsely suggest that the Obama administration is ignoring laws and not targeting immigrants with criminal records. But as Beth Caldwell notes, two million undocumented immigrants have been deported in the last five years and the Senate reform bill “categorically excludes most people with criminal convictions from relief.”
“It’s just like having a garden; you have to weed the garden. If you’re raising animals; you have to cull the herd. That’s what needs to happen,” Taylor said.
This whole business about legalizing an unknown—when I talk about unknown, we’re talking about potentially 30% of the people that are here have criminal records. Why don’t we just go ahead and enforce the current immigration laws? It’s just like having a garden; you have to weed the garden. If you’re raising animals; you have to cull the herd. That’s what needs to happen. We need to turn our law enforcement people into a screw to where the people that are taken full custody arrest of are processed for immigration backgrounds and those that have criminal records removed. That’s not so hard to understand because these people are being picked up committing other crimes.
Just the other day, Glenn Beck was complaining that everyone thinks that he hates President Obama while insisting that he doesn't, claiming, as proof, that he had never even called for Obama to be impeached.
That was, of course, a lie ... and today he took things a step further on his radio program by accusing Obama of treason.
Furious about the speech President Obama delivered on Syria last night, Beck asserted that any military action against the Syrian regime would be for the benefit of al Qaeda, which would make Obama guilty of aiding and abetting the enemies of the United States of America and "that makes him a traitor."
Saying that Obama "doesn't think like an American, he thinks like a guy in the Middle East, he thinks like a foreigner," Beck said of Obama's speech last night that "somebody should get the dictionary out for [the definition of] treason because I'm pretty sure there has to be several witnesses to someone aiding and abetting the enemy of the United States."
"How are we seriously being asked to aid and abet the enemy of the United States of America?" Beck bellowed. "How's that possible? How dead inside does he think we are to ask us to go along with it on the eve of September 11?":
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