Archive for April, 2012

Today, the citizens and elected officials of the Green Mountain State can take immense pride in their leadership in the nationwide pro-democracy uprising sparked by the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Vermont’s legislature has now become the third in the nation to approve a resolution demanding a constitutional amendment that ensures the rights of We the People. The Vermont House’s overwhelming, tri-partisan vote ( 92-40, including 5 Republicans) came on the heels of a similar wide margin (26-3) in the Senate last week, and follows the passage of resolutions in Hawaii and New Mexico. A majority of Maryland’s legislature has also signed onto a letter to the state’s congressional delegation calling on it to support an amendment.

The resolution, authored by State Senator Ginny Lyons, is a rebuke of the judicially-invented ideas that corporations have the same constitutional rights as living, breathing human beings and that money equals speech. Organizing around those principles, Public Citizen joined with scores of organizations and grassroots activists in Vermont to simultaneously pass measures demanding a constitutional amendment at 65 town meetings on March 6.

The resolution passed today specifically cites the mandate conveyed by that statewide burst of direct democracy, which The Nation’s John Nichols dubbed “The Great Vermont Uprising Against Corporate Personhood.

The vote also came just one day after Vermont activist Georgina Forbes, one of the local organizers behind the Town Meeting Day effort in March, told her story to a packed congressional summit on overturning Citizens United held at the U.S. Capitol. She described how hundreds of people from all walks of life, Democrats and Republicans alike, “stood at the dump, outside of the post office, in front of the general store and spoke with our neighbors and gathered names on petitions to get this article on the ballot” and then to build toward success both last month and in the state legislature.

Yesterday, members of Congress hailed Georgina and the other members of the Vermonters Say Corporations Are Not People coalition, along with state and local elected officials from Maine and New Mexico, as a national model for this essential movement. Today, their hard work continued to pay off, as the state of Vermont is now official in declaring its readiness to ratify a strong constitutional amendment.

American patriots around the country are gearing up to follow suit. Similar resolutions have been introduced in 20 other states, and have passed at least one chamber in Alaska, California and Iowa. In June, Resolutions Week will see even more cities and towns nationwide join the Vermont 65, New York City, Los Angeles and over 100 others that have demanded a constitutional amendment.

Vermont’s citizens, meanwhile, have every reason to take a deep breath and celebrate their tremendous string of victories. And then, of course, they’ll roll up their sleeves and get back to work in making sure that the rest of the country follows suit in the months and years to come.

Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign. Follow the campaign on Twitter @RuleByUs, as well as the hashtag #Democracy4 Sale, for the latest on the money and politics and the campaign for a constitutional amendment!

"Bart Naylor" "Financial policy"Among the many corruptions underpinning escalating CEO pay, highlighted in the newly released AFL-CIO PayWatch website report, are the mutual fund voters failing to relay common outrage at executive compensation.

Consider the basics: CEO pay rose 14 percent in 2011 over 2010 to an average of $13 million for Fortune 500 CEOs, the AFL-CIO survey finds. The average CEO earned 380 times the average worker in 2011, up from 343 in 2010; that multiple was only 42 times in 1980. Studies show such disparities harm employee morale and productivity.

How are mutual fund managers exercising their ownership responsibilities as stewards for average investors? Irresponsibly, according to a new feature in the national union’s authoritative annual survey.
In “say on pay” votes, a Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform provision, where voters register a non-binding referendum on the pay package, mutual funds vote “no” an average of only 11.5 percent of the time. The largest funds counted among the worst: Vanguard voted “no” only 1.3 percent of the time against the pay package; Blackrock 3.3 percent; American Century 8.3 percent; State Street 8.9 percent.

Critics point to an inherent conflict: mutual fund companies often manage portfolios for these same corporations and may not wish to complain about the pay of the official who ultimately selects them.
However, there are several signs of hope. This week’s game-changing rejection of Citigroup’s pay package at its annual shareholder meeting offers one example. With a 44 percent decline in the share price in 20111, and 93 percent collapse since the financial crisis, many mutual funds obviously joined the 55 percent majority in rejecting a pay package built on low profit goals.

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The grassroots movement for a constitutional amendment to return control over our democracy to We the People just got a big endorsement from more than a dozen members of the United States Congress.  The “Congressional Summit on Overturning Citizens United,” convened by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) at the U.S. Capitol, spotlighted the growing movement to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and other egregious Supreme Court rulings that go against core constitutional and democratic principles.

Lurking somewhere in the crowd, but live-tweeting from an alternate universe not inhabited by the overwhelming majority of the American people, Citizens United head honcho David Bossie dismissed these leaders and grassroots advocates as “clowns” and “socialists” who want to “chill speech.”

Back in the reality where money is property and not speech, and unlimited political spending by corporations and the super-wealthy to buy influence and access  is antithetical to First Amendment values, today’s event was a breath of fresh air in a Capitol where large corporations and wealthy interests dominate the conversation all too often.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), other lawmakers, activists and democracy groups gather to sign a "Declaration for Democracy" that calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision and related cases.

Instead, we heard the voices of concerned Americans like Georgina Forbes of  Vermont. She described how people from all walks of life, Democrat and Republican and Independent alike, organized so that citizens at more than 65 town meetings throughout her state would simultaneously demand a constitutional amendment based on the principles that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Last week, the Vermont Senate followed suit in a similar fashion. What’s more, the legislatures of New Mexico, Maryland and Hawaii also have announced their support for an amendment, and similar efforts are under way in more than 17 other states.

Responding to these citizen-led efforts and to thousands of demonstrations nationwide that took place in January (on the two-year anniversary of Citizens United), members of Congress from both chambers today lined up to join state and local elected officials, grassroots activists like Georgina, and diverse pro-democracy organizations in signing a Declaration for Democracy in support of these kinds of constitutional amendment efforts.

With Americans continuing to agree by more than a 3-to-1 margin that unlimited spending in elections by corporations and the super-rich is bad for democracy, and supporting amending the U.S. Constitution by similar wide margins, these supportive voices in Congress are just responding to the will of the people in one sense. But in a system where those with money and power are allowed to game the process, it takes true leadership to stand up to that rising tide at its peak. The dozen-plus individuals attending today’s event have exhibited that leadership and deserve our continued thanks and encouragement.

Many of them, as well as the entire 76-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, are actively supporting Resolutions Week, a nationwide initiative spearheaded by Public Citizen in partnership with other organizations, aimed at passing still more local resolutions that call for a constitutional amendment the week of June 11. More than 5,400 people in all 50 states have signed up to push local resolutions, hoping to join the hundreds of municipalities that have taken action so far.

Also on board are both labor and business leaders, united by the recognition that a political system where only a handful of large corporations can dominate and corrupt the process is bad for workers’ rights and bad for fostering actual business competition. Selling access to the highest bidder reverberates negatively whether you’re a member of the Communications Workers of America trying to organize for better wages, or summit speaker Rudy Arredondo, who represents Latino ranchers and farmers, whose voices all too often are drowned out by campaign-cash-flush agribusiness interests.

That simple, commonsense logic is why more than 1,000 corporate, investment and small-business leaders have declared their support for a constitutional amendment, and why recent polling shows that small-business owners view the impact of Citizens United (and of the dominant role of money in our politics) as bad for business by a whopping 7-to-1 margin. Again, this movement is not about “silencing” anybody, but ensuring that all Americans’ voices and rights are paramount in our democracy.

As Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) reminded today’s capacity crowd, James Madison said that constitutional amendments were remedies for “extraordinary occasions.” With our democracy up for sale to the aristocracy of corporate influence that Thomas Jefferson had hoped would be crushed in its birth, we’ve sadly arrived at one of those moments.

The movement to respond to extraordinary circumstances threatening the health of our democracy, just as generations before us have done, is being driven by determined American patriots throughout the nation. And as today’s event demonstrated, their message is no longer the pipe dream it may have seemed in the immediate aftermath of Citizens United, but the mainstream voice of the masses who want to reclaim their democracy and their Constitution.

Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign. Follow the campaign on Twitter @RuleByUs, as well as the hashtag #Democracy4 Sale,  for the latest on the money and politics and the campaign for a constitutional amendment!

Tyson Slocum (center) was one of three panelists called to testify about speculation, gas prices and Dodd-Frank reforms at a U.S. Senate committee hearing in November 2011.

Note: Today, President Barack Obama called for a crackdown on oil speculators by increasing oversight of energy markets, boosting penalties for firms that engage in market manipulation and providing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with more resources to deter price manipulation.

It’s about time. President Barack Obama finally is offering concrete steps to address the role that market speculation plays in our ever-escalating gas prices. We’re pleased that he is suggesting ways to help lower the price consumers pay at the pump. In fact, Public Citizen in the past has called for many of the things Obama is calling for – such as more resources for regulators and higher penalties for market manipulation.

It’s a good start. But it’s just that – a start. More should be done.

In fact, the president doesn’t need to wait for lawmakers or agencies to act. Right now, the attorney general can take several key steps that would make clear that the government is serious about reining in speculators. For instance, the administration should subpoena major traders and conduct a real investigation into the role that speculators have in increasing gas prices for working Americans.

In addition, we urge the president to add to his congressional to-do list placing a 5 percent limit on the amount of any energy market that a single trader can control (some firms control as much as 50 percent of the market).

Cheap gas is gone. Cracking down on speculators can shave as much as a dollar off the price of gas, but ultimately we need to work toward long-term solutions, such as aggressively investing in renewable fuels as well as the electrification of the transportation sector, and increasing deployment of mass transit.

The president is clearly under pressure to address gas prices. We agree with all his suggestions. We urge him to do more.

For more information about this issue please see Tyson Slocum’s testimony from the above-pictured fall congressional hearing on speculation:

Tyson Slocum is Public Citizen’s Energy Program director and a frequently called upon expert on oil, speculation and gas prices. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum.



Picture of baby

Last week’s launch of Public Citizen’s campaign to stop infant formula marketing in healthcare facilities got lots of people talking – and acting. In less than a week, more than 13,000 people signed their names to a petition calling on the three major formula companies to stop using healthcare facilities to market their products. Dozens of news outlets and blogs covered the campaign’s launch, which also included sending letters, co-signed by more than 100 other organizations, to more than 2,600 hospitals across the country. The organizations are calling on hospitals to stop allowing formula companies to co-opt their facilities for profit-making purposes that undermine the advice of all major healthcare provider organizations: Breastfeeding is best for babies and mothers’ health.

People signed on to the petition and cheered our efforts because they agree that allowing corporations to commercialize an environment that we turn to in our most vulnerable moments – when we seek out healthcare – is unconscionable. Moreover, many families know just how challenging breastfeeding can be. Obstacles to successful breastfeeding abound. Prominent among these is the unrelenting pressure Big Formula marketing places on women to use their products. Formula marketing also creates barriers by instilling doubt in many women about their capacity to successfully breastfeed.

The Infant Formula Council, the industry trade group, responded to our campaign in typically misleading fashion. The IFC claimed that we had called for the elimination of “infant feeding education materials and samples for mothers in hospitals.” This “education,” they claimed, is necessary to ensure the health and safety of babies. In similar fashion, the American Hospital Association defended its members’ practices, claiming that “having information and resources” available to moms in hospitals is the duty of responsible hospitals.

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