Tag Archives: Common Cause

Trump conflict plan woefully inadequate 

President-elect Donald Trump’s planned arrangement with the Trump Organization falls far short of what’s necessary to avoid conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause violations that will dog his administration and severely undermine the public’s faith in government.

Common Cause has called on President-elect Trump to divest from the Trump Organization and put his wealth into a blind trust managed independently from him.

Instead, he’s decided to retain full ownership of the Trump Organization and have two of his sons run it—no divestment and no independence.

These are the same two sons who recently had their name attached to an inauguration fundraiser that promised access to their father for those willing to pay $1 million dollars. The event was cancelled but the precedent was troubling.

The American public must now demand complete transparency of the Trump Organization and President-elect Trump’s finances.

Such transparency is America’s only hope for protecting itself against conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause violations — and holding President-elect Trump accountable for his promises to avoid conflicts and violations of the constitution.

The president-elect must take additional steps immediately to safeguard the integrity of the office of the president.

To begin with, Trump must release his taxes and quit hiding the facts and the potential conflicts from the American people.

At today’s press conference, when asked to release his tax returns, the president-elect rejected the request and claimed that the “only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters.”

Common Cause’s more than 700,000 members and supporters care about the president-elect’s tax returns and additional financial disclosure.

We demand it.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Wisconsin ethics commission votes to allow members to contribute to state campaigns

By Jay Heck, Common Cause in Wisconsin

This week, the newly-constituted partisan Wisconsin Ethics Commission voted 4-2 to allow its members to make political contributions to state candidates for election.

This is insanity.

As Ethics Commission member Robert Kinney, a former Oneida County circuit judge, argued, “it’s a matter of perception and public confidence.”

“We have, right now, people claiming that elections are rigged,” Kinney said. “We don’t want to create a situation where there’s less confidence in government, less confidence in fairness, less confidence in nonpartisanship.”

Kinney and Republican Pat Strachota, the former Assembly majority leader, effectively voted against allowing contributions according to an AP article about the vote.

But much shame on Peg Lautenschlager, the former Democratic Attorney General, for voting against the ban on contributions from the partisan commissioners.

As well as to Democratic, hyper-partisan attorney, David Halbrooks, Republican Party partisan Katie McCallum and former Republican state Senator and Waukesha County Judge Mac Davis for their support of allowing commission members to make contributions.

Just how stupid do they think Wisconsinites are?

The nonpartisan retired judges, who comprised the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board prior to June 30 did not make political contributions to candidates for state office. But these commissioners, by a 4-2 vote, decided “it’s fine.”

No, it isn’t.

How far we have fallen, so quickly.

Wisconsinites already have very little confidence in the newly-constituted, hyper-partisan GAB to effectively oversee elections, campaign finance law, ethics and lobbying in Wisconsin, which was formed by Republican legislators and Gov. Scott Walker after they destroyed the nonpartisan GAB late last year.

This latest decision destroys what little confidence there may have been.

Common Cause in Wisconsin is a non-partisan, nonprofit citizen’s lobby that focuses on campaign finance, election and lobby reform, open meetings law and other issues concerning the promotion and maintenance of “clean,” open, responsive and accountable government.

40 percent of state uncompetitive due to gerrymandering

With the passing of the June 1 deadline for candidate filings for state legislative and congressional seats in Wisconsin, we now have a clearer picture of how just how incredibly uncompetitive Wisconsin’s general elections have become due to gerrymandering.

“Congratulations” to state Senators-elect: Darling, Miller, Stroebel, Wirch, Risser and Craig! You have won already!

Those six, of the 16 State senators running for re-election (or in an open seat) this year, are totally unopposed.

Of Wisconsin’s 99 Assembly seats, more than one-third (34) have incumbents with no opponents in November. There are 17 unopposed Republicans and 17 unopposed Democrats. In an additional six Assembly districts, Republican or Democratic incumbents face only minor party opposition.

That means that in over 40 percent of Wisconsin Assembly elections this fall, there is either none or very little opposition to incumbents — or, in the case of open seats, to the current political party now holding that seat.

Here is the complete listing of candidates for state legislative and congressional districts for both the August primaries and November general election.

This situation is due to the most hyper-partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts in our state history in 2011. Wisconsin also has among the most extreme gerrymandered maps in the nation’s history. Wisconsin voters have far fewer choices than ever before in general elections and the fewest districts on record that can even remotely be considered competitive.
The need for fair voter maps and for an end to partisan gerrymandering has never been more compelling.

GOP state Rep. Dave Martin, who represented Neenah-Menasha from 1961 to 1971, made a compelling case for why Republicans should embrace a non-partisan redistricting process like Iowa has had since 1980. You can read it in this opinion-editorial published June 5 in 10 Gannett-owned Wisconsin daily newspapers.

You can help elevate the need for fair voter maps in Wisconsin by signing (only if you have not yet done so) our petition to the Wisconsin Legislature demanding enactment into law of the Iowa redistricting model for Wisconsin in the next legislative session. Our goal is to get 5,000 signatures by December and we have almost 2,000 now, but we need your help in reaching our goal.
Thank you. Never surrender!

Jay Heck is the executive director of Common Cause. Visit the group’s website at www.commoncusewisconsin.org

Activists protest Walker signing ban against local IDs

Civil rights advocates responded with protests and pledges to fight on after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation that prohibits counties and towns from spending money on or issuing photo IDs.

The law also prohibits the use of city or village IDs to vote or obtain public benefits.

The legislation is the GOP’s response to the partnership forged between the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County — with strong support and leadership from progressive organizations — to issue IDs to residents who have difficulty obtaining other government IDs.

The coalition behind the partnership includes End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, GenderQueer Milwaukee, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, Project Return, St. Ben’s Community Meal, the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, Wisconsin Jobs Now and Voces de la Frontera.

“Gov. Walker and the Republicans in the state Legislature should be ashamed of themselves for taking away local governments’ ability to recognize and respond to the needs of some of their most vulnerable constituents and they will suffer consequences for their bigotry,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera.

Voces de la Frontera said activists would focus on the issue on May Day, which includes a march and a rally, beginning at 1027 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee, at 2 p.m.

The day also will bring a boycott of Menards.

“We made it clear that if this bill was passed we would call for a boycott of one of Gov. Walker’s largest corporate funders and, on May 1, in Milwaukee and throughout the nation, we will be calling on all people who believe in the dignity of all people to boycott Menards. SB533 has no value except to continue to affirm and institutionalize the politics of hate, division and scapegoating. We call on all people of conscience to not spend one dime in Menards for their home or business needs and to help us spread the word.”

The day he signed the legislation, Walker turned to Twitter to say that government IDs should be uniform throughout the state and that “state-issued photo ID cards are available for free upon request at DMV.”

However, state-issued ID cards are not as easy to obtain as Walker implied.

Letters recently released by Common Cause in Wisconsin indicate how the GOP enacted legislation mandating the use of certain government-issued photo IDs to vote but then failed to help under-served communities — particularly in rural areas — obtain the necessary IDs.

Last June, representatives of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Voices, Fair Elections Legal Network, 9to5, Wisconsin African-American Roundtable, One Wisconsin Institute, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Our Democracy 2020 wrote to Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

They shared concerns that 300,000 eligible voters lacked an ID needed to cast a ballot in Wisconsin and that 60 of only 92 Division of Motor Vehicle centers in the state were open just two days a week or less. In some locations, the DMV centers were open just six days a year and only two centers were open after 5 p.m. on a weekday.

“The elderly, poor, those without cars, or handicapped persons — particularly those in rural and remote areas of the state — will have to travel a great distance to get to their nearest DMV center,” the letter read. “It is not only a cost to them to travel this distance, but may pose some safety risk. Those with limited mobility may be forced to seek out someone who would have the time and be kind enough to take them to a DMV. This is not how trying to vote should work.”

The writers asked Gottlieb to establish a mobile DMV service, but their letter and their suggestions went unanswered.

In March, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, wrote to Walker, noting that mobile DMV centers have been successful in Alabama, Indiana, Virginia and Texas. He urged a program in Wisconsin so the state would be “in a far better position to fully implement the new voter ID requirement.”

Heck received a response, from Gottlieb, on March 22, before the spring election and presidential primary. Gottlieb said the DMV expanded services and hours — a minimum of 20 hours per week in every county and offering Saturday morning hours in some locations.

Gottlieb, however, did not mention the request for mobile DMV operations in under-served communities.

Heck said in a statement, “The Walker administration has not now, nor has it ever … had any plans to make these required forms of ID needed to vote easier to procure by setting up a mobile program.”

Heck said this, along with the lack of state funding for a public information campaign, led him to conclude that Walker, Gottlieb and “the Republican –controlled Wisconsin Legislature are engaged in a widespread, coordinated, systematic campaign” of voter suppression.

Twenty-nine other states have a voter ID rule now in force.

In North Carolina, civil rights attorneys are appealing a recent U.S. district court ruling upholding a 2013 major rewrite of state voting laws.

The ruling rejected arguments by the state NAACP, the U.S. Justice Department, churches and individuals that the election changes approved by the GOP-led General Assembly disproportionately harmed minority voters.

Critics had sued, alleging that the voting law was passed to discriminate against poor and minority voters in violation of the Constitution and U.S. Voting Rights Act.

But District Judge Thomas Schroeder said, “North Carolina has provided legitimate state interests for its voter ID requirement and electoral system.”

Lawyers for the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and others filed notices of plans to appeal the 485-page ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, called the ruling “almost 500 pages of rationalization for the intentional race-based voter suppression law that everybody knows was written to suppress African-American votes.”

The AP contributed to this report.

Republican lawmakers target voter registration drives in Wisconsin

The Republican-controlled State Senate may consider legislation as early as Feb. 9 that would effectively undermine organized voter registration drives in Wisconsin.

Last week, on a 3-2 party-line vote, Republicans on the State Senate Elections Committee approved Senate Bill 295, along with an “11th-hour” amendment authored by the committee’s chair, Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg. Among other things, SB 295 would allow (some) Wisconsinites to register to vote online, but would eliminate “the authority to appoint and use special registration deputies.”

While we vigorously support online voter registration, we do not support this version or this legislation.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and many other good government groups in Wisconsin, oppose Senate Bill 295 in its present form as well.

The GOP proposal allows only those with a Wisconsin drivers license or state-issued ID access to the online system. As a result, those individuals less likely to have those forms of ID (minorities, the elderly, low-income persons, and students) — the very people most likely to be served by special registration deputies — will be left out in the cold, having far fewer options to be able to register to vote.

This legislation would make Wisconsin the only state in the country to offer online voter registration at a cost that outweighs the benefits of instituting such a system.

Currently, special registration deputies are appointed by a municipal clerk to register fellow citizens at many venues within their municipality. You will often see SRDs during election season at libraries, community centers, nursing homes, farmer’s markets, outside of banks, at supermarkets, and on college campuses. The success of voter registration drives — conducted by groups like the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Voces de la Frontera, and the American Association of University Women — hinges on the SRD’s authority to register voters.

SRDs have been registering voters in Wisconsin for more than 40 years without any problem whatsoever, and there is no valid reason to eliminate them.

Please help us stop this latest attempt to make it harder for thousands of Wisconsinites to be able to register and to vote. Call or email your state senator and urge your senator to oppose SB 295! If you don’t know who your state senator is, go here.

GOP fights challenge to gerrymandered Assembly map

The Wisconsin Department of Justice wants a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the redistricting map drawn by lawmakers to the benefit of the GOP.

Meanwhile, a grassroots petition drive aimed at revamping the redistricting process is getting attention in the state. The petition circulating on the Web by the nonpartisan group Common Cause Wisconsin calls on lawmakers to remove politics from redistricting decisions.

Every 10 years, state legislatures redraw the boundaries of state and federal political districts based on the results of a new U.S. Census. The intent is to reflect changes in population and ensure fair representation — one person, one vote.

But in many states, like Wisconsin, lawmakers draw the districts in a way that favors their parties.

There now are several skirmishes over redistricting maps drawn and adopted after the 2010 census, including in:

• Florida, where a court ruled that the Florida Legislature violated a pair of 2010 state constitutional amendments banning partisan redistricting. The Florida House adopted a map on Aug. 18 that contained changes for all 27 of the state’s congressional districts. 

• Virginia, where a federal court will redraw the state’s congressional districts after it became clear that lawmakers would fail to reach agreement on redistricting by a court-mandated Sept. 1 deadline. 

• North Carolina, where legislators are working on a redo of the state’s congressional map under court order.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, a federal lawsuit filed earlier this summer challenges the 2010 state Assembly map, alleging the map benefits Republicans and the boundary lines were drawn in secret, at the offices of a law firm hired by GOP leaders.

The 30-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Madison on behalf of 12 Democrats, alleges the map is “one of the worst gerrymanders in modern American history.” The Democrats argue that gerrymandering is unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic. The complaint seeks a review by a panel of three judges that could put the dispute on a fast track to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is headed by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, filed a motion to dismiss the challenge in mid-August. The state argues:

• Plaintiffs do not have standing unless they live in a gerrymandered district.

• No standard exists for measuring the impact of a gerrymander on the right to legislative representation.

However, a report from Common Cause Wisconsin suggests an obvious measurement — election results. 

In the first election after redistricting, Republicans won 60 of 99 Assembly seats but Democrats won a majority of the statewide votes cast in Assembly races.

Also, a CCW report released earlier this summer shows that Wisconsin state legislative races in 2014 were far less competitive than those in 2010. Only 10.3 percent of winning candidates defeated their opponents by less than 10 percent in 2014. Four years earlier, before the new map was drawn, about 23.3 percent of races were within 10 points.

While the legal fight over the current map continues in federal court, CCW is encouraging lawmakers to pass legislation that would create a nonpartisan process for redrawing boundaries. Common Cause is a nonprofit dedicated to good government and accountability.

CCW encourages Wisconsin voters to support the nonpartisan redistricting effort via a petition.

“As Wisconsinites, voters and constituents, we call on you to reform Wisconsin’s current partisan redistricting system,” the petition states. “We look to you, our elected representatives, to bring competition back to Wisconsin’s elections, ensuring that voters have a real choice at the polls, by removing politics from — and restoring transparency to — a process that has become far too partisan, secretive and expensive.”

The petitioners propose a process similar to one that Iowa implemented in 1981, in which legislative boundaries are drawn by a nonpartisan state agency.

The goal for Wisconsin would be to establish such a process in time for redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census.

Common Cause and other good-government groups are pushing reform in other states, including Ohio, where voters on Nov. 3 will decide a ballot initiative intended to reduce partisanship in redistricting.

In November 2016, Illinois voters could consider a constitutional amendment to create a citizens commission to draw legislative districts. In Indiana, a newly created legislative commission is studying redistricting options. 

Reform efforts also are underway in Minnesota, where gridlock over redistricting has resulted in court-drawn maps for decades.

Court ruling expands the influence of donors in Wisconsin elections while shielding them from disclosure

A court decision ending an investigation into the activities of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign could transform Wisconsin elections by allowing candidates to coordinate their campaigns with outside organizations — or PACs — that support them, while shielding the candidate’s PAC donors from fundraising limits and disclosure.

That opens the door to unlimited spending by outside groups on advertising that campaigns will be able to direct and manage and the state can’t track. Candidates could encourage donors who have reached their limit on direct contributions to donate to organizations working on their behalf.

“(Political donors) don’t like the fact their names are disclosed. This way they can give secretly,” said Jay Heck, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin. “Why would you contribute a disclosed contribution of $10,000 when you can avoid the hassle of people knowing who you are and contribute an unlimited amount of money to an issue ad? This is a brave new world.”

Questions about the investigation have dogged Walker for months, a period in which he also was raising his national profile ahead of formally announcing his presidential campaign. Barring an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling makes his quest for the White House smoother as he courts voters in early primary states.

The case concerned political activity conducted by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative organizations during the 2012 recall effort against Walker.

Court documents released last year offer a partial indication of how coordination could work going forward. Those documents show Walker’s campaign aides told him to let donors know they could make unlimited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth without having the contributions publicly disclosed. The club then funneled the money to other conservative groups that advertised on the governor’s behalf.

Heck warned that closer relationships between candidates and outside groups would lead to quid pro quo policies and legislation benefiting the groups. “It’s just going to enable candidates and outside groups to do a lot more things,” he said. “That makes those outside groups very valuable to the candidate and they’re more beholden to them. It really puts citizens on the sidelines.”

Republican campaign strategists see such coordination as free speech, and the Supreme Court ruling an affirmation of the ability of all groups to express their views.

“You’re going to see more freedom of speech and how people choose to express themselves, whether it’s through advertising, digital, social media. Whatever medium they choose to use, they could,” said Brandon Scholz, a veteran GOP campaign strategist. “It’s going to mean more free-flowing donations to groups on both sides. It will be more money going into elections. If you want to change that, change the U.S. Constitution and freedom of speech.”

David Rivkin, an attorney who represents Wisconsin Club for Growth, said candidates have been talking with outside groups and helping them raise money for decades.

“You can have a political campaign talk to a social welfare group and tell them we want to emphasize our era of environmental success. ‘What do you think is the best way to explain this?’” he said. “That’s called collaboration. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

At least three groups named in the investigation, including Club for Growth, spent heavily on getting the four conservative justices who penned the opinion elected. Two of the four refused prosecution calls to recuse themselves. That could form the basis for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, although lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz hasn’t said whether he’ll pursue that avenue.

Democrats said they’re ready to play the game by the new rules.

“While we firmly believe that people want to see less, not more, money in politics,” state Democratic Party spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said, “we ultimately will work within the bounds of the law to ensure we can take advantage of every available resource to help us.”

Common Cause wants special counsel on campaign finance violations in presidential race

Common Cause on June 15 urged U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible criminal violations of campaign finance laws.

The watchdog nonprofit made the call as Jeb Bush officially announced his candidacy for president.

“It’s good to see Gov. Bush acknowledge what has been apparent for some time — he is a candidate,” said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport. “Unfortunately, he and other candidates in both major parties have been testing the limits of laws that were sensibly designed to limit the influence of big dollar donors in our elections and our government. Because the Federal Election Commission is paralyzed by the partisan split among its members and thus unable to act, the Justice Department must see that the laws are enforced.”

Evidence provided to the U.S. Department of Justice in late May by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center more than justifies their request for appointment of a special counsel to investigate fundraising by Bush for his Right to Rise super PAC and an affiliated non-profit organization, Rapoport said.

And whoever is appointed should have authority to extend the inquiry to cover fundraising by other candidates as needed, whether the candidates are declared and undeclared, Republican, Democratic and independent, Common Cause said.

Bush tweeted a message on December 10, 2014, saying, “I am excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.”

Since then, he has helped the Right to Rise super PAC in a reported quest to raise $100 million by the end of June, including some contributions of $1 million or more, despite the federal limit of $2,700 on solicitations by candidates.

“Today’s announcement is not the first time Gov. Bush publicly has called himself a candidate,” Rapoport noted. “But for months he also has insisted that his mind was not made up. Today’s declaration is powerful evidence that his apparent indecision was a convenient way to skirt laws that limit fundraising by candidates while he helped Right to Rise and its nonprofit arm collect six- and seven-figure checks, including some from anonymous donors.”

Rapoport said the law makes it clear that anyone who behaves like a candidate, declared or not, must observe campaign finance laws.

Even those who are simply “testing the waters,” are subject to fundraising limits, he noted.

Goals clash as Wisconsin prepares to rewrite campaign finance law | Money & Politics column

Testifying at a recent informational hearing on legislative plans to revamp the state’s campaign finance law, Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin made a keen observation. Two diametrically opposed camps, he noted, both see this as an opportunity.

On one side are advocacy groups like Common Cause, which Heck said long “to strengthen our once effective and widely admired campaign finance laws and return Wisconsin elections and state government to the citizens.” On the other side, he said, are those who “view this as an opportunity to deregulate and dismantle all limitations on money in our elections.”

As the process wends its way from informational hearing to bill to law, which side is more likely to see its dream come true? Heck laughs before making what is for him a painful response: “I don’t think there’s much question about where the majority in the Legislature is likely to go.” He expects more spending and less transparency.

Chapter 11 of the state statutes, governing campaign financing, clearly needs a rewrite. Court rulings have blown huge holes in the law, which dates to 1974. One lawyer called the result “a confusing mess.”

But as the March 24 hearing testimony before a joint legislative committee showed, there is vast disagreement over what changes should be made. Here are some contested areas:

Campaign spending limits: Common Cause and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, represented at the hearing by Matt Rothschild, argued that the $10,000 upper limit on individual donations to candidates for statewide office, like governor and attorney general, is already too high. They want the current limits of $1,000 and $500 for state Senate and Assembly races, respectively, to stay about the same.

In fact, these limits are likely to rise. Kevin Kennedy, director of the state Government Accountability Board, noted that they have not changed in 40 years. A bill introduced last session, as amended with bipartisan support, would have doubled the limits; it passed the Assembly on a voice vote but stalled in the Senate.

Regulation of issue ads: Rothschild and Heck urged full disclosure for all electioneering communications within 60 days of an election. They noted that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2010 ruling that opened the floodgates on spending by outside groups, pointedly rejected the idea that disclosure rules can apply only to communications that expressly tell people how to vote.

On the other side, Wisconsin Right to Life proposed bill language that would enshrine the express advocacy standard into law, exempting those who run so-called issue ads from having to report. The bill that passed the Assembly last session would have done the same.

Coordination restrictions: A central issue in the stalled John Doe II probe involving Gov. Scott Walker is whether it is legal for campaigns to coordinate with outside groups that do not engage in express advocacy. The Legislature could change the law to explicitly allow this. Heck warned that doing so would be “a huge and tragic mistake.” He said it would “effectively eviscerate” contribution limits because campaigns could coordinate with those who gave unlimited sums.

Public financing: Heck called for a robust state system of public financing, which he readily acknowledges is outside of the realm of political possibility. One of the first things Republicans did after gaining control of the Legislature and governor’s office in 2011 was to kill public financing for elections, even stripping away the statutory language that allowed it.

Purpose of the law: Wisconsin’s current campaign finance law begins with a strong Declaration of Policy, including this: “When the true source of support or extent of support is not fully disclosed, or when a candidate becomes overly dependent upon large private contributors, the democratic process is subjected to a potential corrupting influence.”

It will be interesting to see whether this language survives.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Reaction to the FCC vote that could lead to pay-for-priority Internet

The Federal Communications Commission on May 15 voted to propose a new rule that could let Internet service providers charge content companies for priority treatment, relegating other content to a slower tier of service.

The proposal follows a January decision by the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court that stuck down key provisions of the FCC’s existing net neutrality rules.

The day of the vote, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the FCC to condemn the plan and urge the FCC to protect “Net Neutrality.” To beating drums and chants of “Save the Internet,” there were speeches delivered from Internet freedom advocates and social justice activists, who then filed into the meeting.

After the vote, Craig Aaron of the Free Press said, “Millions of people have put the FCC on notice. A pay-for-priority Internet is unacceptable. Today, both Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel stated that they support prohibitions on paid prioritization and other forms of unreasonable discrimination. Tom Wheeler spoke passionately about the open Internet, but his rousing rhetoric doesn’t match the reality of his proposal. The only way to accomplish the chairman’s goals is to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers.”

He continued, “The commission says it wants to hear from the public; it will be hearing a lot more. This fight will stretch into the fall, but there’s one clear answer: The American people demand real Net Neutrality, and the FCC must restore it.”

Michael Copps, speaking as an adviser to Common Cause, said, “This is an alarming day for anyone who treasures a free and open Internet — which should be all of us. The FCC could have moved decisively to guarantee that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression and the exchange of democracy-sustaining communications. Instead, the Commission again left broadband users without the protections they deserve.

“Let’s be clear. Any proposal to allow fast lanes for the few is emphatically not net neutrality. The clear common-sense prerequisite for an Open Internet is Title II reclassification, guaranteeing the agency’s authority to protect consumers and ensure free speech online.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also has concerns. Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor with the ACLU, said, “This proposed rule leaves the individual at the mercy of an increasingly concentrated broadband market, in which the big players will be able to act as gatekeepers for online speech, deciding what gets seen and when.

“Fortunately, the FCC left the door open to fix this problem by reclassifying broadband internet service as what it really is: a public utility, or in legal terms, a ‘common carrier,’ which we will continue to vigorously advocate for. This is a First Amendment issue because if broadband service providers are allowed to slow or block some content at will, they will be able to stifle the speech of internet users. The FCC must ensure that it has the tools necessary to prevent such blocking or discrimination against certain types of content.”