Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. Very rowdy group. Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you, thank you so very much for being here. I love you all, too.
Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for and I’m sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.
But I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together, this vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I know how disappointed you feel, because I feel it, too. And so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort.
This is painful and it will be for a long time, but I want you to remember this. Our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought, but I still believe in America and I always will. If you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future.
Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things. The rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.
And let me add, our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Making our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet, and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams.
We have spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone, for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people and for people with disabilities. For everyone. So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek, and I know you will. I am so grateful to stand with all of you.
I want to thank Tim Kaine and Anne Holton for being our partners on this journey. It has been a joy getting to know them better and it gives me great hope and comfort to know that Tim will remain on the front lines of our democracy representing Virginia in the senate. To Barack and Michelle Obama, our country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude. We thank you for your graceful, determined leadership that has meant so much to so many Americans and people across the world.
And to Bill and Chelsea, Marc, Charlotte, Aiden, our brothers and our entire family, my love for you means more than I can ever express. You crisscrossed this country on our behalf and lifted me up when I needed it most, even 4-month-old Aden who traveled with his mom. I will always be grateful to the creative, talented, dedicated men and women at our headquarters in Brooklyn and across our country.
You poured your hearts into this campaign. For some of you who are veterans, it was a campaign after you had done other campaigns. Some of you, it was your first campaign. I want each of you to know that you were the best campaign anybody could have ever expected or wanted. And to the millions of volunteers, community leaders, activists and union organizers who knocked on doors, talked to neighbors, posted on Facebook, even in secret private Facebook sites,
I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward. To everyone who sent in contributions as small as $5 and kept us going, thank you. Thank you from all of us. And to the young people in particular, I hope you will hear this. I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I have had successes and I have had setbacks. Sometimes really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional public and political careers.
You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It is. It is worth it. And so we need — we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives, and to all the women and especially the young women who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.
Now — I — I know — I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now. And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams. Finally — finally, I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me.
I count my blessings every single day that I am an American, and I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.
Because, you know, you know I believe that we are stronger together, and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
So, my friends, let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come, and there is more work to do. I am incredibly honored and grateful to have had this chance to represent all of you in this consequential election.
May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Donald Trump keeps peddling the notion the vote may be rigged. It’s not clear if he does not understand the potential damage of his words — or he simply does not care.
Trump’s claim — made without evidence — undercuts the essence of American democracy, the idea that U.S. elections are both free and fair, with the vanquished peacefully stepping aside for the victor. His repeated assertions are sowing suspicion among his most ardent supporters, raising the possibility that millions of people may not accept the results on Nov. 8 if Trump does not win.
The responsibilities for the New York billionaire in such a scenario are minimal. Trump holds no public office and has said he’ll simply go back to his “very good way of life” if he loses.
Instead, it would be Democrat Hillary Clinton and congressional Republicans, should they win, who would be left trying to govern in a country divided not just by ideology, but also the legitimacy of the presidency.
As Trump’s campaign careens from crisis to crisis, he’s broadened his unfounded allegations that Clinton, her backers and the media are conspiring to steal the election. He’s accused Clinton of meeting with global financial powers to “plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty” and argued his opponent shouldn’t have even been allowed to seek the White House.
“Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and should be in jail,” Trump wrote Saturday morning on Twitter. “Instead she is running for president in what looks like a rigged election.”
Trump is referring to Clinton’s use of a private email system while serving as secretary of state. Republicans (and some Democrats) have harshly criticized her decision to do so, but the FBI did not recommend anyone face criminal charges for her use of a private email address run on a personal server.
Trump has offered only broad assertions about the potential for voter fraud and the complaints that the several women who have recently alleged he sexually accosted them are part of an effort to smear his campaign.
“It’s one big ugly lie, it’s one big fix,” Trump said at a Friday rally in North Carolina, adding later: “And the only thing I say is hopefully, hopefully, our patriotic movement will overcome this terrible deception.”
Trump’s supporters appear to be taking his grievances seriously. Only about a third of Republicans said they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence that votes on Election Day will be counted fairly, according to recent poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
During a campaign event Tuesday with Trump running mate Mike Pence, a voter said she was deeply concerned about voter fraud and vowed to be “ready for a revolution” if Clinton wins.
“Don’t say that,” Pence said, waving away the woman’s rallying cry.
There is no evidence voter fraud is a widespread problem in the United States. A study by a Loyola Law School professor found that out of 1 billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 known cases of impersonation fraud.
Trump’s motivations for stoking these sentiments seem clear.
One of his last hopes of winning the election is to suppress turnout by making these final weeks so repulsive to voters that some simply stay home. Trump advisers privately say they hope to turn off young people in particular. They lean Democratic but don’t have a long history of voting and are already skeptical of Clinton.
Trump is also likely considering how he would spin a loss to Clinton, given that he’s spent decades cultivating a brand that’s based on success and winning. His years in public life offer few examples where he’s owned up to his own failings and plenty where he’s tried to pass the blame on to others, as he’s now suggesting he would do if he’s defeated.
Clinton appears increasingly aware that if she wins, she’d arrive at the White House facing more than the usual political divides. “Damage is being done that we’re going to have to repair,” she said during a recent campaign stop.
But that task wouldn’t be Clinton’s alone.
The majority of Trump’s supporters are Republicans. If he loses, party leaders will have to reckon with how much credence they give to claims the election was rigged and how closely they can work with a president who at least some of their backers will likely view as illegitimate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office wouldn’t say Saturday whether he agreed with Trump’s assertions the election is being rigged. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Wisconsin lawmaker is “fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”
Republicans have already experienced the paralyzing effect of Trump stirring up questions about a president’s legitimacy. He spent years challenging President Barack Obama’s citizenship, deepening some GOP voters’ insistence that the party block the Democrat at every turn.
Jim Manley, a former adviser to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, recalled the skepticism some Republicans had about Obama. “I’m afraid a President Clinton is going to start off with far too many people raising similar questions,” he said.
For some of the protesters outside the Democratic convention this week, the demonstrations in Philadelphia are the latest in a lifetime of political activism. For others, they’re a first.
The demonstrators have come from near and far, some driven by specific issues, some inspired by a candidate.
Here are some of their stories.
Sue Kirby needed a second seat on the bus from Boston for her traveling and protesting companion: a larger-than-life Bernie Sanders doll with a papier-mache head and foam body.
Kirby, 65, built the doll about a year ago for Sanders rallies near home in Salem, Massachusetts. She learned from a lifetime of activism that having a prop is a good way to get public (and media) attention.
It works: People take pictures with him, and reporters ask questions.
Back in the 1970s, Kirby protested against the Vietnam War and in favor of women’s rights. The slightly built Kirby later worked as a welder at a factory so she could be a union organizer. She also worked for a policy organizing group for senior citizens.
Now she’s retired. “This is my job,” she said.
She sees younger Sanders supporters on the same activism path she was on 40 years ago. “I sort of see the next generation coming forward, being helped by the generation before them,” she said.
Living abroad helped Daisy Chacon tune into politics in the U.S., her home country.
Chacon, 31, returned to Boston in May after spending two years teaching English in Spain. She found that people there knew what was going on in their country – and hers. “They stand up for things,” Chacon said.
At the same time, she caught wind of Sanders and his populist movement. “To be honest, Bernie lit a fire under me,” she said. “I really didn’t believe in the political system before Bernie.”
As protesters began to show up for a rally Wednesday, Chacon, a student at Salem State University in Massachusetts, carried a sign calling for a ban on the gas-drilling technique known as fracking. She also had a plastic bag of “Latinos for Bernie” buttons to hand out.
AWAKENED BY SANDERS
Twenty-two-year-old Arthur Ryshov (REE-jawv), born in Russia and adopted by a family in Indiana, recently became a U.S. citizen, and now he is exercising his right to free speech.
Ryshov, who works for an engineering firm, came to Philadelphia from Bedford, Indiana, with his mother and has joined rallies and protests near City Hall and outside the Wells Fargo Center, where the evening convention proceedings are held.
Like most of the protesters, Ryshov is a Sanders supporter. He became one only in the last few months. Before researching Sanders and following his speeches on YouTube, Ryshov said, he wasn’t interested in politics at all.
“He opened my eyes to the reality we live in,” Ryshov said.
CHECKING IT OUT
At the edge of a rally on Wednesday, Drew Webb held a sign with a line drawn through the word “oligarchy.”
Webb, 32, said he really hadn’t given any thought to destroying oligarchy, but he does like the idea of the rally’s hero, Sanders. “He’s got a good cause,” Webb said. “He’s bringing people together.”
Even though he was off to the side, Webb considers himself a protester.
Webb, a Philadelphian who served just over two years in prison for drug trafficking, volunteers with a prison reform group. A few weeks ago, he joined his first march, making his way from impoverished North Philadelphia to Center City to protest violence by police against black people.
After witnessing nearly two years of similar demonstrations across the country, he finally felt compelled to join in: “Now it’s a boiling point.”
Wednesday was the third or fourth day for many protesters. They nursed foot blisters and sunburns and were generally haggard.
Not Jorge Ruvalcaba, 28, a computer technician from Palmdale, California, who was born in California but grew up in Mexico.
He arrived Tuesday night and was fresh for a day of protest. Despite temperatures in the 90s, he had on long pants and a long-sleeve shirt with a T-shirt over it reading “Our Political Revolution Bernie.”
Ruvalcaba is also a political neophyte, becoming a Sanders supporter just a few months ago.
While many protesters have spent days railing against Hillary Clinton and pledging not to support her, Ruvalcaba said his mission is to try to make sure she fights for key elements of Sanders’ agenda.
“If Bernie says we need to support her,” he said, “I guess, you know, what the heck?”
How did an American city’s water end up being poisoned with lead?
This month’s hearing in Congress about the crisis in Flint, Michigan, shed more heat than light on the decisions that poisoned the water more than 100,000 residents rely on to drink and bathe, including nearly 30,000 children and teens. Democrats focused their ire on Gov. Rick Snyder, while Republicans predictably tried to deflect blame onto the Environmental Protection Agency as part of their long-standing campaign to eliminate the agency responsible for regulating polluters.
But two Members of Congress honed in on the real culprit in the debacle: Snyder’s “emergency manager” law that stripped Flint of any local democratic control and put its fate in the hands of unaccountable executives hand-picked by Snyder.
“Did that emergency management system fail under your leadership in this matter?” asked Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., demanding a yes or no response from Snyder.
“That would be a fair conclusion,” Snyder eventually conceded.
“This is a failure of a philosophy of governance you advocated,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “A city in America … is on its knees because of your emergency manager’s decision to save $4 million. And now it’s going to cost a lot more to clean up.”
Is this really happening in the world’s leading republic?
Funding the war on local democracy
Snyder’s controversial emergency manager law is a cornerstone of the right wing’s war on labor and local democracy in Michigan, which has been orchestrated by a network of “think tanks” and committees backed by the billionaire DeVos family, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Kochs and other right wing politicos.
Thanks to record spending by outside groups in 2010 and $6 million of Snyder’s own fortune, the Republican Party in Michigan joined 11 other states in capturing the governor’s mansion from the Democrats and flipped the Michigan House, giving the party a lock on political power for the first time since 2002.
The Republican Governors Association Michigan 2010 PAC dominated the playing field to become the “largest political action committee in the history of Michigan politics,” according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Through an elaborate shell game, 98 percent of the $8.4 million raised and spent by the RGA MI 2010 PAC came from outside Michigan, while Michigan donors gave the national Republican Governors Association (RGA) $8.6 million, including $5.4 million from the state Chamber of Commerce.
The RGA MI 2010 PAC then contributed $5.3 million to the state Republican Party, and sent off $3 million to back Rick Perry’s bid for a third term as governor of Texas, while the national RGA spent $3.6 million on sham issue ads attacking Snyder’s Democratic opponent. Still with me?
All in all, the RGA raised and redistributed $114 million to PACs in at least 15 states, helping to elect a slate of right-wing governors, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who moved quickly to attack public sector unions.
Right-wing billionaires and their corporations played a big role in raising all that money. Records on Open Secrets show that the DeVos family, Amway, and its parent company, Alticor, pumped $1.9 million into the RGA’s 2010 political operation.
David Koch personally gave $1 million, while his brother William chipped in $100,000 and Koch Industries another $50,000. The Kochs have since become RGA’s #1 source of cash, bankrolling the RGA to the tune of $5.3 million during the 2014 election cycle.
Paul Singer also ponied up $1.4 million. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave a million that year, and News America, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. that owns the pro-Republican outlet Fox News, sprung another $1.3 million.
DeVos dynasty targets Michigan
Although Snyder — a business executive and venture capitalist — campaigned as a moderate Republican who promised to run the state like a business and create jobs, the deep pockets driving the Republican surge had more ambitious ideas.
Their goals: break the unions, scrap public sector labor contracts, and privatize government services.
Dick DeVos, son of billionaire businessman and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, took a first crack at this agenda when he spent $35 million of the family fortune to run for governor in 2006. He lost badly, but he didn’t let up.
In 2009, DeVos helped his close ally, Ron Weiser, get elected as chair of the Michigan Republican Party, where he was able to coordinate the party’s 2010 landslide victory. By 2014, political observers were calling the DeVos family Michigan’s “most potent interest group,” and their spending on in-state candidates and political committees had increased to $4.9 million.
After Snyder’s election, DeVos-backed groups like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy were poised to help move his legislative agenda forward.
Launched in 1987, the Mackinac Center is one of the nation’s largest state-based, right-wing pressure groups promoting “free market,” pro-business policies. It is an active member of the State Policy Network (SPN) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), two important cogs in the Koch machine.
Mackinac has long been one of the key groups leading the Michigan charge for the big ticket items on DeVos’ right-wing wish list, including breaking the back of organized labor.
Ronald Reagan may have once said, “(W)here free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost,” but that’s just crazy-liberal talk as far as the Mackinac Center is concerned.
As a Mackinac staffer told a state legislator in 2011: “Our goal is (to) outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan.”
Mackinac’s activities have been fueled by DeVos as well as money from the Koch network of billionaires. Between 2010 and 2012, the Mackinac Center received $1.5 million from the DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, preferred investment vehicles of the Koch donor network, and four DeVos foundations kicked in another $560,000 between 1998 and 2011.
However, those totals public do not reveal how much billionaire cash Mackinac has received through checks from personal trust accounts or from corporations, which are not publicly reported.
Mackinac at the root of sweeping emergency manager powers
Once sworn in, Snyder wasted no time in making one of the most audacious power grabs in the country.
On March 16, 2011, while thousands protested outside, he signed Public Act 4 into law, giving him the ability to take near-total control over financially struggling municipalities through appointed “emergency managers.”
Few could have been more pleased than the DeVos family and their confederates at the Mackinac Center.
The provision for emergency financial managers dates back to a 1988 Michigan law, but those managers wielded limited power.
Mackinac’s Louis Schimmel called for loosening limits and expanding managers’ powers as early as 2005, and the group reprinted his article in January 2011. They argued that: “The state’s policy prescription for fiscally floundering cities should be to appoint far more powerful emergency financial managers than they have in the past.”
Mackinac pressed for sweeping authority for emergency managers to assume the powers of elected city councils and mayors, break union contracts, and revise municipal charters, while getting legal immunity from any liability for the results of their actions.
Snyder’s emergency manager law included all four of those changes, and the Mackinac bunch patted themselves on the back while singing the law’s praises.
Concerned citizens and critics, however, denounced it as “financial martial law.”
Other cities around the country have had emergency managers, including New York City in the 1970s, but their powers were limited to financial matters.
The Snyder-Mackinac approach to the law was dramatically, exponentially different. It gave unelected and unaccountable managers chosen by the governor near total control over all city decisions — including things like where a city gets its water.
Snyder’s first emergency “tyrant”? A Mackinac guy
Snyder chose the architect of the expanded emergency powers — Mackinac’s Louis Schimmel — to be the first person he appointed as an emergency manager, installing him as the potentate for Pontiac, Schimmel’s home town.
Within months, Schimmel had fired key city officials and privatized the entire public works department. The Pontiac City Council still held their weekly meetings, packed with angry citizens, but they had no authority to make any decisions.
When asked by a local radio station if the emergency manager law made him a dictator, Schimmel replied: “I guess I’m the tyrant in Pontiac then, if that’s the way it is.”
Schimmel didn’t get any argument from state court judge Rae Lee Chabot, who reversed the manager’s action to cut Pontiac’s pension board in half, a decision that ignored the legal requirements of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.
“[I]t looks like a dictatorship,” Chabot said.
State-controlled Pontiac outsources water to indicted corporation
Shortly before Schimmel took control of Pontiac using the law he helped create, his predecessor as emergency manager of Pontiac, Michael Stampfler, flexed his muscles under Snyder’s new law and outsourced the city’s water treatment to United Water Services.
Watchdog Chris Savage broke the story on Eclectablog.
“This is big news,” he wrote, because the giant for-profit water company had just been indicted by a federal grand jury in 2010 on 26 felony counts of conspiracy and Clean Water Act violations for its mishandling of water services in Gary, Indiana. (The company’s workers have since been acquitted of criminal charges in the Gary case, but United Water paid $645,000 in civil fines under a consent agreement in 2014.)
Schimmel completed the outsourcing process in November 2011 by firing key public works employees and turning full control over to United Water.
Before long, consumer complaints over water quality, outages, and sewer backups started piling up. It took nearly three years before Oakland County, where Pontiac is situated, announced that it was taking over operations.
All the warning signs were there for Flint.
Savage summed up the problem well:
“Emergency Financial Managers are generally good at what they do. They are typically trained as accountants and business optimizers. They know how to trim and cut and lean out organizations to squeeze every last drop of profits out of them. Unfortunately for the residents of Michigan, things like parks, public safety and the protection of natural resources don’t produce profits and generally are presented as ‘costs’…When we begin to put a price tag on the very things that make our cities, society and state good, safe, livable and lovable, while putting CPA-like EFMs in charge, you can expect that these things will suffer in order to save money, even if it puts our citizens at risk.”
Democracy? What democracy?
Citizens and public employees in Michigan were not having it.
Following extensive protests, opponents sprang into action and quickly gathered more than 200,000 signatures to qualify a voter initiative, Proposal 1, for the November 2012 ballot to repeal Snyder’s expanded emergency manager law.
Stand Up for Democracy, the ballot committee backing Proposal 1, received 91 percent of its funding from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Michigan Council 25, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Opposition to Proposal 1 was led by Bob LaBrant, Senior Counsel at the Sterling Corporation, a leading Republican PR firm, and the former director of political and legal campaigns at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce for 34 years. LaBrant’s ballot committee, called Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, focused its strategy on a court fight to bump Proposal 1 off the ballot. That effort ultimately failed, and the group spent little on campaigning against the measure.
On November 6, 2012, 53 percent of Michigan’s voters cast ballots to repeal Snyder’s emergency manager law. But that didn’t stop Governor Snyder and his backers.
Barely one month later, Snyder pushed a slightly revised bill through the lame duck legislature and restored the sweeping powers of his emergency managers.
Only this time, he added an appropriation which, under Michigan law, prevents it from being subject to referendum. Check and mate.
Kevyn Orr, who later became emergency manager for Detroit, sent an email to the Detroit Free Press saying, “Michigan’s EM law is a clear end-around the prior initiative that was rejected by the voters in November. …[A]though the new law provides the thin veneer of a revision it is essentially a redo of the prior rejected law.”
The new law did contain what critics call a “choose your poison” provision, allowing municipalities to choose between an emergency manager, bankruptcy, arbitration, or a consent agreement.
Not on the table for cash-strapped cities reeling from the collapse of the auto industry and the impact of free trade agreements: any state largesse like the 86 percent corporate income tax cut that Snyder handed Michigan businesses in 2011, worth an estimated $1.7 billion per year.
The resurrection of Snyder’s emergency manager law wasn’t even the most dramatic thing to happen in the 2012 lame duck session.
According to Mother Jones, DeVos and his close allies — who led a $23.2 million campaign to defeat another voter initiative, Proposal 2, aimed at enshrining collective bargaining in the state constitution — had devised a plan to ram through “right-to-work” legislation before anyone knew what hit them.
They pitched the plan to legislative leaders and a Snyder aide on Nov. 20, and by early December unleashed an ad campaign using a new group, the Michigan Freedom Fund, closely tied to Dick DeVos.
Snyder surprised the public by calling the measure to a vote on December 6, and five days later the birthplace of modern industrial unions became a “right-to-work” state.
The following May, at the State Policy Network’s annual meeting in Oklahoma City, Dick DeVos and the Mackinac Center were recognized for their leadership in the legislative fight to win passage of the “right-to-work” law in Michigan. As reported by PR Watch, Dick’s wife Betsy DeVos personally presented SPN’s highest award to Mackinac’s president, Joseph Lehman.
Mackinac’s blog noted that it had been pushing for “right-to-work” since 1990 and had posted more than 500 “articles, blog posts, special essays and news [clips] generated by Mackinac Center analysts” backing the legislation.
The victory didn’t come cheap.
The big players of Michigan’s right wing had spent millions to defeat Proposal 2, an attempt to protect union rights in the state.
That funding included $9.2 million from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, $5.5 million from the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth, $2 million from the DeVos family, and $2 million from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.
The Michigan Freedom Fund spent another $1 million on the post-election ad campaign leading up to legislature’s adoption of the “right-to-work” law.
The Mackinac Center had an annual budget of $4.4 million as of 2012. Aside from checks to groups that do not disclose their major donors, the DeVos family spent more than $44 million in publicly reported funding on the Republican Party, party committees, and candidates in Michigan between 1997 and 2013.
Expanded emergency management comes to Flint
Plagued by the loss of 90 percent of its industrial workforce, disinvestment, and depopulation, Flint was facing a severe financial crisis by the time Gov. Snyder took office.
Since then, Snyder has appointed four emergency managers to seize control of the city’s assets and run Flint’s local affairs.
Flint voters elected a new mayor on November 8, 2011, but a state review panel declared a “local government financial emergency” the same day, and Snyder had installed his first emergency manager, Michael Brown, by December 1.
The next day, Brown dismissed more than half a dozen key city administrators and Flint’s elected officials had their pay and benefits removed.
In January 2012, angry Flint residents joined a protest near Gov, Snyder’s home. AFSCME filed suit and managed to get a restraining order on Brown, but Brown was back by April in time to unveil his budget, which included cuts in nearly every department and a tax hike.
Jack McHugh at Mackinac claimed in a March 2012 column that municipal budget problems were a “cancerous fiscal malpractice,” and he argued that Snyder’s emergency manager expansion provided the “rigorous ‘chemotherapy'” needed “to sustain the necessary functions of tapped-out school districts and local governments.”
In Flint’s case, the cure turned out to be worse than the disease.
Frustrated with expensive water service from Detroit and frequent rate increases, Flint and surrounding Genesee County had joined nearby cities in 2010 to form the new Karegnondi Water Authority. The plan was to obtain water directly from Lake Huron once a new pipeline was complete. (That is now projected to be June 2016.)
The Flint City Council voted for the new water source in March 2013, albeit symbolically as it had no power, and the emergency manager and state treasurer approved a plan to switch water supplies a few weeks later.
That’s when the trouble started.
“Flint residents can taste history”
In April 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) notified Flint that its contract would be up in a year and offered to negotiate a short-term contract while the city waited for the new pipeline.
However, Flint’s second emergency manager, Ed Kurtz, hired a private engineering firm to develop a plan to switch to the polluted Flint River for the interim period instead, in order to save money.
Come March 2014, Darnell Earley, now Snyder’s third emergency manager for Flint, wrote to DWSD that “there will be no need for Flint to continue purchasing water to serve its residents and businesses after April 17, 2014,” despite DWSD’s renewed offers. Why Earley couldn’t work out an agreement with DWSD remains a mystery, as Detroit was also under the complete control of another emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.
Governor Snyder’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) gave its blessing to the change on April 9. The changeover was expected to save Flint $5 million over two years.
On April 25, 2014, Flint officially made the fateful switch to the Flint River for its water in a ceremony attended by local and state officials. “This is indeed the best choice for the city of Flint going forward,” Emergency Manager Earley said.
“It will take two days before Flint residents can taste history,” reported the press, M-Live.com.
Flint’s otherwise powerless mayor pressed the button to switch the water feed, and officials raised glasses of treated water in a toast.
Unfortunately, Flint residents tasted history pretty quickly.
Complaints started flooding in about the water’s taste, smell, and color by June, and people said it was making them sick. Residents endured two “boil” advisories due to high coliform bacteria levels and faced unsafe levels of a carcinogenic chlorine byproduct before the University of Michigan-Flint was the first to find high lead levels in its water on January 9, 2015.
Flint’s City Council voted to return to Detroit water in March 2015, but Emergency Manager Earley said no. In fact, a $7 million emergency loan from Governor Snyder’s state government in April 2015 was conditioned on Flint not rejoining the DTWS.
Even as the findings of lead contamination piled up over the ensuing months, the state insisted there was no problem.
The Rachel Maddow Show and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now were the only two major national television news outlets to sound the alarm and persistently cover the disaster unfolding in Flint, while Snyder and others said there was no story, no crisis to tell—despite the pleas from Flint residents.
It took more than nine months after the state university found high lead in the water before Gov. Snyder finally conceded, on September 30, 2015, that “mistakes were made.”
The next day, Genesee County declared a public health emergency for Flint.
Emails since released by the governor’s office show that “nearly every person in the governor’s inner circle was aware of alarming concerns about the city’s water” as early as October 2014. And a task force appointed by Snyder found that individuals and scientists who sounded the alarm about Flint’s water were met with “aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit [their] efforts.”
A week later, Governor Snyder announced that Flint would switch back to Detroit water at a cost of $12 million. But by then the damage was done.
The children of Flint face permanent damage.
And, after a closed-door meeting with Snyder, Flint’s mayor said that the cost of replacing pipes corroded by Flint River water could reach $1.5 billion.
Snyder’s role in the Flint scandal led native son Michael Moore to call for his arrest, and the Board of State Canvassers has approved two petitions to put a voter recall of Snyder on the ballot.
Poisoned by hubris
Flint’s water disaster serves as an urgent warning of the dangers communities face when they lose their democracy.
Flint’s City Council never voted to use the Flint River while it waited for the Karegnondi pipeline to be completed. That decision was made by Snyder’s hand-picked managers with the power to override all elected officials, local contracts, and even the city’s charter, with no way for local citizens to hold them accountable.
Howard Croft, former director of Flint’s public works, told the ACLU of Michigan that the decision to use the Flint River “went up through the state … all the way to the governor’s office.”
The decision to use Flint River, in turn, was signed off on by Snyder’s pick for director of the DEQ, Dan Wyant, who had helped business owners grow their companies and had managed the Department of Agriculture, but who had zero environmental experience.
Wyant resigned in December 2015 after a state task force blamed DEQ for failing to ensure that Flint residents had safe drinking water.
What happened to the other communities in the same position as Flint but living under actual local democracies?
Flint Township and Genesee County are also leaving Detroit water for the new Karegnondi pipeline, but they negotiated interim contracts with the DTWS and kept clean water for their residents.
Only the powerless residents of Flint were poisoned.
The racial implications of Snyder’s emergency manager law and the Flint scandal are hard to overlook.
While Snyder’s law is neutral on its face, it has had a dramatically disparate impact on blacks.
By 2013, half of Michigan’s black population had been placed under emergency managers or consent agreements, and no longer had any meaningful right to vote or redress their grievances at the local level.
Only 2 percent of white Michigan residents were subjected to rule by emergency managers.
Flint has a majority black population, while the rest of Genesee County is majority white and considerably wealthier.
When the mostly white communities of Handy Township and Livingston County experienced a financial crisis, their Republican state representatives went to bat for them and fought for a state bailout. State Rep. Cindy Denby (who is white) was quoted as saying the emergency manager law was “not intended for places like Livingston County.”
One of the top black elected officials in the state, U.S. Congressman John Conyers, asked the Justice Department to review the emergency manager law for violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
A coalition of civil rights groups also filed a federal lawsuit, Phillips v. Snyder, arguing that the law violates multiple state and federal constitutional rights.
In December 2014, U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh ruled that part of the case can move forward on the grounds that the emergency manager law disproportionately impacts African Americans, saying that the law gives “enormous discretion to state decision makers and creates a significant potential for discriminatory decisions.” The plaintiffs have filed an appeal to the 6th Circuit challenging the judge’s decision to dismiss the rest of their constitutional claims.
It’s not just Flint
The same emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who mishandled Flint’s water situation went on to become Snyder’s pick as emergency manager for Detroit’s school system in January 2015. The results have been pretty comparable.
Darnell’s tenure has been marked by widespread news reports of deteriorating and unhealthy conditions in the schools, including leaking roofs, mold, broken windows, and bullet holes in classroom walls. Detroit teacher protested those conditions with a series of “sickouts” in January 2016.
After earning a $221,000 salary for his appointment to oversee Detroit’s schools, Earley resigned his Detroit position under fire in February. But he walked away with an $83,000 consulting contract and signed an agreement holding the Snyder Administration harmless from any claims relating to his actions as emergency manager. One school board member called it “hush money.”
Critics point out that, after 16 years of state control, the Detroit school system is in much worse shape now than it was before, with a significantly larger deficit.
That’s interesting, given that when an earlier emergency manager for the school system, Roy Roberts, resigned in 2013, he said his initial instructions were to “blow up the district and dismantle it,” but that he spent the first few months on the job convincing state officials it was worth saving.
The International Business Times recently reported that the Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating Snyder administration officials for alleged corruption—receiving bribes from contractors—in the Education Achievement Authority and Detroit Public Schools agencies created by Snyder.
Even some early supporters of Snyder’s law have had a change of heart.
Former emergency financial manager Michael Stampfler, the guy who outsourced Pontiac’s water, eventually concluded that Snyder’s expanded emergency manager (EM) law doesn’t work:
“I do not believe EMs can be successful—they abrogate the civic structure of the community for a period of years then return it virtually dismantled for the community to attempt to somehow make a go of it. The program provides no structure for long term recovery, and that is why most communities slide back into trouble, if they experience any relief at all—a vicious cycle. The Public Act is not sufficient and the state bureaucracy isn’t up to a performance offering any significant success—as can be noted from the communities repeating.”
Snyder’s law is not just anti-democratic, it is producing poor results.
Michigan residents were promised increased efficiency from “running government like a business” and an end to corruption. The emergency manager law has failed on both counts.
“We still have incredibly bad decisions being made,” says Chris Savage, one of Snyder’s most vocal critics. “[A]nd we very clearly still have corruption and criminal activity going on.”
“The emergency manager law is just one in a long line of failed government experiments imposed on the people of Michigan,” said Senator David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights). “Cities and schools are left in worse shape than they were before the emergency managers came to town, and now taxpayers are left footing the bill for Earley’s payout. For shame.”
Mackinac remains unapologetic
The Flint debacle and troubles in Detroit and Pontiac haven’t fazed anyone back at the Mackinac Center, the special interest pressure group that scripted Snyder’s emergency manager law.
Despite its deep involvement in pushing for “enhanced” powers for managers, Mackinac has declined to admit even the possibility that the policies it pushed for played any role in the Flint water crisis.
Without a hint of irony, Mackinac’s Michigan Capitol Confidential recently posted an article lauding the ACLU and Michigan Radio for their work exposing how Michigan state officials attempted to ignore or cover up Flint’s water crisis, folding Flint’s problems into Mackinac’s constant narrative of supposed government incompetence and corruption.
But perhaps worst of all, Mackinac’s spin could be seen as discouraging people from looking at the root causes of the Flint crisis. “Which Is Better: Finding Fault or Providing Help?,” asked communications director Dan Armstrong in a December blog post, as if the two were mutually incompatible. Armstrong’s article didn’t even mention emergency managers.
Snyder to local democracy: drop dead
Snyder’s emergency manager law stands as a testament the corporate right’s disrespect for local democracy, both in terms of how it strips away all local democratic powers of self governance, and because the voters of Michigan went to the polls and voted it down, only to have Snyder bring it right back. It embodies the idea that a state “CEO” knows better than the people what works best for their communities.
A task force appointed by Snyder released its report on March 23, 2016, concluding that the emergency manager law contributed to the Flint crisis by removing the checks and balances at the heart of American democracy, and calling for a review of the law and a search for alternatives.
But the emergency manager law wasn’t the right’s last shot at local democracy in Michigan. In June 2015, Snyder signed into law legislation barring municipalities from passing ordinances to improve the lives of workers by raising the minimum wage or requiring family leave.
Such “preemption” laws are an increasingly popular tool being promoted by ALEC and other Koch-funded organizations, and something the Mackinac Center had lobbied for as far back as 2003.
In January 2016, Snyder signed another bill into law prohibiting local governments from providing voters with factual information about ballot measures, including local tax increases. Republican legislators had crammed that (and many other) provisions into a non-controversial campaign finance measure without notice or public hearing, and sent it to Snyder’s desk.
DeVos’ Michigan Freedom Fund praised Snyder for signing the bill.
Gov. Snyder may have conceded to Congress that his dictatorial emergency manager law failed the people of Flint, but he continues to push a right-wing “philosophy of governance,” as Rep. Connolly put it, that is profoundly undemocratic.
Snyder says he wants to run government like a business, but a corporation is not a democracy and, at this rate, Michigan may not be one much longer either.
— CMD’s Jessica Mason, Sari Williams, and Lisa Graves contributed to this article.
The corrupt status quo in Wisconsin not only prevailed this autumn, it triumphed completely. The majority party in the Assembly and Senate moved Wisconsin far back into the past, vanquishing more than 100 years of transparency and sensible limits on special interest political money — reforms which, in part, date back to Gov. Robert M. La Follette Sr.
This assault on democracy, while supported and encouraged by Gov. Scott Walker, was largely the handiwork of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and a cadre of hyper-partisan Republican legislators whose lust for total and absolute political power trumps any lingering respect they may have for bipartisanship and for open, accountable and honest state government.
The destruction of the 8-year-old, nonpartisan Government Accountability Board was based on discredited charges, false premises, character assassination and outright falsehoods. The enactment into law of both the GAB destruction (AB 388) and campaign finance deform (AB 387) measures, in combination with the recently enacted law to exempt political crimes from being investigated under the state’s John Doe process, will combine to allow political corruption to take root and flourish in Wisconsin.
Interestingly, the 12 GOP state senators who voted to establish the GAB in 2007 voted to dismantle it in 2015. Nothing changed in the intervening eight years except the politics. Those 12 state senators were all for the GAB before they were against it.
The expiring legislative session will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in our state’s 167-year history. It will go down in the books as the year that accountable and transparent state government was systematically dismantled in favor of hyper-partisan political advantage and revenge.
The entire process under which AB 387 and AB 388 were passed was defiantly undemocratic. They were first unveiled in October, fast-tracked through a single public hearing, then rammed through committees and rushed to the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly. The process was among the most abusive, disrespectful and secretive in the history of the Legislature.
Republican legislative proponents of AB 387/SB 292 have continually made the completely false and erroneous claim that they “had to” craft this legislation in order to bring Wisconsin into “compliance” with the Citizens United v. FEC decision of 2010 and because of other court decisions since. While some revisions to Wisconsin’s decades-old campaign finance law are necessary, the revisions in this legislation most certainly are not required. Coordination can still be limited and disclosure can certainly be required.
The hyped-up charges and accusations made against longtime State Elections Board and GAB director Kevin Kennedy and against the retired judges on the board were vicious, scurrilous, hyperbolic, exaggerated and largely just untrue. But the right-wing echo chamber faithfully repeated the misinformation, the real facts be damned.
And there were other, more practical, hyper-partisan political reasons to destroy the GAB. Revenge and the unquenchable thirst for absolute control over a state agency that had the independent power to investigate political corruption trumped the truth. The GAB destruction legislation:
• Gets rid of the six nonpartisan judges and replaces them with two six-member commissions, one for elections and one for ethics, composed of partisan political appointees — three Republicans and three Democrats. That all but guarantees tied votes and, therefore, gridlock and inaction.
• Gets rid of Kevin Kennedy, who has overseen elections and campaign finance law in Wisconsin for more than 30 years, capably and in a scrupulously nonpartisan manner. He’ll be replaced by two administrators selected by partisan leaders.
• Most significantly, it eliminates the independent funding for investigations into possible political corruption. This was the most critical and central provision of the creation of the GAB in 2007. Without it, the GAB is under the complete control of the legislative leadership.
An independent stream of funding for investigations acted as a huge preventative tool for corruption in the Capitol. Without it, the GAB will be feared by no one and ignored by most. It will be transformed into another Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation — a toothless, ineffective state agency with no ability to effectively enforce election, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws. And it will likely be utilized as a tool to aid in the achievement of the partisan political goals of the leaders of the Legislature and the governor.
These profoundly anti-democratic measures are not the sum total of the majority party’s assault on good government. Renewed attempts to weaken and even eviscerate our state’s open records laws, as well as to destroy the long effective and respected nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau with partisan political appointees in all state agencies, is in the works for early 2016.
There may be more.
Thomas Jefferson said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
And so it is that Wisconsinites must not only be more vigilant to stave off further erosion of our democratic institutions, we must also organize, register to vote, turn out and work as never before to take back Wisconsin from those who seek to destroy it.
Jay Heck has been the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin since 1996. CC/WI is the state’s largest nonpartisan citizens reform political advocacy organization with more than 6,000 members and activists in its network. Call 608-256-2682 or visit commoncausewisconsin.org.
A Tunisian pro-democracy group accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 and set the fight against terrorism and helping Palestinians to achieve self-determination as global priorities.
The National Dialogue Quartet, which won the Peace Prize for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, accepted the award at a ceremony in Oslo held under tight security following the armed attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.
“Today we are most in need of making the fight against terrorism an absolute priority, which means perseverance on coordination and cooperation between all nations to drain its resources,” Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union, one of the quartet honored, said in a speech.
“We need to accelerate the elimination of hot spots all over the world, particularly the resolution of the Palestinian issue and enable the Palestinian people the right to self-determination on their land and build their independent state,” he said.
Security precautions loomed large over the banquets and concerts for hundreds of political, intellectual and business leaders attending the lavish Nobel awards ceremonies held jointly in Oslo and Stockholm.
“Security is higher than it would otherwise have been because of the situation in Europe,” Johan Fredriksen, chief of staff for Oslo police told Reuters, referring to the Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed.
Last year, a demonstrator carrying a Mexican flag disrupted the ceremony at Oslo City Hall when Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai and Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi received their Nobel Peace Prizes. He was not a guest but managed to get through the security checkpoints.
The quartet of the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers was formed in the summer of 2013. It won the award for the role it played in the peaceful transition of power in Tunisia in a region struggling with violence and upheaval.
With a new constitution, free elections and a compromise arrangement between Islamist and secular leaders, Tunisia has been held up as a model of how to make the transition to a democracy from dictatorship, said Kaci Kullman Five, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Last year Tunisia held successful legislative and presidential elections but the country has been hit by violence this year. In March, Islamist gunmen killed 21 tourists in an attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and 38 foreigners were killed in an assault on a Sousse beach hotel in June.
“In this time of terror, the threats against Tunisia and the Tunisian people are indistinguishable from the threats against other countries,” she said in her speech. “I came here to share this extraordinary moment with the whole of Tunisia. I am so proud,” said Haddad Fayssal, a 39-year-old Tunisian engineer from Paris, draped with the red-and-white flag of the North African nation over his shoulders.
“This prize is a powerful message against all types of extremism and terrorism. It is a message that we can all live together,” he told Reuters outside Oslo City Hall, the peace award ceremony’s venue.
In neighboring Sweden, the Nobel Prize winners in literature, chemistry, physics, medicine and economics gathered in Stockholm to receive their prizes from the King of Sweden later in the day.
Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich won the literature prize for her portrayal of the harshness of life in the Soviet Union
In Stockholm, the winners will collect their medals at a concert hall before attending a banquet at the city hall, which will include VIPs like European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.
Security around the festivities — which has hundreds of royals and prominent politicians as guests — has also been heightened this year after Sweden raised its terror threat level to the highest ever after the Paris attacks. Each of the prizes is worth 8 million Swedish crowns ($949,440).
Much too much is made of red voters and blue voters and red states and blue states, as if they make up two separate Americas (they do not) and their differences are forever irreconcilable (they are not). But for the moment anyway, there is no denying that partisan divisions have intensified in recent years and that America is more politically polarized than at any time in the last two decades.
Against this backdrop, it can be a challenge to find values and attitudes that unite Americans of every political persuasion. But people of every imaginable stripe stand on common ground when it comes to the broadly shared exasperation with money’s dominion over democracy. Four out of five Republicans agree with four out of five Democrats and a supermajority of independents that the U.S. Supreme Court messed up bad when it ruled in 2010 that unlimited political spending is a constitutional right. Five years after the decision, it is as unpopular than ever. In fact, rather than slowly fading from memory the court’s decision in the Citizens United case is becoming the symbol of how the economy and the government have been rigged in favor of a privileged few at the expense of everyone else.
It’s helpful to remember that Supreme Court rulings come and Supreme Court rulings go. Our nation’s highest court once ruled that people could be property. It took not only a presidential proclamation but a bloody civil war and amendments to the Constitution to relegate that shameful decision to its rightful place in the trash bin of history. Today’s Supreme Court blesses oligarchy with the similarly warped logic that property can be entitled to the constitutional rights of a person. In time Citizens United will be tossed in the dumpster too.
Undoing the harm this ruling has done already and continues to do should not need to involve warfare but could very well require a constitutional amendment if the Supreme Court in the fairly near future does not come to its senses and overturn Citizens United before a 28th amendment is ratified. How this all plays out and how promptly this inevitable outcome is brought about largely depends on legal creativity bordering on hubris.
It’s been written that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declaring 3 million slaves free was “based on a highly contentious, thin-ice reading of the presidential war powers.” Ample evidence suggests Lincoln knowingly and dramatically exceeded his legal and constitutional authority, and the nation is so very fortunate that he did.
American democracy needs a modern-day equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation. Whether in the form of an executive order, or an act of Congress, or measures enacted by states or local communities, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United must be defied. The constitutional right of unlimited political spending invented by the court in its Citizens United decision must be exposed for what it truly is – the legalization of bribery.
Elected representatives of the people anywhere and everywhere should knowingly and dramatically exceed what the Supreme Court says is the limit of their legal authority and declare our government free from its current state of indentured servitude to billionaires and corporations. Whenever justices dictate injustice, legal ingenuity is required. Executive orders should be issued and laws should be passed declaring that giving more than $200 to anyone holding or pursuing public office or any group helping to elect a politician is a bribe and therefore a felony.
In throwing down this gauntlet, the Supreme Court’s warped logic in Citizens United is countered with this alternative reasoning: If you wish to demonstrate your support for politicians, their parties or surrogates, giving $200 is demonstration enough. Giving $200 or less does not distinguish you much from your many fellow citizens who are likewise giving small amounts or the much larger number who give nothing at all. But go past the $200 threshold and that puts you in the top one-quarter of 1% of the population. That makes you stand out, separates you from the crowd, and makes it start looking like you might want more than just the honor of participating in a democracy.
Lincoln-style hubris is needed because we are beyond the point where campaign financing can be reformed. It can’t be reformed because we no longer have campaign finance in America. We have legal bribery and there’s no reforming bribery. It has to be outlawed.
All laws and respect for the rule of law in general are demeaned and ultimately undermined when any law ceases to be rooted in reality. The reality is that Americans – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – see big political donations for what they are, namely bribes. The law of this land needs to reflect that reality. Instead, the Supreme Court has imposed a fictitious alternate reality on us, ordering us to think of property as part of “we, the people” and see massive sums of money spent on elections as “free speech.” Just as a past court ordered all Americans, including President Lincoln, to accept that people could be regarded as property.
Lincoln defied that court. He was said to be on thin ice legally when he did. The ground held beneath his feet.
In defense of democracy in our time, we need to be willing to stand on what we’re told is thin ice. Two hundred dollars is plenty. Anything more is a bribe.
Mike McCabe is founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and former executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. He’s also the author of Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics.
Before the ink was dry on Wisconsin’s 2015–17 budget, Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP were planning to tighten their stranglehold on state government.
With comfortable majorities in both houses of the Legislature and a Supreme Court majority bought with campaign cash, the GOP had free rein to slash revenue, de-fund public education and services, end regulations protecting the environment and give millions more to private voucher schools and phantom “job creators.”
Despite cuts to programs most Badgers hold near and dear, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows the final budget with a $210 million deficit. (On the presidential campaign trail, Walker is bragging it shows a $500 million surplus.) How did fiscally responsible Republicans create a deficit? Because of the huge tax cuts they instituted in the last budget that will roll out over the next few years.
Republican legislators tucked into the budget dozens of non-fiscal policy changes with no notice or public hearings. When media reps and citizens asked where these originated and who wrote them, they stonewalled, saying — unbelievably — that they had no idea.
Annoyed by requests for accountability, Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos responded with a proposal to gut Wisconsin’s open records law. His proposal would have made secret all records related to any deliberations about legislative proposals. It even declared that this veil of secrecy applied to all legislative deliberations for the past century!
Republican leadership shamelessly introduced this item at 5 p.m. on the day before the three-day Fourth of July weekend, hoping no one would notice. The state’s media and watchdog groups spread the word quickly, and a firestorm of protest forced the GOP to drop the measure.
The GOP majority is likely to re-introduce this open records repeal, probably in a modified form to reduce opposition and to achieve its goal in an incremental fashion. GOP leaders have already indicated they hope to eliminate two other pillars of non-partisan public oversight: the Legislative Audit Bureau and the Government Accountability Board.
The Legislative Audit Bureau reviews state-funded programs and contracts for compliance with budget allocations and proper accounting practices. LAB audits revealed that UW System campuses were sitting on $648 million in reserve. LAB exposed the lack of paperwork and follow-up at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp, which has given millions to companies that were supposed to create jobs.
The Government Accountability Board has a broad mandate, and I expect the GOP to try to peel away and then eliminate its responsibilities one by one. GAB is charged with oversight of Wisconsin’s elections, including campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws. Its website is amazing. You can find out where to vote, how to run for office, how to file an ethics complaint. You can look up campaign contributions and violations, review lobbying activity reports and much more.
Targeting the open records law and the work of the LAB and GAB constitutes an all-out assault on public oversight that will lead to a more brazen, dictatorial one party state.
“Democracies die behind closed doors,” said federal Judge Damian J. Keith in a 2002 ruling. “When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation. The Framers of the First Amendment ‘did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us.’ …They protected the people against secret government.”
Activists with a coalition of groups will lobby Wisconsin lawmakers on the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision under the banner “Money Out, Voters In — Wisconsin.” The action will take place on Jan. 21 at the state Capitol in Madison.
In Citizens United vs. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court said corporations, unions and other associations could give unlimited amounts of money to try to elect candidates of their choice so long as they don’t coordinate their activities with their chosen candidates.
“The Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision, opened the floodgates, and our democracy is drowning,” Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said in a news release issued this week. “Here in Wisconsin, we’ve seen the consequences, as the Koch Brothers and Gogebic Taconite, and the school privatizers are throwing their weight around as never before.”
Peter Skopec of WISPIRG added, “Five years after Citizens United, big money is speaking louder than ever before — but the good news is that our leaders can take immediate steps to reduce its influence and empower ordinary voters. State lawmakers should lower, not increase campaign contribution limits, and make coordination between outside groups and candidates explicitly illegal. They should empower small donors by matching small contributions with limited public funds. And they should maintain the Government Accountability Board’s independent oversight powers, rather than take us back to the days of ineffective, partisan-appointed monitoring that failed Wisconsin in the past.”
The lobby day will begin with a press conference at the Capitol and coincide with the introduction of state Assemblywoman Lisa Subek’s bill to place an advisory referendum on the November 2016 ballot asking whether Wisconsin’s congressional delegation should support, and the Wisconsin Legislature should ratify, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would state: “1. Only human beings — not corporations, unions, nonprofit organizations, or similar associations—are endowed with constitutional rights, and 2. Money is not speech, and therefore limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to restricting political speech.”
Subek planned to attend the press conference.
The coalition’s membership includes the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, WISPIRG, People For the American Way, United Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Center for Media and Democracy, South Central Wisconsin Move To Amend, Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, Citizen Action Wisconsin, AFT- Wisconsin, National Association of Social Workers – Wisconsin Chapter, United Council of UW Students, Midwest Environmental Advocates, 9 to 5, Madison Teachers Inc., Move to Amend of Southeast Wisconsin, Chippewa Valley Move to Amend, Move to Amend Rock River, Lake Mills Move to Amend, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Reedsburg Area Concerned Citizens, Wisconsin Grassroots Network, Madison Area Urban Ministry, Madison MoveOn, Peace Action Wisconsin, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter, Door County Environmental Council, SouthWest Wisconsin Area Progressives, One Wisconsin Now, Progressive Dane, South Central Federation of Labor, Teaching Assistants’ Association and Wisconsin Wave.