Skip to comments.The Campaign to Control America’s Vote [PFAW alert!]
Posted on 10/20/2002 7:50:17 AM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl
The Campaign to Control America's Vote
Summary: Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen is the latest victim of People for the American Way's campaign against President Bush's judicial nominees. On September 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 10-9 party-line vote rejected her nomination to the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
When the electronic voting machines introduced in last month's Florida primary elections failed to correct the voting irregularities that appeared during the state's 2000 presidential election, People for the American Way (PFAW) cried foul.
"For all too many Floridians, this is déjà vu all over again," said PFAW vice president Elliot Mincberg, an overseer of the PFAW and NAACP volunteers who monitored the returns.
Mincberg's "déjà vu" remark was quoted in newspapers across the country. But it was more an inside joke than a clever off-the-cuff comment, and it reflected a partisan attitude that another Florida election was illegitimate. The notion that bad history was repeating itself turned up the same day when Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe said: "It's déjà vu all over again." Later that evening, NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw introduced a reporter's story on the Florida voting machine fiasco with, "NBC's Kerry Sanders on déjà vu all over again" - and he didn't attribute the quote to Mincberg or McAuliffe. PFAW president Ralph Neas repeated the "déjà vu" comment to the Los Angeles Times the following day.
Coincidence or collaboration? America's left-leaning media, politicians and advocacy groups seem to communicate by using a common vocabulary, a shared language of phrases and symbols. The "nonpartisan" PFAW frequently operates from the same playbook as liberal Democratic Party activists, and its interpretation of events is accepted by the major news media. This year, PFAW's priorities include opposing Bush nominees for federal courts, energizing public-school defenders to oppose President Bush's agenda of school reform, and mobilizing traditional Democratic constituencies to vote in the November elections.
PFAW is one of the most radical political organizations of the Left, but you'd never know it from the respect - and support - it elicits from the media. Byron York of National Review has documented the financial contributions PFAW has received from leading media organizations including America Online, CBS, Disney (ABC), NBC and the New York Times Company. Time, Inc. claims that it stopped its contributions in late 2000 when it realized its gifts to PFAW were "inappropriate" for a media organization. But there is no evidence that the other communications giants have similarly repented.
CBS has a particular affinity for PFAW, whose founder, Norman Lear, is the producer of popular television shows including the CBS hit "All in the Family." Since 1981, when Lear put his celebrity status to work by setting up PFAW to oppose Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority," the group has relied on star-power to expand its influence. PFAW board members include Lear, actor Alec Baldwin, former Congressman Rev. Robert Drinan, rock star ex-wife BiancaJagger, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, philanthropist Paul Soros, Hollywood activist Margery Tabankin, and actress Kathleen Turner. Last month, actor/director Rob Reiner hosted a PFAW fundraiser in Beverly Hills to celebrate Lear's 80th birthday.
PFAW's formidable budget helps ward off criticism. In 2000, People for the American Way received $5.1 million in contributions, even though it is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit and gifts to it are not tax-deductible.
The affiliated People for the American Way Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (for which gifts are tax-exempt) collected nearly $7.5 million in 2000. Substantial foundation support came from the Ford Foundation, Eastman Kodak Charitable Trust, Phillips Family Foundation, John S. and James L. McKnight Foundation and the Pincus Family Fund among others.
Since 1998, the PFAW Foundation has received corporate support from Archer Daniels Midland, the H.J. Heinz Company and Slim-Fast Nutritional Foods.
Notwithstanding the legal distinctions between PFAW and its 501(c)(3) educational foundation, both affiliates act in concert: They promote a leftist policy agenda that almost always coincides with Democratic Party interests. In a year when Democrats hope to gain full control of Congress, PFAW activities are especially noteworthy.
Get Out the Democratic Vote
It engages in direct partisan activities through the People for the American Way Voters' Alliance, a political action committee established in 1998 to "Fight the Right." As of June 30, this PAC had contributed $51,500 to 29 federal candidates in the 2002 cycle, all of them Democrats. Since 1998, it has supported only two Republicans' Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee and New York Representative Amo Houghton - who received less than one percent of its contributions.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, PFAW sponsored an ad which noted that a president's judicial appointees can have "40 years of influence over our freedoms." The ad then portrayed George W. Bush as opposing "choice, gun control and strong environmental protections." And it trumpeted Vice President Al Gore as a candidate who "favors justices who are pro-choice, support gun safety laws and environmental protection."
In Florida, PFAW's "Arrive With Five" campaign - complete with a statewide bus tour and door-to-door canvassing - is encouraging "black and underprivileged" voters to bring five friends and family members along when they go to the polls. Campaign leaders claim the effort is nonpartisan, but the emphasis on black college students and low-income residents clearly favors Democrats. A similar campaign during the 2000 presidential election is credited with boosting black voter turnout by almost two-thirds in parts of Florida, giving Gore votes he needed to threaten Bush's victory. In traditionally Republican Orange County, Gore won because PFAW helped spur a large turnout of Puerto Rican Hispanics.
PFAW's voter registration drive prior to last month's primary election - a rarity, as registration drives usually focus on general elections - was hardly disinterested. While it identifies itself as a neutral party while monitoring polling places for vote irregularities, PFAW's Florida director led the opposition to a Miami-Dade ballot initiative to repeal the county's anti-discrimination law for homosexuals. (The initiative narrowly failed on September 10.) PFAW is also supporting a statewide ballot initiative to reduce school class sizes. It goes before voters in November.
With Florida Democrats gearing up for a high-profile bid to unseat Gov. Jeb Bush in November, PFAW's complaints about the new voting machines were designed to humiliate him. Bush has touted his election reform efforts over the past two years, so PFAW has ample opportunity to embarrass the president's brother. PFAW's Neas insisted that the Governor should be held ultimately responsible for last month's fiasco, even though the two counties with the worst problems are run by Democrats.
PFAW also has decided to focus heavily on Florida in other ways. It is participating in a NAACP lawsuit against the Jeb Bush administration for election violations in 2000 and has criticized the federal Justice Department for closing its investigation into the state's conduct of the 2000 election. And PFAW's PAC is contributing large sums to Florida Democrats, including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, whose seat is likely to be challenged by Jeb Bush in 2006.
Besides the "Arrive With Five" campaign, PFAW has two other projects to register voters. Its African American Ministers Leadership Council targets black churches to "get all souls to the polls." And PFAW has launched a website, ivote2.com, encouraging voter registration and communication with elected officials.
Owen received a unanimous "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, a tag that heretofore ensured a candidate's approval by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. With support from Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) she might have expected to be confirmed by the full Senate.
"Justice Owen enjoys bipartisan support in her home state of Texas and she is a qualified jurist," Miller told The Washington Times following the committee vote. "I really hope we will not begin the trend of rejecting nominees over narrow, single-issue litmus tests."
But liberal groups opposed Owen, claiming that she took extreme positions in opposition to abortion rights. On CNN's "Crossfire," PFAW president Ralph Neas gloated about Owen's defeat: "Today was a great victory for the American people because the Senate Judiciary Committee defeated a right-wing ideologue who would have turned back the clock on civil rights, consumer rights, the environment, and also reproductive rights."
PFAW's concerted media campaign against Owen's confirmation included a highly critical report following her July 23 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The report targeted her reasoning in a controversial abortion case in Texas and claimed she is "a right-wing activist committed to remaking the law according to her own ideology." The charge stuck, in part because White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, once a fellow justice on the Texas Supreme Court, had criticized her for "an unconscionable act of judicial activism" in an abortion case.
The type of tactics used by PFAW and other liberal activists drew an unusual rebuke from the liberal Washington Post. In a September 13 editorial, the Post said the process of selecting judges is going down a "dangerous road" if judicial nominees are rejected strictly over ideological differences such as abortion. "Rejecting a qualified nominee because of this sort of disagreement," said the editorial, "sends a chilling message to judges everywhere."
Last March PFAW also helped defeat another Bush nominee to the Fifth Circuit appeals court when Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee prevented the full Senate from confirming Judge Charles Pickering. Again, PFAW's opposition was not based on his qualifications for the job, but because Pickering "embraces a right-wing judicial philosophy that would turn back the clock on civil rights, reproductive rights and many other important issues." (See the June 2002 issue of Organization Trends, "The Alliance For Justice, Part II: The Borking of Charles Pickering.")
In July, the Senate did confirm Judge D. Brooks Smith to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit over PFAW's loud protestations. Despite an overwhelming 64-35 vote, PFAW claimed Smith was not qualified for the bench because of his judicial philosophy and views on federalism.
No Choices for Children
In June, PFAW was co-counsel for Ohio citizens opposing Cleveland's school voucher program. It sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the program giving school choice to low-income inner-city children did not violate the First Amendment's prohibition against the establishment of religion. PFAW claimed the ruling created "a serious crack in the constitutional wall between church and state" and would drain Cleveland's public schools of needed funds. (See the September 2002 issue of Organization Trends, "What Next After the Education Voucher Victory.")
PFAW was also co-counsel in a Florida circuit court case that struck down Gov. Jeb Bush's "A+" voucher program in August. The state is appealing the decision, but PFAW secured an important victory when Judge Kevin Davey ruled that the Florida Constitution forbids the use of public monies at sectarian institutions. The ruling renews concern that the legality of school voucher programs will be challenged in many states on state constitutional grounds arising out of anti-Catholic attitudes prevalent in the late nineteenth century.
"Regardless of the Supreme Court's ruling on the federal Constitution, the legal issues concerning state voucher laws will depend largely on the language in these individual state constitutions," said PFAW's Mincberg.
PFAW's efforts to oppose vouchers include attacks on existing voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland, criticism that Wisconsin taxpayers are "overcharged" by state payments to voucher schools, and legal actions against Milwaukee School Board members who allegedly violated open meetings laws by privately preparing a joint letter in support of vouchers. Last December, PFAW issued a special report attacking the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a group that sponsored television ads promoting school choice.
PFAW also attacks President Bush for other aspects of his education agenda. Its ADA Watch Action Fund, a project ostensibly to promote civil rights for people with disabilities, has challenged the President's appointment of Gerard Reynolds to be Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. Reynolds criticized the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and has worked with the Center for Equal Opportunity, an organization opposed to race and gender preference programs.
Another PFAW lobbying program, Partners for Public Education, builds coalitions to support increased public school funding and oppose school choice vouchers and tax credits.
The 501(c)(3) PFAW Foundation is involved in several legal cases affecting education. PFAW was co-counsel in a case challenging the constitutionality of an Illinois state law providing tuition tax credits, and it supports a legal challenge to New York State's "inadequate school funding system." This year PFAW lost a court battle to prevent Washington State from including private colleges in a student grant program. (See chart on page 5 listing PFAW litigation).
Yet in its 2000 Form 990 report to the IRS, PFAW explains that the two affiliates "share the same management and facilities. Each organization pays expenses of the other organization and accounts for the reimbursement via a "Due to/From Affiliate" account." But federal tax laws have been violated if tax-deductible contributions to the PFAW Foundation are used to pay for PFAW lobbying and political expenses.
People for the American Way and its affiliates work together as a powerful lobby for leftist ideology and Democratic party politics. Whatever its tax lawyers may say, the scandal of PFAW is that foundations and corporations inflate its budget and pay for its politics. Every dollar contributed to PFAW advances a profoundly political agenda.
Patrick J. Reilly is a Senior Fellow at Capital Research Center.
AP and Gannett Florida have no business calling themselves "journalists" or wielding those mighty pens, imho.
Schoolyard bullies, organized crime, trial lawyers, Democrats....looking out for us "little people" while stealing our lunch money.
American citizens (and legislators) are unaware of huge policy changes being made. In order to restore America's culture, we all need to be equipped with necessary information.