Dozen Megadonors Gave $3.4 Billion, One in Every 13 Dollars, Since 2009

From today’s New York Times:

A dozen megadonors and their spouses contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups since 2009, accounting for nearly one out of every 13 dollars raised, according to a new report.

The report, produced by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, shows the top 12 donors split equally between six Democrats and six Republicans. The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age.

The study quantifies the intensifying concentration and increasing role of the super rich in American politics following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

“This is a stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and chief executive of Issue One. “Today, a handful of megadonors wield outsized influence in our politics.” Mr. Penniman called on Congress “to pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone.”

The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.

Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.

Some of the top ZIP codes for giving weren’t even populated by any people at all; instead, they were primarily associated with skyscrapers and post office boxes that were used as business addresses by the wealthy.

Read the complete article here.

California pays homage today to another American hero with a complex legacy

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Let me tell you about an American hero whom the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education might find, um, troublesome.

Cesar Chavez stands surrounded by reporters.

He opposed undocumented immigrants to the point of urging his followers to report them to la migra. He accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from a repressive government and gladly received an award from its ruthless dictator despite pleas from activists not to do so.

He paid his staff next to nothing. Undercut his organization with an authoritarian style that pushed away dozens of talented staffers and contrasted sharply with the people-power principles he publicly espoused. And left behind a conflicted legacy nowhere near pure enough for today’s woke warriors.

A long-dead white man? A titan of the business world? Perhaps a local politician?

Try Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder is the first person I always think about whenever there’s talk about canceling people from the past. He’s on my mind again, and not just because this Wednesday is his birthday, an official California holiday.

On Jan. 27, the San Francisco school board voted to rename 44 schools that it felt honored people who didn’t deserve the homage. Some of the condemned make sense — Father Junipero Serra, for instance, or Commodore John Sloat, the Navy officer who conquered California in the name of Manifest Destiny. Others are worthy of debate. Should we really champion Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence who also fathered multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings? Or John Muir, the beloved naturalist who didn’t think much of Black and Indigenous people?

The board’s move was rightfully met with disbelief and derision. In a year when parents are clamoring for schools to reopen, this is what board members spent their time on? And are kids really harmed if they attend a school named after Robert Louis Stevenson or Paul Revere?

Which brings us back to Chavez, the revered labor leader whose bust President Biden recently put on prominent display behind his desk in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Delano, Calif., to celebrate the state holiday with the Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers foundations, her office announced over the weekend.

Read the complete article here.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restores voting rights for ex-felons

From today’s Axios Online:

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) restored the voting rights of 69,000 former felons on Tuesday through executive action, the governor’s office announced in a statement.

Why it matters: Northam’s move to expand voting rights comes amidst a wider push across the country to restrict voting rights. As of mid-February, 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills that include voting restrictions, according to CNN.

  • Last year, Florida introduced new rules to limit some ex-felons’ voting rights, even after the state voted to restore voting rights to former convicts in 2018.

The big picture: Northam also reformed Virginia’s restoration of rights process using new eligibility criteria similar to those proposed in a possible amendment to the state’s constitution. In the future, any citizen will qualify to have their civil rights restored to them upon completing their prison term, “even if they remain on community supervision.”

  • Current laws in Virginia state that “anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm,” the statement notes.
  • The law also gives the governor the sole discretion to restore such rights.

What they’re saying: “Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said in the statement.

  • “If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that,” he added.

What’s next: Earlier this year the state’s General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore a person’s civil rights upon the completion of their prison sentence.

  • The amendment must be passed again by the GA in 2022 before moving to a voter referendum.

Read the complete article here.

Progressive groups launch $30 million effort to push voting rights legislation

From CNN Online:

Two left-leaning groups are teaming up to pour $30 million into an effort to persuade US senators to pass a sweeping voting rights bill that would counter efforts by state GOP lawmakers to restrict voting access.

The plan from End Citizens United/Let America Vote and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is to spend $20 million on a television and digital advertising campaign and $10 million on a grassroots effort to try to get the legislation passed.

“Our goal is to get support to pass this bill and to show members of the Senate that their constituents believe this is a bill that just has to pass,” said Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications for End Citizens United/Let America Vote.

The bill, which passed the Democrat-led House earlier this month, would expand voting access as well as improve transparency and accountability in Washington. But it comes as GOP-led state legislatures across the country have introduced efforts to curtail voting rights.

The legislation’s fate has also become entangled with the fate of the filibuster in the US Senate. Bozzi said the groups’ efforts will target Democrats as well as Republicans, but he reiterated that their end goal is to ensure the bill is passed whether or not it garners bipartisan support.

“We’re going to make a run at Republicans,” Bozzi said, but “whether it’s with 60 votes or some procedural change, we need to put this bill in a position to be passed.”

The ad campaign is expected to roll out initially in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maine and Pennsylvania, and will eventually expand to 12 to 15 states. It was previously reported by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.

Biden throws support behind Amazon workers holding milestone union vote

From today’s CNN Online:

President Joe Biden on Sunday night lent his support to Amazon workers who are pushing to unionize — and appeared to warn Amazon (AMZN) not to deter them.

In a video posted on Twitter, Biden didn’t mention the company by name, but he did reference workers in Alabama, where a milestone union election is underway at an Amazon facility in Bessemer. Eligible workers at the facility are currently voting by mail to decide whether to form Amazon’s first US-based union.”Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden said in the video.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden continued. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”

Biden’s remarks reflect the high profile of the Amazon vote, which has garnered national attention and support from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams. A group of 50 Congresspeople sent a letter last month urging Amazon’s outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos, to “treat your employees as the critical asset they are, not as a threat to be neutralized or a cost to be minimized.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is conducting the union drive for Amazon workers at the Bessemer facility, thanked Biden “for sending a clear message of support” for the workers.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” Appelbaum said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.

$15 Minimum Wage Would Reduce Poverty But Cost Jobs, CBO Says

From today’s NPR News Online:

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase wages for at least 17 million people, but also put 1.4 million Americans out of work, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office released on Monday.

A phase-in of a $15 minimum wage would also lift some 900,000 out of poverty, according to the nonpartisan CBO. This higher federal minimum could raise wages for an additional 10 million workers who would otherwise make sightly above that wage rate, the study found.

Potential job losses were estimated to affect 0.9 percent of workers, the CBO wrote, adding: “Young, less educated people would account for a disproportionate share of those reductions in employment.”

President Biden has advocated for a gradual increase of the federal minimum over several years. The threshold has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Dozens of states and cities have surpassed that level; several are already on track to $15 an hour.

Democrats in Congress have vowed to push ahead on raising the federal minimum, although the efforts to include the $15 minimum plan in coronavirus relief legislation have stalled.

Read the complete news story here.

CA lawmakers propose slate of reforms for troubled unemployment agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

After a pair of scathing audits confirmed California’s troubled unemployment agency has been plagued by years of mismanagement, state lawmakers on Thursday announced a raft of new bills to speed up the payment of jobless benefits and reduce fraud.

The package of bills proposed by nine Assembly members is aimed at forcing change at the state Employment Development Department, which was criticized by the state auditor last week for delays in providing unemployment benefits despite having been warned of problems in the system a decade ago.

The proposals would allow benefits to be provided by direct deposit rather than issued with debit cards sent through the mail, would require the agency to check claimants against lists of prison inmates to prevent fraud and would establish an Office of the Claimant Advocate to help people with claim problems.

“Many of the issues EDD is facing today have been known since the Great Recession,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “Almost nothing was done to fix the problems or plan for another economic downturn.”

The EDD has been slow to respond to an unprecedented flood of unemployment benefit applications that resulted from the state shutting down much of the economy to stop the COVID-19 pandemic that began nearly a year ago.

Lawmakers said during a video news conference Thursday that many residents with legitimate unemployment claims have been harmed by an EDD decision to suspend 1.4 million claims in December to make sure they are not fraudulent.

Bay Area resident Laurel Carter joined the lawmakers’ event, saying her legitimate claim was suspended in mid-December with “no other explanation given.” She had difficulty uploading documents to prove her identity and was told she would have a five-hour wait to talk to a representative for help.

“I slept with my computer on for eight days just thinking that maybe in the middle of the night I would hear a ding and it would be someone that would speak to me,” Carter said. “I am now six weeks in without any payment.”

Though EDD Director Rita Saenz told lawmakers on Wednesday that she is committed to implementing improvements to the agency recommended by the state auditor and a strike team of government experts appointed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, skeptical lawmakers in both parties have introduced 20 bills in recent weeks in an attempt to more quickly address problems. They include legislation by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) that would provide claimants with theoption to receive their unemployment benefits via direct deposit to their bank accounts.

Read the complete article here.

U.S. voting rights activist Stacey Abrams nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

From today’s Reuter’s Online:

U.S. voting rights activist and Democratic Party politician Stacey Abrams has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her work to promote nonviolent change via the ballot box, a Norwegian lawmaker said on Monday.

Abrams, whose work was credited with boosting voter turnout last year, helping Joe Biden win the U.S. presidency, joins a long list of nominees, including both former President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, former White House adviser Jared Kushner.

“Abrams’ work follows in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps in the fight for equality before the law and for civil rights,” said Lars Haltbrekken, a Socialist Party member of Norway’s parliament.

King, a Baptist minister who became a leader of the 1960s civil rights movement, won the Nobel prize in 1964 and remains among its most famous laureates.

“Abrams’ efforts to complete King’s work are crucial if the United States of America shall succeed in its effort to create fraternity between all its peoples and a peaceful and just society,” Haltbrekken said.

Thousands of people, from members of parliaments worldwide to former winners, are eligible to propose candidates, and a nomination does not imply endorsement from the Nobel committee in Oslo.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Are Making Federal Election Standards a Top Priority Under Biden

From today’s Associated Press Online:

Democrats plan to move quickly on one of the first bills of the new Congress, citing the need for federal election standards and other reforms to shore up the foundations of American democracy after a tumultuous post-election period and deadly riot at the Capitol.

States have long had disparate and contradictory rules for running elections. But the 2020 election, which featured pandemic-related changes to ease voting and then a flood of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, underscored the differences from state to state: Mail-in ballots due on Election Day or just postmarked by then? Absentee voting allowed for all or just voters with an excuse? Same-day or advance-only registration?

Democrats, asserting constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, want national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach.

“We have just literally seen an attack on our own democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “I cannot think of a more timely moment to start moving on democracy reform.”

The legislation first introduced two years ago, known as the For the People Act, also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and, in a rearview nod at Trump, obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns.

Republican opposition was fierce during the last session. At the time, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., labeled it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act” and said in an op-ed that Democrats were seeking to “change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.”

While Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the measure’s fate depends on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a bill they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats could decide it’s time to take the extraordinary and difficult step of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation.

Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. House Democrats vowed two years ago to make the bill a priority, and they reintroduced it this month as H.R. 1, underscoring its importance to the party.

Read the complete article here.

Biden to sign executive orders boosting workers’ rights and pushing for $15 minimum wage for federal staff

From today’s Business Insider Online:

President Joe Biden has planned a series of actions aimed at raising the minimum wage for federal staff to $15 and boosting workers’ rights, Brian Deese, his National Economic Council director, told reporters on Thursday.

This includes two executive orders Biden is set to sign on Friday. With one order, the Department of Labor would be asked to clarify that people seeking employment can continue to claim jobless benefits if they turn down a job because it puts their health at risk.

White House officials said the order would provide workers “a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health, and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance,” The New York Times reported.

Biden is set to ask agencies to review which federal workers make less than $15 an hour and to develop recommendations to boost them to that wage. That order would overturn three executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in 2018 that limited job protections for federal employees and weakened their labor unions.

Biden has asked his team to prepare another executive order to ensure that federal contractors offer a $15 minimum wage alongside emergency paid leave. Biden plans to sign this order in his first 100 days in office, Deese said.

The two executive orders Biden is set to sign on Friday also include measures to bolster food aid for people struggling with hunger during the coronavirus pandemic and to push for improved delivery of stimulus checks.

Read the complete article here.