Justin Miller

 Justin Miller is a senior writing fellow for The American Prospect.

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O'Malley Follows Clinton with a Money-in-Politics Plan of His Own

Today, former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential contender Martin O’Malley unveiled his detailed plan to limit the rampant role of money in politics. Like Hillary Clinton, who released her plan a couple weeks ago, campaign-finance reform advocates widely applaud O’Malley’s ambitious plan. (It’s worth noting that Bernie Sanders has yet to release a specific money-in-politics plan beyond a short section on his website.)

“Martin O’Malley has provided a strong plan, focused both on reducing the barrier of big money and raising the voices of everyday people in politics,” says David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, a campaign-finance reform group.

His plan is largely modeled off what’s essentially a wish list for reform advocates that was released by a number of reform groups back in July, as well as off the Government by the People Act, a bill sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes that has earned widespread Democratic support.

Like virtually every candidate on the left, O’Malley vows to fight to overturn the Citizens United decision. At this point, this is boilerplate policy for any Democrat, but given the immense obstacles that must be overturned to do so, it’s kind of wishful thinking.

Reform advocates have increasingly been pushing to institute a public-financing system for federal elections. Sarbanes’s bill, which O’Malley pledges to pass if he’s elected, institutes a small-donor matching system for congressional elections. Every donation under $150 would be matched with public funds six-fold; if a candidate pledges to only take small donations, that ratio jumps to 9 to 1.

Again, calling for public funding and small-donor empowerment has become the party line. Clinton’s plan calls for a public system for all federal elections, though it doesn’t specify the matching ratio. That O’Malley failed to outline a fix for the broken presidential financing system is a major flaw for advocates. Clinton has also pledged to sign an executive order that requires government contractors to disclose their dark-money spending, another point that O’Malley did not address. Reformers have long been pushing Obama to sign such an order, but so far he has not.

However, there are still some aspects of campaign finance that O’Malley is strong on. Clinton’s plan was criticized for not addressing issues of enforcement, à la the broken FEC. O’Malley devotes an entire section detailing how he’d overhaul the commission. Most notably, he’d restructure it to be headed by one administrator, rather than a perpetually gridlocked board.

One thing worth noting is that he comes out in support of the bipartisan redistricting commissions that were recently upheld by the Supreme Court, which is somewhat ironic given that he oversaw one of the most gerrymandered district maps in the country while governor of Maryland.

Despite the apparent strengths and weaknesses of the candidates’ plans, it’s clear that money-in-politics is now a top-tier policy issue on the Democratic side.  Considering that Bernie, Hillary, and Martin have all gotten somewhat in the weeds on campaign-finance reform and political spending more generally, we can expect the issue to be a major focus in the first Democratic debate.

“Considering all major Democrats in the race have similar ideas for how we can fix our broken system,” says Every Voice’s Donnelly, “the upcoming debate would be the perfect opportunity for them to discuss what they’ll do to put everyday people at the center of our democracy.” 

Hillary’s Relationship Status with Labor: It’s Complicated

From the get-go, Hillary’s campaign has been banking on early support from labor unions. And so far, she’s done OK. Very early on, the American Federation of Teachers, led by political ally Randi Weingarten, endorsed Clinton for president. She’s also garnered support from International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. A number of smaller unions have also thrown their weight behind her candidacy.

However, for a number of reasons, things have become rather complicated in her quest to rally a united labor movement behind her. For one, Bernie Sanders has proven to be an effective thorn in her side. His populist platform has excited a broad swath of rank-and-file union members. When the AFT endorsed Clinton, there was significant backlash from its membership, which claimed the endorsement process was undemocratic.

That trend of early endorsements from union leadership and subsequent rank-and-file unrest has played out with each endorsement for Clinton. A grassroots movement, Labor for Bernie, has emerged in an effort to encourage labor unions to hold off endorsements for Clinton and consider Sanders, whom they say is more ideologically in step with the labor movement. Earlier this month, his campaign said that 26,000 people participated in a phone call with the Democratic contender that focused on the labor movement.

In addition to Bernie’s insurgency, whispers about a potential run by Vice President Joe Biden has led some major labor unions to sit back and wait. Last week, Politico reported that both SEIU and AFSCME were waiting to endorse in light of the possible shake-up in the race if Vice President Joe Biden were to jump in. 

SEIU has pushed back on that assertion, saying that its endorsement process is still underway and Joe Biden's indecision has not played a role. "SEIU leaders are engaged in deep conversations with our members around the issues that matter to them most and about the candidates they feel will best lead on those issues," the union said in a statement to the Prospect. "This process was always intended to be fluid and therefore doesn't include a set timeline for endorsement." 

Sanders supporters argue that the decision is due just as much to Bernie’s rank-and-file support as it is to Biden. The two prominent unions have huge membership rolls and a broad political network, making their endorsements highly coveted in the Democratic field.

Still, many union leaders seem ready to toss their hats in Hillary’s ring—banking on the fact that she is still the most plausible candidate. Yesterday, Annie Karni of Politico got the scoop that the political arm of the biggest union in the country, the National Education Association, is recommending a Clinton endorsement and will be holding a vote soon. The move has already stoked anger among state affiliate leaders and rank-and-filers in the three-million-member union.

Despite that news, Clinton is still very clearly concerned about shoring up labor support. Indicative of that was the news yesterday that she supports a repeal of Obamacare’s “Cadillac Tax,” which is a big sticking point for many labor unions. Sanders had already introduced legislation in the Senate to repeal the tax. 

As Politico’s Morning Shift notes, the move could be a strategic move to give her some cover on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she’s yet to take a clear position on.

Not all union leadership is focused on Clinton, though. Her opposition to the construction of the Keystone Pipeline ticked off the Teamsters union—and as Fox News reported yesterday, the union voted unanimously to withhold an endorsement. It’s even seeking an audience with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

There’s many obstacles that remain in Clinton’s quest for robust labor support. If Biden does jump in, that will severely complicate matters. And if rank-and-file Bernie supporters can successfully pressure union leaders to hold off on endorsements, that could force her campaign to push further left—perhaps more so than she is comfortable with politically.   

This post has been updated to reflect a recent statement from SEIU asserting that Joe Biden's possible candidacy has not played a role in its endorsement decision. 

The Labor Prospect: Biding Biden

Unions await Joe Biden's possible run, Minneapolis moves closer to fair scheduling law, and Republicans love the sharing economy. 

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik Vice President Joe Biden arrives to speak at a White House Champions of Change Law Enforcement and Youth meeting, Monday, September 21, 2015, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), on the White House complex in Washington. W hile a number of unions have already decided to throw their weight behind a chosen Democratic presidential candidate—mostly Hillary Clinton—two major unions said last week that they would hold off on making an early endorsement. Last week, Politico reported that both SEIU and AFSCME were waiting to endorse in light of the possible shake-up in the race if Vice President Joe Biden were to jump in. SEIU has pushed back on that assertion, saying that its endorsement process is still underway and Joe Biden's indecision has not played a role. "SEIU leaders are engaged in deep conversations with our members around the issues that matter to them most and about the candidates they feel will best lead on...

The Labor Prospect: Pitching the Pope

Francis I's laborious arrival, Scott Walker's fall, and the South's low-wage bonanza. 

CQ Roll Call via AP Images
CQ Roll Call via AP Images On the day Pope Francis arrives in Washington, federal contract workers protest around the U.S. Capitol to demand a $15 per hour federal minimum wage on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. Welcome to The Labor Prospect, our weekly round-up highlighting the best reporting and latest developments in the labor movement. H ave ya heard the news? Apparently, the Pope is descending upon Washington, D.C. tonight. Who knew? And in anticipation of his arrival, every interest group ever is doing everything it can to tie its agenda to that of the Pontiff’s. Organized labor is no exception. Pope Francis has made the case for reducing economic inequality and reining in laissez-faire capitalism a main pillar of Church doctrine, and labor is using his visit to the nation’s capital to call for a papal embrace of worker justice. As Ned Reskinoff writes for Al-Jazeera America , hundreds of low-wage federal contract workers went on a protest strike this morning calling for higher...

Walker Walks Away from the GOP Race

The New York Times is reporting that this evening, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will announce that he’s dropping out of contention for the GOP presidential nomination. Though he was once a frontrunner in Iowa, his campaign has long been struggling for notoriety—a chronic problem now for many candidates competing with The Donald.

The latest CNN poll showed Walker’s support in Iowa at about one-half of 1 percent. His campaign was counting on a strong performance in the second debate to bolster both his poll numbers and donor base. That didn’t work out so well.

As I wrote last week, another indication of the increasing desperation of his campaign was the unveiling of his incredibly anti-worker and anti-union plan that would kill the NLRB, gut federal public-sector unions, and make the country one giant right-to-work wasteland. The move seemed to be a last-minute attempt to remind well-heeled big-business donors that he was the de facto candidate for big business and would stand up to the oppressive organized-labor regime.

According to the Times, donors didn’t respond as expected. “Everyone I know was just totally stunned by how difficult the fund-raising became, but the candidate and the campaign just couldn’t inspire confidence,” one donor said.

There are a few important takeaways from Walker’s impending departure:

  • His early adornment as the Koch brothers’ political lackey appears to not have been enough to earn Tea Party support in Iowa or New Hampshire. It will be interesting to parse out in the coming days just how much of a role the Kochs had in his dropping out—and the disappearance of his donor base.
  • Speculation that all these GOP candidates will be able to lean on their well-funded affiliated super PACs, no matter their polling numbers, has so far proven to be false, twice: Rick Perry had millions in his super PAC coffers, and Scott Walker’s Unintimidated PAC was well-funded, too.
  • An anti-labor agenda doesn’t seem to have much national appeal. Unions have more public support than they’ve had in years, and in an age of unprecedented income inequality, voters are better able to see through policies that are directly intended to decrease the power of the middle class.

As the AFL-CIO succinctly puts it, “Scott Walker is still a disgrace, just no longer national.” 

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