Responding to the unprecedented level of outside spending in last year's election cycle, Responsible Wealth has joined a coalition of investors to step up its campaign to press companies to refrain entirely from making political contributions. The coalition, including Clean Yield Asset Management, Green Century Capital Management, Zevin Asset Management, and Harrington Investments, has filed resolutions with Chevron, Bank of America, 3M, Target, Starbucks, ExxonMobil, and the EQT Corporation. Responsible Wealth members filed at Bank of America and Target.
Because of the 2010 Citizens United ruling, so-called “independent” or outside spending in federal elections—made in support of candidates by groups with no supposed connections to their campaigns—contributions increased nearly fivefold between 2010-2012, from $300 million to $1.3 billion (Center for Responsive Politics). Just last week, Demos & the US PIRG Education Fund released a report estimating that for-profit corporations were responsible for at least $101 million in political spending in the 2012 elections, although the actual amount could be up to four times that amount due to vagaries in reporting requirements.
“In 2012, Chevron gave $2.5 million dollars of company funds to a Super PAC—the single largest corporate donation to a Super PAC ever. Shareholders don’t want to pay for Chevron’s political preferences or contribute to the untamed spending unleashed by the Citizens United ruling. It’s time for Chevron to listen to its shareholders and stop throwing millions of dollars into the wind.” - Leslie Samuelrich, Senior Vice President of Green Century Capital Management
At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in public opposition and backlash to corporate influence in the democratic process. In February 2010, immediately following the Citizens United decision, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 80% of respondents opposed Citizens United, across partisan lines. Political spending and lobbying undermine the trust of the consumer.
“By the sheer volume of money involved, dollar democracy by corporations is drowning out individual political voices and undermining the essence of the American political system. ExxonMobil’s huge political donations are symptomatic of this corrosion of democracy, so as shareholders, we have a responsibility to put a stop to this dangerous behavior.” - Sonia Kowal, Director of Socially Responsible Investing at Zevin Asset Management
And contrary to conventional wisdom, campaign contributions may actually stunt the long-term growth of a company. A 2012 University of Minnesota study found that companies contributing to political action committees and other outside political groups between 1991-2004 grew more slowly than other firms, invested less, spent less on research and development, and were linked to poor corporate governance.
By changing their policies around political spending, companies have an opportunity to set a higher standard in business, raising the bar for their competitors. At Target, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, 3M, and EQT, Responsible Wealth and its partners are calling for company directors to conduct a study examining the feasibility of adopting a no-spending policy. Chevron is being asked to completely desist from political giving. And at Starbucks, the request is for a complete end to political spending while also asking the company to refrain from establishing a political action committee, a vehicle for raising and spending money from employees and shareholders.
Responsible Wealth members Marnie Thompson & Stephen Johnson (Greensboro, NC) and RW Director Mike Lapham are currently in negotiations with Target executives and are pressing the company to be more transparent about its process and reasons for engaging in political giving. If Target changes its policy around political giving, it’s possible the bar will be raised for its competitors. Only time will tell, but for now, we’re keeping the pressure on.
CLICK HERE to see the full press release.
UFE's tenth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report, State of the Dream 2013: A Long Way From Home, outlines the state of the racial wealth divide in the U.S. and puts forward creative solutions for addressing persistent racial inequities.
Black and Latino families continue to have far less wealth than White families and have emerged from the Great Recession more indebted and less able than White families to face the economic challenges before them.
Housing, an integral piece of the increasingly elusive American Dream, has much to do with the hemmorhaging of wealth in communities of color. This report examines the link between housing and asset-building policies, the impacts of those policies on communities of color, and urges a targeted, goal-oriented policy approach that is guided by our shared values and principles.
Fifty years ago this year, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. shared a vision for a future of equality for all people, regardless of race, in his "I Have a Dream" speech. He spent the final years of his life working with thousands of others to challenge economic inequality and racial injustice. Although their efforts made historic civil rights victories possible, much work remains to close the racial divide. We are, indeed, a long way from home.
Read the report today. Share it with your community. Start a conversation. Speak out and work together to make a new economy possible.
Our Popular Economics Education Team is hosting UFE's renowned Training of Trainers Institute in March 2013 near Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (details below). We invite organizers, activists, educators, students, and others across the U.S. who want to join and advance the movement for a just economy.
Transformative education—which includes reflection, thoughtful analysis, and learning from each other—is vital to the success of any movement for social and economic justice. In order to challenge the status quo, we first need to make sense of the roots of the Great Recession and, more broadly, the ways in which our economic system creates and perpetuates class, race, and gender inequality.
Working toward a shared understanding of how we got here and a shared vision for the future will help us to build a cross-race, cross-class movement for an equitable, democratic, and sustainable economy.
UFE's Training of Trainers Institute explores the causes and consequences of inequality and provides participants with tools to inform their communities and inspire political action.
Thursday, March 14 – Sunday, March 17, 2013
On-site check-in from 3:00–6:00 p.m. on March 14, 2013; The Institute ends at 1:30 p.m. after lunch on March 17.
Shady Lakes Ranch Conference Center
Cleburne, TX. Shady Lakes Ranch is 30 miles south of Fort Worth; one hour from the Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) airport. We will help to arrange low cost transportation to and from DFW.
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE:
Jeannette Huezo and Steve Schnapp, UFE's Senior Education Coordinators, will train you in how to lead UFE-style popular economics education workshops that demystify the economy and creatively educate, inspire, and mobilize people to take political action.
It is right for you if you are:
- An organizer, leader, activist, teacher, or trainer engaged in campaigns for economic or social justice, or
- If you are seeking to improve your training and facilitation skills in order to more effectively present information and engage people in dialogue about the economy.
You will learn about:
- National economic trends, the rules and policies that contributed to the Great Recession & the jobless recovery;
- The impacts of economic policies in terms of race and gender;
- Some history about popular resistance to economic inequality in the U.S.;
- Strategies to advance economic recovery by closing the economic divides; and
- Principles and practices of popular education.
You will have opportunities to:
Work in small groups to plan and practice leading either UFE's or original popular economics education workshop activities;
- Receive constructive feedback on how to effectively present workshops and lead productive discussions on economic inequality;
- Discuss how to best adapt UFE's materials to your communities and constituents;
- Practice responding to challenging questions and difficult workshop situations; and
- Network, build solidarity and open doors for collaboration with others working for economic justice.
- Participants should arrive at the Conference Center on Thursday, March 14, between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m.; program begins after dinner on Thursday and concludes after lunch on Sunday.
- Sessions will be conducted in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings.
- Breaks will be provided throughout the day to allow participants to reflect and network with other participants.
The program includes presentations of creative and engaging activities from UFE's workshops, including:
- The Growing Divide - The Roots of Economic Security
- Closing the Racial Wealth Divide
- Bankers, Brokers, Bubbles, and Bailouts
- Immigration and the Growing Divide
Space is limited and preference given to applicants who are able to attend the full Institute. Some materials, including a detailed agenda for the Institute and short readings will be sent to all registrants prior to the training to help participants prepare for the Institute.
Registration fee is $500, which includes the Institute fee, materials, meals, and room/board (double occupancy). Transportation is NOT included. However, We will help to arrange low cost transportation to and from the Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) airport.
We offer a reduced fee to organizations sending two or more participants.
Partial scholarship is available to participants from low-income communities and/or resource-limited organizations. If you require financial assistance to attend the Institute, you need to complete a scholarship request form after submitting this application and paying your deposit.
A minimum $25 deposit is required with your application. A payment of at least 50% of the fee must be paid two (2) weeks prior to the Institute. Payment in full is due one week before the start of the Institute.
For more information:
Contact Jeannette Huezo (firstname.lastname@example.org, 857-277-7881) or Steve Schnapp (email@example.com, 857-277-7868).
This fall, Responsible Wealth & United for a Fair Economy made the strategic decision to focus our efforts on promoting a stronger estate tax as part of the fiscal slope negotiations. We’ve been heavily involved in rolling back the Bush tax cuts since 2001, but we knew there would be lots of other groups on that bandwagon. We figured Responsible Wealth’s greatest value added would be to get a bunch of really prominent individuals to say we should have a stronger estate tax. So we did.
Together with signers like Warren Buffett, George Soros, President Carter, Bill Gates, Sr., Abigail Disney, and Richard Rockefeller, Responsible Wealth put a stake in the ground saying we should have a $4 million per couple estate tax exemption and a 45% rate, rising on the largest fortunes. That was considerably to the left of Obama’s proposal ($7 million; 45%) and far stronger than 2012 law ($10 million; 35%). Unless you’ve been backwoods skiing and just made it back to your iPhone, you already know that both the Senate and House passed legislation that extends the $10 million per couple estate tax exemption and raises the rate to 40%.
Here’s the good news:
- We still have an estate tax.
- We got part of what we wanted in the negotiations: a 40% rate is better than 35%.
- This is the first time the estate tax has been strengthened in 28 years.
- With your help, Responsible Wealth made the estate tax part of the fiscal cliff debate. Prior to our December 11 teleconference, there was almost NO discussion of the estate tax. In the past two weeks, almost EVERY story about the fiscal cliff tax debate mentioned the estate tax.
- The GOP was forced to tip their hand and expose who they’re really concerned about. They made it clear in the 11th hour negotiations that keeping the estate tax as weak as possible for wealthy families was their top priority.
- The estate tax was finally indexed to inflation. Some Democrats don’t like this, because it means we’re stuck (for the foreseeable future) with an overly high exemption. But indexing in and of itself makes sense. If the original estate tax had been indexed for inflation, we likely would never have faced the past 12 years of challenges to the law.
Here’s the not-so-good news:
- The $10 million per couple exemption is still unnecessarily high, and the 40% rate is too low.
- The estate tax was once again used as a bargaining chip in the negotiation (as in 2010). While the GOP is unified in their staunch opposition to the estate tax, Democrats are mixed. If you look at the socioeconomic level of Members of Congress, and who they are married to, and who gives them 95% of their financial support, it’s no surprise that there are mixed feelings.
- The estate tax discriminates against gay and lesbian partners, since the spousal exemption only applies to married couples by the federal definition of marriage. So only the individual exemption ($5.12 million) applies.
- The federal estate tax remains “de-linked” from state-level estate tax laws, meaning states cannot automatically get a credit on federal estate tax payments.
What’s ahead on the estate tax:
- This is not the last word by any means. Opponents like Jon Kyl will still push to weaken or completely repeal the estate tax as they have done repeatedly since 2000. Wealthy people in particular will need to continue to speak up in favor of a strong estate tax.
- We are continuing to gather signatures on our Responsible Estate Tax proposal. To date, over 1,200 people have joined the initial 36 signers since December 11, including 130 wealthy signers.
- Most of the revenue from the estate tax comes from having a higher rate (think: really large estates). We will push for a higher base rate than 40% AND progressive rates up to 55% on the largest estates.
- The exemption level is about fairness. A couple with $10 million in assets (among the wealthiest .15% in the country) should not be able to pass on those assets tax-free to the next generation. Anyone with that amount of wealth has benefited greatly from what our country has to offer. We’ll continue to push—with your help—for a lower exemption.
If you haven’t yet signed our Responsible Estate Tax proposal, please take a moment to do so today.
Amid all the post-election excitement, we also want to celebrate the amazing work of some of UFE’s Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative (TFOC) partners and other contributors in the state progressive tax movement.
In New Hampshire, our allies prevented a constitutional amendment to ban the state’s income tax. This is a huge win, and it’s one that can be looked to by other states facing regressive policy initiatives. Much hard work is still to be done in the Granite State, but we’re optimistic. That a broad and diverse coalition was able to come together to stop this measure bodes well for positive change in New Hampshire.
Oregon also enjoyed two exciting victories. TFOC partner organizations Tax Fairness Oregon and Our Oregon worked hard to save the Oregon estate tax from repeal. They won a resounding victory for fairness, and ensured that hundreds of millions of dollars would continue to flow to vital services in the Beaver State. As well, measure 85, which eliminated the Corporate Kicker Tax passed with ease, and will allow for much needed revenue for Oregon’s public education system.
Since 2004, conservative activists, led by the corporate-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have tried with all their might to enact Taxpayer Bills of Rights (TABOR) measures in 30 states. Florida's TABOR, which would have limited public investment and revenue, while requiring a supermajority to override these limits, would have severely hamstrung the state's ability to fund vital services for Floridians. In state after state, voters have turned down this extreme measure, and this year, Floridians joined in that rejection! This was made possible by amazing organizing efforts, combined with voter education and mobilization to stop such a restrictive and economically harmful measure.
Here are a few things we can all take away from these inspiring election day triumphs:
- To achieve victory you have to educate, not just by telling the voters why they should be for or against a measure, but by also learning from them how these measure affect them and their communities.
- Organizing still works, even on the less-than-sexy matters of fiscal policy and ballot measures. Effective partnership-building contributed greatly to these successes. Don’t go it alone. We’re stronger and louder when we pool our resources and work together.
- There is still a tremendous amount of work required to establish fair, progressive tax structures in states across the country. While much of the focus over the next few months will be about federal taxes and budget issues, we can’t forget that the tax fairness movement has to continue at all levels of government.
These statewide election day victories can be models for what’s possible in your state and beyond. We congratulate all of those involved in those efforts and are excited to help keep building momentum for tax fairness and a more just and equitable economy.
In a CNN.com op-ed, Donna Brazile reminds us that race is still a factor in our country. A recent AP poll actually shows a rise in both anti-Black and anti-Latino attitudes. And indeed, the very same people who promote the idea of the United States as a post-racial society remain eager to exploit racial resentment for their own gain.
Brazile urges us to beware of snobbishly deceptive "dog-whistle" politics. With a little bit of active listening, you'll recognize "dog-whistling" as an underhanded compliment. Take former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu's recent comment about Gen. Colin Powell's support of a certain African American U.S. president.
"You have to wonder whether that's an endorsement based on issues or that he's got a slightly different reason for supporting President Obama...I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."
This crafty mash-up of words, to some, might sound innocuous, polite, even. But, the hidden signals — "You have to wonder..." or "somebody of your own race" — are merely the stubborn tars of racism, covered in the weightless feathers of empty accolade with, "I applaud Colin."
If you noticed the scum dripping from that statement, CONGRATS! You heard the dog whistle! Language, however, is but one of the ways racism manifests itself in our supposedly "post-racial" society.
Brazile looks to rapidly shifting U.S. demographics as one dimension of racial bias. She cites UFE's 2012 State of the Dream report (yay for us!), which explains that by 2030, the majority of those under 18 will be people of color. By 2042, non-Whites will comprise the majority of the U.S. population. Mix in the fact that 80% of retirees are White and own a significantly greater portion of the country's wealth than younger, minority communities, and you'll see what's essentially a racially-charged class war.
The more disturbing effects of modern-day racism are the social and economic deterioration. People of color are earning and building wealth reserves at alarmingly lower rates than their white counterparts. Predatory banking practices, cuts to public services, and voter disenfranchisement efforts are ravaging communities of color and further muffling their political voices. And, concentrated poverty turns poor communities into zones of social toxicity that are difficult to escape, especially for young people who know only that hopeless reality.
We can't expect to meaningfully address race and class inequities until we build a more cohesive national community. The sooner we accept not just our history of racial division but also the current racial divide, the sooner we can start working together to provide shared opportunity to all people.
Public policies are intended to be a reflection of a country’s values and priorities. In reality, tax and economic policy outcomes represent the wants of the financially enriched, not the needs of the bottom 99%.
The U.S. may be a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, but wealthy, white males comprise the vast majority of our supposedly representative legislature. Nearly half of Congressional members are millionaires. In 2010, the median net worth of U.S. Senators and Representatives was $2.63 million and $756,765, respectively, compared to a median net worth of $66,740 for U.S. households.
On the other hand, two historically marginalized groups—women and people of color—are dramatically underrepresented at the policy tables. Women account for only 16.8% of Congress (27% of them are women of color). People of color represent only 15.1% of Congress, with only four seats in the Senate.
As such, the interests of the wealthy dominate public debates while policies of particular importance for women and communities of color struggle for acknowledgement, let alone forward movement. Deficit hysteria has prompted harmfully misguided cuts to the social safety net while maintaining unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy, painting a frightening picture of who our elected officials actually serve.
Throughout the presidential campaign, many have the criticized candidates for being “out of touch” with the majority of Americans. It can be reasonably argued that, with a few exceptions, Congress is as well. A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) points out that some legislators have been loyal advocates for the 99%, while others have not.
The report, “A Congressional Report Card for the 99%,” grades Senators and Representatives based on their voting histories on inequality-related Congressional actions. While the report’s focus is mainly on policies addressing economic inequality, it leaves room for a deeper analysis of the impacts of policies on persistent racial and gender disparities.
Nearly all of the 40 congressional actions evaluated by IPS—including bills related to taxes and the federal budget, jobs and wages, education, housing, poverty, and healthcare—have disproportionately affected communities of color and women.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, for example, would have helped to ensure equal pay for equal work. This measure would have been a boon for women, who still make 77¢ to every dollar a man makes. The Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to advance the Act. The oppositions’ main argument—that the bill would burden small businesses—is unfounded and yet another strike in the conservative war on women.
Another bill, the Half in Ten Act, aims to cut poverty in half in the next ten years. The poorest among us, who are disproportionately people of color, were experiencing economic hardship long before the Great Recession began. Blacks and Latinos respectively make up 27.6% and 25.3% of those in poverty and would benefit greatly by this effort. The bill has 68 co-sponsors but has yet to reach a vote in the House or the Senate. Unfortunately, as politically polarized as Congress has become, even the most sensible policies, like Half in Ten, struggle to gain traction.
Moving forward, we should push lawmakers to more carefully examine the impacts of policies on those hardest hit by inequality, like women and people of color. As citizens, we must all fight to make ours a more truly representative democracy, where the voices of those with the biggest bank accounts carry no more volume than those with the smallest.
United for a Fair Economy is hiring! We are looking for two individuals to help us support the movement for economic justice.
TAX FAIRNESS ORGANIZING COLLABORATIVE
United for a Fair Economy is seeking a dynamic and detail-oriented program associate to assist in coordinating the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, a nationwide network of state-level tax fairness groups that use community organizing as the primary vehicle for political influence. The TFOC Program Associate will work with the TFOC Program Director to connect and strengthen the capacity of TFOC members to advance progressive tax reform at the state and federal levels, while simultaneously identifying and pursuing opportunities to elevate the work of the TFOC nationally. As an ‘organizer of organizers,’ this is a unique opportunity for an individual with strong interpersonal skills, a hands-on leadership style, and a deep appreciation for policy and community organizing. LEARN MORE >>>
The development associate plays a central role in helping United for a Fair Economy (UFE) meet its annual fundraising goals, currently $1.3 million for FY 13. As a member of UFE’s development team, the development associate is responsible for coordinating small to mid-level donor campaigns including the production of direct mail and online fundraising and phone-a-thons; supporting general donor stewardship mailings, producing a quarterly newsletter (printed and electronic); coordinating donor events such as house parties and donor visits; assisting with the production of grant applications; maintaining the development database and assisting with gift processing and acknowledgement. S/he will work closely with the development director, development team, and communications team. LEARN MORE >>>