Justin Miller

Justin Miller is a former Prospect writing fellow and is currently covering politics for the Texas Observer

Recent Articles

Bernie Knows Repealing Citizens United Isn’t Enough. Does Anyone Else?

Earlier this week, Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders announced that he will introduce legislation that will create a robust public campaign-finance system in an attempt to beat back the unhinged influence of big money in the U.S. electoral system.

“The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue,” Sanders said on the Senate floor. “Let us be frank, let us be honest, the current political campaign finance system is corrupt and amounts to legalized bribery.”

The announcement comes in light of a New York Times blockbuster report that as of June, roughly 130 families and their businesses are responsible for more than half of all money raised for Republican candidates and their respective super PACs.

“We are talking about a rapid movement in this country toward oligarchy, toward a government owned and controlled by a handful of extremely wealthy families,” Sanders said. 

This new bill will come on top of Sanders’s marquee policy position that calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He also recently pledged that, if elected president, he would only appoint Supreme Court justices who are committed to overturning the decision.

Still, despite grassroots support for a constitutional amendment, such a route remains more of a political pipedream than reality. Sanders’s new call for a public campaign-finance system is reflective of a shifting strategy within reform circles—one that emphasizes not only a repeal of Citizens United, but also gives imperative to changing the funding mechanisms of elections.

“What that means in terms of electoral races is that we’re not going to let any candidates get away with saying that they’re pro-reform unless they’re talking about public financing,” campaign-finance reform advocate Zephyr Teachout told me in an interview last week. “They cannot, like Hillary Clinton, talk about a constitutional amendment and not talk about the most obvious and easiest thing to do, which is switch to a public-financing model. You’re not an anti-corruption candidate if you’re not talking about public financing.”

The thinking is that even if Citizens is repealed, it would only be going back to the campaign-finance world of 2009—hardly a democratic utopia. By instituting a robust public-finance system, small donors’ concerns would be amplified through matching funds and the reliance on mega-donors would be minimized.

So while Sanders makes it clear he understands that campaign finance reform isn’t one-dimensional problem, has anyone else?

Most Republicans have remained mute on the subject of campaign-finance reform and it’s rather unthinkable to imagine a conservative supporting the use of public money to fund campaigns—Mitch McConnell has likened it to “welfare for politicians.”

And while the current Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, supports the overturning of Citizens United, she’s refrained from articulating a position on public campaign finance. 

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is in favor of overturning Citizens United, and has voiced support of public campaign finance—though he’s yet to come forward with a formal proposal. “I think a lot of cities are moving to publically financed campaigns and as more cities successfully do that, it’d be nice to see that kind of bubble up,” O’Malley said at a New Hampshire campaign visit in March. “I haven’t advanced a proposal on this; I’d certainly be open to it.”

Other public campaign-finance bills have been recently introduced in the House, but so far to no avail. So while the feasibility of Sanders’s getting any kind of similar bill pushed through a Republican Senate is unlikely, he is bolstering his surprising campaign surge by acknowledging what most in the campaign-finance-reform world have been saying for some time now: Repeal doesn’t mean much if there’s no public financing that goes with it.

The Revolving Door Is Spinning Out of Control. Can It Be Slowed?

New legislation targets Wall Street's influence in Washington. 

(Photo: Office of Tammy Baldwin)
(Photo: Office of Tammy Baldwin) Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin announce the introduction of the Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act on July 15. F ive years to the day after the Senate passed the Dodd-Frank Act, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland gathered for a press conference in the Capitol to announce legislation that would strengthen ethics in the executive branch and work to reduce Wall Street influence in Washington, D.C. “We can’t afford to have a revolving door working to stack the deck in favor of Wall Street and against hard working Americans who are struggling to get ahead,” Baldwin proclaimed as she introduced the Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act on July 15. “The American people deserve to have trust in the fact that government is working for them and that the system is not being rigged against them.” Soon after entering office in 2009, President Obama ordered...

The Guardian US Will Unionize. Can We Call This a Trend Now?

Staffers at the Guardian US unanimously voted yesterday to unionize with the News Media Guild, The Huffington Post reported. The vote is just the latest in a surge of recent union drives in the digital media world.

Guardian US management voluntarily recognized the union effort, therefore negating the need to go through the formal channels of the NLRB. “We are happy to voluntarily recognize the News Media Guild and look forward to working constructively, in best Guardian tradition, with the Guardian US editorial staff who have voted in favor of collective representation,” a Guardian US spokesperson said in a statement.

A similar agreement was struck between Gawker Media’s editorial staff and management a couple months ago, which was the first of a growing number of organizing drives in digital media in 2015. The progressive website Truthout was the first digital media outlet to unionize back in 2009.  

Earlier this month, Salon’s editorial staff unanimously voted to form a union and asked management to voluntarily recognize its vote—there is still with no word from management, and there’s growing discontent among Salon staffers and its union, Writers Guild of America, East (which also represents Gawker).

Guardian US staffers will join News Media Guild’s 2,000 other digital workers from The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and the Daily Beast.

Labor reporter Mike Elk, who’s been working to spark an organizing drive at his employer, Politico, has also reportedly been working with the News Media Guild. Politico has about 200 editorial staffers and is rapidly expanding its operations.

Yesterday at a union event in Washington, D.C., Elk asked Democratic presidential contender Senator Bernie Sanders if he thought that media owners, including Politico, should agree to card-check neutrality. Sanders answered affirmatively, saying, “I think all workers in whatever area—it’s not just the media—do have a right to form a union without harassment on the part of their employers.”

Other union-drive announcements are likely to crop up in the near future. The WGAE director, Lowell Peterson, has previously told me that a number of digital media outlets are in the organizing pipeline with the union. 

Dems Are Divided on Minimum Wage. But That's Not Bad News

Last week, Bernie Sanders and other leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus introduced legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. The bill is not only the most ambitious wage hike legislation to come from the left, but it’s also indicative of the growing influence that the national Fight for $15 movement exerts over Washington’s political discourse.

Not all Democrats support such a big increase to the nation’s minimum wage. The $15 proposal notably abandons the mainstream party line that was established a couple of months ago when Senator Patty Murray and Representative Robert Scott introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour. Democratic Senate leaders Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, along with a number of other prominent Democrats, came out in strong support of the hike.

As late as last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had also voiced support for the party line on minimum wage: “With this one act, we could give a raise to more than 25 million working people, lift up to 4.5 million Americans out of poverty and generate some $22 billion in increased economic activity.”

But just yesterday, The Hill reports, Pelosi announced that though it’s not politically possible now, she supports raising the minimum wage to $15. “Twelve dollars may be what can pass, but I’m for $15 per hour,” Pelosi told reporters. Her unexpected move signals the growing populist influence of both the progressive caucus in Congress and the rhetoric surrounding the Fight for $15.

According to The Hill, an economic adviser to Obama said that his current support for a $12 minimum wage is unaltered—though it’s worth noting that throughout his tenure, his minimum wage platform has ballooned from $9, to $10.10, and most recently to $12. As I wrote last week, progressive labor advocates are now pushing Obama to build on his 2014 executive order that raised the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers and sign a new order that pushes that up to $15.

Hillary Clinton has so far declined to endorse of a national $15 minimum wage, indicating that while she supports such a wage in cities with higher costs of living she doesn’t believe that it can work everywhere. “I support the local efforts that are going on that are making it possible for people working in certain localities to actually earn $15,” Clinton told Buzzfeed News a couple weeks ago.

As former White House economist Jared Bernstein told the New York Times, “There could be quite large shares of workers affected, and research doesn’t have a lot to say about that… [W]e have to be less certain about the outcome.”

Still, there’s a strong body of economic research that shows the economy can sustain modest wage increases—to $12 an hour for instance—spread out over multiple years would create little to no job loss. The thinking behind the $12 minimum wage proposal is that it fully restores the purchasing power of the wage floor back to its peak in the 1960s. The bill also indexes the wage, once raised, to cost-of-living increases, and it would phase out the minimum wage for tipped workers.

And many economists believe we could go further. Last week, a group of 200 economists came out in support of the $15 an hour minimum wage legislation, stating: “We recognize that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as of 2020 would entail an increase that is significantly above the typical pattern with federal minimum wage increases. Nevertheless, through a well-designed four-year phase-in process, businesses will be able to absorb the cost increases through modest increases in prices and productivity as well as enabling low-wage workers to receive a slightly larger share of businesses’ total revenues.”

Raising the minimum wage at least somewhat is a wildly popular idea for most Americans. According to a January 2014 Pew poll, 73 percent of Americans—including 53 percent of Republicans—supported raising the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. 

While the political pathway for a $15 national minimum wage is blocked for now, the proposal gives the $12 minimum wage push greater momentum. “It’s certainly pushing the envelope but it also broadens the terrain of what’s possible. Pushing for $15 makes $12 easier to pass,” says Amy Traub, as senior policy analyst for Demos.

Zephyr Teachout on Getting Big Money Out of Politics

Zephyr Teachout talks Citizens United, public financing, and her new role heading Lawrence Lessig's Mayday PAC. 

AP Photo/Mike Groll
AP Photo/Mike Groll Activist Zephyr Teachout speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, December 3, 2014, in Albany, New York. I n 2014, the campaign finance reform activist and Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig launched Mayday PAC —the super PAC to end super PACs. The group raised about $11 million and targeted support for candidates who were committed to reforming the role of money in politics. While its efforts in the 2014 election were largely unsuccessful, Lessig did succeed in jumpstarting a conversation about how to combat the private campaign financing of our elected officials, and more recently, the scourge of unlimited outside spending a la Citizens United . On Monday, it was announced that law professor and progressive firebrand Zephyr Teachout will be taking over the reins as Mayday plots its strategy for a 2016 election that will likely unleash an unprecedented amount of money. Most recently, Teachout challenged Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo for the New York State...

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