National Marriage Week – Celebrating the Indispensable Institution

National Marriage Week – Celebrating the Indispensable Institution

National Marriage Week will be celebrated next week, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The celebration is now in its eighth year and seeks to foster collaboration around the country to “strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a culture that fosters strong marriages.”

The Marriage Week campaign website cites to tons of research on the many benefits of marriage and they have provided a list of events taking place in Georgia next week to celebrate marriage.

At GCO, we believe marriage is indispensable to the creation of healthy families and a stable society. That’s why we encourage you to love your family, teach your children to value marriage and the commitment it requires, and to take part in next week’s celebration.

If you want to strengthen your own marriage, check our Healthy Families Initiative and the resources we offer there.

Amid Shootings and Violent Protests, Georgians Consider Solutions

Amid Shootings and Violent Protests, Georgians Consider Solutions

Something happened in College Park Wednesday night that hasn’t really garnered much attention but should be front-page news. Thanks to the College Republicans at Morehouse College, I was able to participate in a panel* focused on how to constructively respond to recent police shootings of black males and the violence and protests that have followed.

Diego Aponte, President of the Morehouse College Republicans, said it best when he said that, while protests are necessary at times to raise awareness of a problem that’s going unaddressed, the real question is whether we know what can and should be done to solve the problem.

While much of the discussion centered around ways the public can hold police officers accountable for their actions and how police can more effectively engage with the communities they serve – through things like actually living in the community or regularly interacting with community members – a significant amount of time focused on the systemic problems that are limiting opportunities for young African-American males.

Because of our work at GCO, the topics that kept coming up were not new to us – lack of a quality educational options, limited access to employment, and epidemic levels of family instability. Each problem, in its own way, chips away at the ability of an individual to succeed in life. Together, they can virtually insure that a person experiences poverty and all of the social pathologies – including crime – that come with it.

After a discussion that continued for the better part of three hours, a group of us agreed to come together again, but this time for the express purpose of plotting out the concrete actions we must take to change the status quo in Georgia on these issues.

Like a lot of the people I talk to, I am very worried for our country on many fronts. That said, the discussion that took place last night gives me hope that we still have what it takes – the intelligence, the candor, the faith, and the goodwill – to turn things around.

Many thanks to Leo Smith for the invitation to take part.

*Other panelists included Douglas County Solicitor General, Matthew Krull; Georgia GOP Director of Minority Engagement, Leo Smith; GAGOP First Vice Chairman and former Police Officer, Michael McNeely; Douglas County Police Chief Gary Spark; Retired Law Enforcement Trainer Darrin Bell; Conservative Talk Show Host and Political Commentators, Shelley Wynter and Attorney Robert Pattillo; Morehouse College Republicans Chairman, Diego Aponte; Spelman College student leaders, and Pastor Joel L. Trout.

Criminal Justice Reforms: Increasing Access to Work

On April 27th, Governor Deal signed into law the most recent round of criminal justice reforms in Georgia. Senate Bill 367 enacts many of the recommendations of the state’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

Among the reforms are a number that will improve the ability of returning citizens to obtain employment, a key to reducing recidivism, including:

– Allowing first-time offenders to meaningfully shield their criminal record under the state’s First Offender Act,

– Providing greater access to occupational licensing, provided that the offense was not reasonably related to the license being sought,

– Reinstating driver’s licenses for those convicted of drug-related offenses that did not involve a motor vehicle,

– Expanding funding for Parental Accountability Courts that are problem-solving courts designed to reduce incarceration and constructively encourage parents to support their children. See our 2015 report on PACs here.

GCO is pleased that the reforms included recommendations we first made in 2013.

FEC “Dark Money” Search Could Hurt Nonprofits

The following is a special report for Georgia Center for Opportunity by Mike Klein. Mike’s other work may be found here.

Video from the Atlanta session may be seen here:

While voters fixate on an election next week that could change Washington’s balance of power, some also are looking ahead to next year’s Federal Election Commission agenda that will include an effort by incoming chair Ann Ravel to overhaul campaign finance disclosure law.  Ravel has established her target-of-choice: corporate political action committees and super PAC expenditures after a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that ended independent spending limits.

Thousands of non-profit groups could become caught in a tidal wave of proposed changes that might impact how local, state and national organizations can advocate for children’s welfare, education, health care and virtually any other policy.  The concept of the “anonymous donor” who makes community projects and thinking happen could be derailed without considerable care to protect the rights individuals have to use their personal money as they desire.

“Dark money” is the pejorative term opponents created to talk about corporate political action committee and super PAC spending.  Ravel speaks openly about “problems we have with these dark money groups” and her view that “people are getting disgusted about what’s happening.”  She says, “Polls have shown that elected officials are primarily serving their large contributors and not their constituents. That view is held equally by Republicans and Democrats.”

The FEC vice chair was at Emory University in Atlanta last week on the final leg of a three-city swing described as a listening tour to gather public input before her 2015 planned initiative.  Other stops were Denver in early October and the University of Chicago’s new Institute of Politics that was founded by President Barack Obama’s political operative David Axelrod. Obama appointed Ravel to the six-member Federal Election Commission in October 2013. The FEC has three Republican and three Democratic commissioners. Ravel becomes chair in 2015.

The 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act is the cornerstone of U.S. election law.  Perhaps more appropriately, it has become at least a time capsule and perhaps even a tomb as the FECA has not been amended since 1979. Changes to national election finance laws have mainly occurred because of FEC rules and regulations or because federal courts decided various questions brought over three and one-half decades.

In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court (Citizens United vs. FEC) struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. It opened the door to spending by non-profit groups to support or oppose a candidate without having to disclose donors who could be individuals or other entities including corporations. The Center for Competitive Politics says that spending accounted for $311 million of the $7.3 billion spent in the 2012 election cycle.

Georgia State University law school professor Anne Tucker cited higher numbers when she joined Ravel onstage in Atlanta.  Tucker said corporate political action committees spent $360 million in the 2012 election cycle and she said super PAC funds accounted for another $75 million.  Tucker said 1,220 super PACs that do not disclose their donors raised over $520 million for the 2014 midterm elections.  Tucker like Ravel supports the expansion of disclosure.

Thursday evening’s Emory event was far from a balanced discussion.  Twenty-eight speakers approached the microphone and nearly all said the same thing: Someone must stop the inflow of corporate and other big money into politics.  “I tell people your vote is your voice but I recently have come to believe that I am wrong.  Sadly today your dollar is your voice,” said Robin Collins. “We argue that corporate spending in elections should not be equated to the First Amendment rights of individual citizens,” said Cindy Strickland. Another speaker noted she was “invited to this and also reminded” to attend.

Context is often lost where passion prevails. There was important context from William Loughery who knows of what he speaks.  Now living in Georgia, the soft-spoken Loughery is a former chief of staff to United States Senator Arlen Spector, a former FEC staffer and he participated in writing the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act which as noted above has not been amended in thirty-five years.

“When we wrote the Federal Election Campaign Act there never was any enforcement so why would anyone waste time on independent expenditures,” said Loughery.  “The fundamental problem is nobody wants to change the law, nobody wants to make a significant radical change to update it because basically, the whole process would be captive of the current members of Congress and even the members of the Commission are basically captives of Congress.  Technology has changed, a lot of other things have changed and there’s nothing being done to update the law.”

Battle plans have specific objectives but battles produce collateral damage. Non-profit groups that focus entirely on policies could become swept up in a federal election campaign law disclosure reform movement.  As a young Emory student told the panel, “You have to look for the unintended consequences and protect individual rights, freedom of speech and the legitimacy of our democracy.  That’s not an easy task.”