Justin Miller

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

Recent Articles

Oh Yeah, Tomorrow Is Election Day: A Preview of Ballot Measures in Four States

While coverage of the 2016 presidential election (which is still 12 months away) ramps up, it’s easy to forget that tomorrow is still Election Day. The national political stakes may not be high, but there are a number of ballot measures that could have resounding impacts on state and city-level politics.

Here’s a quick preview of some of the initiatives that voters across the country will be considering:

Maine

Campaign-finance rules could be drastically changed if Maine voters approve Question 1 on the ballot. Backed by a grassroots coalition of good-government advocates, the measure would bolster the state’s public campaign-funding system to better compete with increases in outside spending, increase penalties for those who violate campaign-finance laws, and work to shine a light on dark money. Here’s a good explainer on the measure from the Bangor Daily News.

Voters in Portland, the state’s biggest city, will also consider a measure that would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Portland’s city council recently voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Critics have vehemently argued that the city’s economy cannot handle an increase to $15, while supporters say it’s necessary for workers to earn a living wage.

Washington

Seattle residents will consider tomorrow whether to institute an innovative public campaign-finance system that would give voters $100 in vouchers, to distribute to candidates as they see fit. This would be a big victory for campaign-finance reformers who see vouchers as a promising way to get big-money influence out of politics.

On the other side of the state, in Spokane, a bold new Worker Bill of Rights would unilaterally improve conditions for the city’s workers. As In These Times has reported, the ballot measure would increase the minimum wage, guarantee equal pay for equal work, protect against wrongful termination, and prioritize worker rights over corporate rights.

Statewide, Washingtonians will decide on a controversial tax measure that critics say amounts to nothing more than “legislative blackmail.” Long-time anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman is backing the initiative, which would cut the state’s sales tax by 1 percent if the legislature doesn’t reinstate a constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds majority to pass any tax hike.

Ohio

Ohioans will vote on two major ballot measures tomorrow—one that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana and another that would make the state’s redistricting process bipartisan.

Many marijuana-legalization advocates are skeptical of the ballot initiative, given that deep-pocketed investors who stand to gain a monopoly over commercial growing rights are bankrolling the measure. Another measure on the Ohio ballot aims to nullify the legalization initiative, if it passes.

Also on the ballot is a measure that would work to reduce political gerrymandering in the state’s redistricting process. The current system uses a five-member partisan board that critics say has created district borders that reduce the power and representation of minorities across the state. The measure would reform the system by creating a seven-member board appointed in a more bipartisan manner.

Mississippi

As a state that is perennially on the bottom of national education rankings, voters in Mississippi will decide on a measure that advocates say is an attempt to improve education standards by changing the way the state funds public schools. The measure would force the legislature to adhere to a 1997 state law that was meant to increase public-school funding allotments. However, the law’s funding formula has only been met twice. If this measure is passed, lawmakers would be required to fully fund public schools, or relinquish their power to a county judge.

From campaign finance and tax reform to public-education funding and minimum wages, these are all likely to be central to the 2016 presidential election. And tomorrow, we’ll get a peak at how some possible policy solutions fare with voters. 

The Labor Prospect: Labor Relations, 2015 Style

Guestworkers are held hostage by employers, SunTrust asks laid-off IT workers to work without pay to receive severance, and cities and states fight for higher minimum wage.

(Photo: AP/The Wichita Eagle/Brian Corn)
(Photo: AP/Wichita Eagle/Brian Corn) An Amazon warehouse in Kansas Welcome to The Labor Prospect, our weekly round-up highlighting the best reporting and latest developments in the labor movement. Tales of the Modern Worker E ven Doc Brown couldn’t have predicted the current plight of the American worker. We’ve heard the horror stories of fulfillment centers of online shopping companies like Amazon—but never have we heard it as David Jamieson told it, with the harrowing story of Jeff Lockhart Jr. After a long spell of unemployment, Lockhart finally found work as a perma-temp warehouse worker when Amazon opened up shop near his home in Virginia. Working the overnight shift, Lockhart operated at a break-neck pace in the hope of Amazon taking him on as a direct employee , with better pay and access to health care. One night, he was unresponsive on the warehouse floor—he died soon after from a sudden heart attack that may have been linked to his hectic working conditions. But because both...

How Scott Walker and the Kochs Are Making Wisconsin Corruption-Friendly

He may no longer be seeking national office, but three new state bills aim to entrench the power of the Wisconsin governor and his big-money allies.

(Photo: AP/Morry Gash)
(Photo: AP/Morry Gash) Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announces the suspension of his presidential campaign on September 21. N ow that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has abandoned his presidential bid, he and a network of powerful conservative allies with close ties to the Koch Brothers are exacting what critics say is blatant political vengeance on his in-state critics, by targeting the laws that have effectively deterred or punished political corruption. Last week, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Assembly passed three bills that together would completely gut existing campaign-finance laws, blunt prosecutors’ ability to investigate political corruption, and turn the state’s elections and ethics board into a partisan-controlled paper tiger. Two of the bills are now before the Republican-controlled Senate, while the third has already been signed by Walker. Good-government advocates can’t seem to overstate the impact these bills could have on a state that’s long been a beacon of...

After Public Pressure, Clinton Swears Off Private-Prison Lobby’s Money

This morning, Hillary Clinton’s campaign told Fusion that she would no longer accept contributions from federally registered lobbyists or private-prison companies and said that her campaign will donate any previously raised money from private-prison lobbyists to charity.

As Jorge Rivas reports, the announcement comes after growing pressure from criminal justice reformers on Clinton and other presidential candidates to denounce the controversial—and politically powerful—industry.

Clinton had previously relied on lobbyists for private-prison companies as fundraising bundlers. In July, Lee Fang reported for The Intercept that one Clinton bundler who was a registered lobbyist with Geo Group—a company that operates a number of private jails and immigrant detention centers in the country—had raised $45,000 for her campaign. Another five bundlers were lobbyists at a firm that worked for Corrections Corporation of America, which is another infamous private prison giant.

Those two private-prison companies alone given more than $10 million to candidates and spent more than $25 million on lobbying since 1989. 

The private-prison industry has already become a surprisingly significant part of the presidential election. Republicans often tout the industry as a cost-effective solution to prison overcrowding while Democrats blast them for abysmal conditions for prisoners and pay-to-play influence over criminal justice reform.

Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation recently that would ban federal private prisons.

On the other hand, Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio has long had close ties to the industry, and was the biggest Senate beneficiary of contributions from Geo. The company has already cut a $100,000 check to Rubio’s super PAC.

Billionaire Makes $150 Million Threat to Get Congress to Cut Corporate Tax Rate

Yesterday, billionaire Carl Icahn, who has made his fortune as a ruthless corporate raider, issued a clear demand to Congress: cut corporate tax rates or face a whirlwind of outside spending from his new $150 million super PAC.

“I believe the time has come to also hold Senators and Congressmen accountable for the current gridlock in Congress that prevents important legislation from being passed,” Icahn wrote. “This is why I’m currently preparing to form a Super PAC with an initial commitment of $150 million from me personally.”

As Paul Blumenthal reports for The Huffington Post, Icahn wants Congress to pass legislation that would allow corporations to bring home at a huge tax discount the $2 trillion that’s currently being stashed in tax havens. Not coincidentally, Icahn is one of the biggest investors in Apple, which most notoriously keeps nearly $200 billion in profits abroad.

The billionaire argues that new policy framework advanced by Senators Rob Portman and Chuck Schumer would discourage the controversial practice of “corporate inversions,” in which a company acquires a foreign entity and then transfers its central business operations to that entity—thus avoiding domestic corporate taxes. However, Blumenthal notes that their proposal would allow corporations to funnel money back into the country at an obscenely low one-time tax rate, and that there are several other ways—such as a proposal from Senator Dick Durbin—to avoid such corporate inversions.

In order to twist the arm of Congress members who can fast-track the legislation, Icahn has brazenly threatened to dump millions to unseat them in their next elections. Obviously, this has angered good-government advocates.

“As surely as billionaires like to own sports teams as a form of conspicuous consumption,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said, “we can expect them increasingly to fund personal super PACs as a form of self-aggrandizement—as well as to drive forward policies on everything from taxation to gambling to advance their own bottom lines.”

That Icahn even has the ability to dole out such a threat is a clear testament to the erosion of campaign-finance law in the wake of Citizens United. And if Icahn’s strategy works, it’ll be the starkest rebuttal of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s deciding opinion from that case, in which he boldly wrote, “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

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