Tag Archives: criminal justice reform

Soros PAC Targets Democratic Incumbent in Texas DA Race Who Opposes Sanctuary Cities

San Antonio, TX— A political action committee (PAC) backed by progressive billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has spent millions targeting local District Attorney races in recent years, has contributed to yet another local election in Texas.

An investigation of campaign finance documents by The Daily Caller revealed that Soros, through a state-level PAC called Texas Justice & Public Safety, spent $70,000 in support of primary opponent Joe Gonzales against sitting Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas LaHood.

LaHood is actually a Democrat, but due to his opposition to sanctuary cities and proclaimed support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s stated intent to target cities that disregard federal immigration law, his seat has become a target. More than $30,000 was spent by the Texas Justice & Public Safety PAC on mailers that label LaHood as “bigoted,” “racist” and “Islamophobic” in both English and Spanish.

The Daily Caller report notes:

Soros has repeatedly backed left-wing district attorney candidates with massive donations typically only seen in gubernatorial, congressional or presidential campaigns. Soros spent more than $9 million on local DA races in 2015-2017 alone, allowing the New York resident to influence local criminal justice policies all across the country.

Interestingly, while other billionaires have used the Citizens United decision to inject millions into presidential and other high-profile congressional races, Soros has enacted a strategy of infusing millions into local DA races with a stated goal of reforming the U.S. criminal justice system.

According to a report by Politico:

His money has supported African-American and Hispanic candidates for these powerful local roles, all of whom ran on platforms sharing major goals of Soros’, like reducing racial disparities in sentencing and directing some drug offenders to diversion programs instead of to trial. It is by far the most tangible action in a progressive push to find, prepare and finance criminal justice reform-oriented candidates for jobs that have been held by longtime incumbents and serve as pipelines to the federal courts — and it has inspired fury among opponents angry about the outside influence in local elections.

Soros has spent on district attorney campaigns in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas through a network of state-level super PACs and a national “527” unlimited-money group, each named a variation on “Safety and Justice.” (Soros has also funded a federal super PAC with the same name.) Each organization received most of its money directly from Soros, according to public state and federal financial records, though some groups also got donations from nonprofits like the Civic Participation Action Fund, which gave to the Safety and Justice group in Illinois.

As a means of pushing back against the Soros influx of funding, LaHood and others have attempted to publicize Soros’ involvement, accusing him of trying to buy DA seats across the country.

“We know George Soros is a billionaire who has purchased at least 10 other district attorney’s offices around the country, not to mention other political positions,” LaHood said in the ad aimed at highlighting Soros, titled, “Your DA’s Office is Not For Sale.”

Thus far, the only losing effort by a Soros-backed candidate has been in Houston’s Harris County. Keeping in line with the strategy of targeting races with large urban centers, Bexar County is Texas’ fourth most populous county and includes the city of San Antonio.

Koch Brothers to Spend Millions on Second Chances for Ex-Cons

On the last weekend of January, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch met with hundreds of Koch network donors in Palm Springs, California to drum up support for their Safe Streets and Second Chances initiative, a $4 million pilot program aimed at implementing and studying ways to help former prisoners overcome reentry hurdles and become productive members of society.

According to The Hill, the program will begin on a trial basis in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania and will offer individualized reentry programs beginning on the first day of incarceration for 1,000 inmates. Those inmates helped in the initial trial phase of the program will include people from both rural and urban areas.

USA Today notes that Koch Industries attorney Mark Holden said, “Over 95 percent of people who are incarcerated will eventually be released, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to make sure that these individuals are better when they leave prison than before they went in. The vision of ‘Safe Streets and Second Chances’ is that, rather than waiting until the end of an individual’s sentence, the reentry process should begin on day one.”

Holden recently attended a White House meeting with President Trump and other officials to promote criminal justice reform.

“We want to ensure that those who enter the justice system are able to contribute to their communities after they leave prison, which is one of many very difficult subjects we’re discussing having to do with our great country,” said President Trump at the meeting.

[RELATED: Billionaires Charles Koch, George Soros to Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform]

Dr. Carrie Pettus-Davis of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who will run the program, described it by saying, “This unique initiative marries research-driven policy and reentry services reforms. Even though incarceration and reentry impacts millions of people’s lives in our country, there is a huge void in research on creating a successful transition of people from prison back home to our communities. We’re closing the gap.”

TIME is reporting that the Koch brothers’ gathering to promote the initiative drew unlikely bedfellows like Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the rapper Scarface, and Olympian John Carlos, known for having displayed a black power salute on the winners’ podium at the 1968 Olympics.

“Instead of division, this event was a powerful example of bringing people together. I mean, who hosts an event like this? This network does. The opportunity to work with folks that might disagree with our Seminar Network on all kinds of issues coming together in common cause to solve common problems is an exciting part of what we’re doing,” said Koch network executive Evan Feinberg.

“We all need to be fully committed to a society in which everybody has an opportunity to make a better life for themselves. That’s what we’re about,” said Charles Koch.

The billionaire Koch brothers are often criticized in media op-eds for spending large sums of their personal wealth to influence politics. The Koch network reportedly hopes to spend around $400 million to influence the 2018 midterm elections.

Sen. Cotton Lobbying Hawks to Vote Against Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is recruiting tough-on-crime hawks in the Senate in an effort to block the passage of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill supported by an unlikely tag-team of conservatives and progressives ranging from the Koch brothers and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on the right to President Obama and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on the left.

Among other criminal justice reforms, the bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent crimes and give courts and prosecutors more flexibility in reconsidering previously-applied minimum sentences.

[RELATED: Obama Praises Rand Paul, Koch Brothers in NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Speech]

Freshman Senator Cotton has positioned himself as a national security and foreign policy hawk, and, according to Politico, he is actively rallying Republicans to turn against the bill.

It would be very dangerous and unwise to proceed with the Senate Judiciary bill, which would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons. I think it’s no surprise that Republicans are divided on this question … [but] I don’t think any Republicans want legislation that is going to let out violent felons, which this bill would do,” said Cotton.

Responding to Cotton’s claim that the bill would lead to the release of violent felons, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “It’s not true. I’d say, please read the bill and listen to people like [former Attorney General] Michael Mukasey, who makes the point, which is a critical point, that there’s no get-out-of-jail-free card.

The bill’s supporters say that inmates can only be released early under the bill if the judge and prosecutor that originally handled the case agree with the sentencing reduction.

Cotton’s anti-reform coalition has reportedly attracted the support of Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who once supported criminal justice reform, also recently questioned whether violent criminals might slip out of prison if the bill passes.

[RELATED: Koch Industries Attorney Criticizes Ted Cruz for Opposing Sentencing Reform Bill]

MSNBC’s Steve Benen wrote, “There’s a real possibility that the votes would exist to pass the bill anyway, despite Cotton and his faction, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is unlikely to move forward on a high-profile bill that’s dividing his conference, and the more right-wing members balk, the less likely it is the GOP-led House will approve the bipartisan compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week, “Members of the Judiciary Committee have been deeply involved on that issue, the rest of us have not. So we’re going to be working through the process of bringing everybody in the Republican Conference up to speed on this very important issue, and we’re going to do that before any decision is made about floor time.

McConnell’s comments seem to suggest that he may delay bringing the bill to a vote until tensions calm among Senate Republicans.

In an interview on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a criminal justice reform supporter, said of Cotton’s goal line stand against the bill, “You know, I think he’s making a mistake here because I think the country is moving in the other direction. A lot of us believe in second chances. You know, when I saw Peyton Manning giving the ball to Demaryius Thomas and saying this is for your mom, I had a great deal of sympathy for his mom. She’s been in jail for 15 years for a non-violent crime. That doesn’t mean what she doing was correct or right, but the thing is is fifteen years is a long time for a non-violent crime. His grandmother is in jail for two life sentences, forty years a piece, the minimum she can get out is forty years — for dealing drugs, and yet you can shoot somebody in Kentucky and be eligible for parole in twelve years.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is widely seen as President Obama’s last major initiative that currently has enough bipartisan support to potentially pass in 2016.

Ky. Gov. Beshear Restores Voting Rights to Over 170,000 Non-Violent Felons

Democratic Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who is set to leave office and hand over the governorship to Republican Matt Bevin next month, signed an executive order on Tuesday which will grant voting rights and the power to run for office to some non-violent felons who have completed their sentences.

The Brennan Center for Justice points out that “Kentucky was one of only three states — along with Florida and Iowa — to permanently bar citizens with past convictions from voting. But its constitution does grant the governor broad authority to restore voting rights.” The non-partisan public policy institute’s analysis of Beshear’s executive order found that it “will make it possible for more than 170,000 Kentucky citizens with past criminal convictions to get back their right to vote — an estimated 140,000 are immediately eligible to have their rights restored and another 30,000 will be over time.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, ex-offenders convicted of treason, violent crimes, sex offenses, and bribery are not eligible to have their voting rights restored under Beshear’s order.

[RELATED: DONEGAN: 46 Non-Violent Drug Inmates Freed, Thousands Upon Thousands Still Incarcerated]

The old system is unfair and counterproductive. We need to be smarter about our criminal justice system. Research shows that ex-felons who vote are less likely to commit crimes and [more likely] to be productive members of society,” said Gov. Beshear at a press conference announcing the executive order’s signing.

The Nation notes that Kentucky Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin, who will become governor next month and who could theoretically reverse Beshear’s order, supports the policy. Bevin commented on the subject during his failed 2013 campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), saying, “I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate that we would take from somebody something that could be restored to them, that the nation would be better to have them in possession of all their rights.

The executive order creates a rights restoration process not only for individuals who have already completed sentences for non-violent crimes, but also for those who will complete their sentences in the future.

[RELATED: Obama Praises Rand Paul, Koch Brothers in NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Speech]

Before today, all citizens with felony convictions [in Kentucky] had no hope for rights restoration unless they could personally persuade the governor to restore rights to them individually,” wrote the Brennan Center for Justice.

Koch Industries Attorney Criticizes Ted Cruz for Opposing Sentencing Reform Bill

A Koch Industries statement authored by attorney Mark Holden criticized U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for opposing the Koch brothers backed Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

We are disappointed that some members, including Senator Cruz, who have supported the need for reform and been strong supporters of the Bill of Rights did not support this bill. We are grateful that Senator [Mike] Lee corrected the record to make clear that the bill will address grave injustices in our system, free up resources to combat violent crime and enhance protections against the release of violent criminals,” read Holden’s statement on behalf of Koch Industries.

[RELATED: DONEGAN: 46 Non-Violent Drug Inmates Freed, Thousands Upon Thousands Still Incarcerated]

Cruz expressed his concerns that the bill might lead to the release of violent gun criminals and undocumented immigrants.

Under the [retroactive] terms of this bill, 7,082 federal prisoners would be eligible for release. Now none of us know what those 7,082 prisoners did. None of us know what the underlying conduct was that the prosecutors may have plea-bargained down under the existing sentencing laws and that they may not have entered that plea bargain if they had known that the sentencing laws would be lessened,” said Cruz in an October 22 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legislation.

“But I for one at a time when police officers across this country are under assault right now, are being vilified right now, and when we’re seeing violent crime spiking in our cities across the country, I think it would be a serious mistake for the Senate to pass legislation providing for 7,082 convicted criminals potentially to be released early.”

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) disagreed with Cruz’s characterization that the bill’s retroactive component could lead to a free-for-all release of violent criminals.

We put together this bill that requires a case-by-case analysis, a case-by-case scrutiny by the federal district judge in question and by the prosecutors involved in each case to consider the nature of each offense and the circumstances of each offense. Also they will consider the offender’s conduct while in prison and the possible risk posed to public safety by any early release that might occur under these provisions,” Sen. Lee said during the hearing, according to The Hill.

Koch Industries attorney Mark Holden wrote, “While not perfect, the bill contains important reforms that will enhance public safety, honor and protect the Bill of Rights, help remove barriers to opportunity for the least advantaged and make our criminal justice system more fair and just for all Americans. Many of these reforms have worked well in states like Texas, Georgia and Utah, and have reduced crime rates, reduced spending, reduced incarceration rates and enabled former offenders and their families to live productive lives.

[RELATED: Obama Praises Rand Paul, Koch Brothers in NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Speech]

The bill ultimately passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 15-5, meaning its next step is a vote before the full Senate.

Watch Truth in Media’s Consider This video, embedded below, which puts the scope of the mass incarceration of non-violent offenders under the U.S. War on Drugs into perspective.


Obama Announces Executive Action to Keep Criminal History Off Federal Job Applications

President Obama announced a new directive on Monday which would prevent individuals from having to immediately disclose their criminal history on federal job applications.

In a statement, the White House noted that Obama has “called on Congress to follow a growing number of states, cities, and private companies that have decided to ‘ban the box’ on job applications.”

[pull_quote_center]We are encouraged that Congress is considering bipartisan legislation that would ‘ban the box’ for federal hiring and hiring by federal contractors. In the meantime, the President is directing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to take action where it can by modifying its rules to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.[/pull_quote_center]

The White House called the move a “fair opportunity to compete for Federal employment” for individuals “from all segments of society, including those with prior criminal histories.”

[RELATED: Congress to Take On Criminal Justice Reform this Year]

During an event in Newark, New Jersey, Obama said that he believes federal agencies should follow the steps of 19 states and major companies such as Koch Industries, Target and Walmart to remove questions about criminal history from job applications.

“It is relevant to find out if somebody has a criminal record,” Obama said. “I’m not suggesting ignore it. I’m suggesting that when it comes to applications, give folks a chance to get through the door.”

[RELATED: Reality Check: U.S. Non-Violent Drug Offenders Incarceration Rate Is Shameful]

Vox noted that the initiative is one that advocated “a concrete step toward not just reversing mass incarceration in the future, but also making sure its past victims don’t slip through the cracks.”

Critics such as The Guardian’s Steven Thrasher called the “ban the box” initiative a “band-aid on a gaping wound that is mass imprisonment” and said that it is “a feel-good half measure which likely will accomplish little.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is sponsoring legislation with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that would have a similar effect. He said that he is “really happy to see the president continue to push the envelope” on the issue, but that he thinks implementing “should be done legislatively, so that the stroke of another president’s pen can’t undo it.”

DONEGAN: 46 Non-Violent Drug Inmates Freed, Thousands Upon Thousands Still Incarcerated

President Obama recently began a push for criminal justice reform by granting clemency last week to 46 hand-chosen non-violent low-level drug offenders serving extraordinarily long sentences, and by becoming the first U.S. president to visit a federal prison during last Thursday’s trip to the El Reno Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.

When [these inmates] describe their youth, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made, and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made. The difference is that they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes,” said President Obama according to The Wall Street Journal.

Obama’s emerging approach on low-level drug offenders is a welcome deviation from the big government policies that he has largely pursued under his presidency. However, the brave first step he’s taking in unwinding a broader War on Drugs that has warped the U.S. criminal justice system by attempting to use the threat of jail to impose healthcare best practices is a baby step at best. The Atlantic estimates that 95,265 non-violent drug inmates are currently languishing in federal prisons, and a vast array of federal War on Drugs policies remain in place, meaning that number is still set to climb over time. Also, U.S. states continue to imprison Americans under harsh state-level drug laws that have already impacted countless inmates. The above-embedded Truth in Media Consider This video puts into perspective some facts about the incarceration of non-violent offenders under the War on Drugs.

Some inmates rot away in cells on marijuana charges while Americans in other states freely consume commercially-produced edible cannabis products, exposing a rising contradiction in U.S. law as marijuana prohibition begins to face repeal in a growing number of states.

The criminalization of victimless activity such as drug use has empowered law enforcement officers to launch arbitrary criminal investigations against virtually anyone during any traffic stop or police encounter, rather than on the basis of reports by victims, changing the nature of the relationship between police and citizens. Now, some citizens fear that, if they call the police to report a crime, they too could become a suspect in a criminal investigation. The days of Andy Griffith are a thing of the past, as armor-clad officers now routinely batter down Americans’ doors in the middle of the night in sometimes-unannounced, guns-drawn raids.

African-Americans and Latinos are targeted at disproportionate levels under arbitrarily-enforced War on Drugs policies. Lost voting rights by drug felons represent significant levels of voter disenfranchisement, particularly among demographic groups like African American males who are typically subjected to profiling.

Meanwhile, the War on Drugs has failed at its goal of improving U.S. health outcomes. Addicts are more likely to hide their addictions to avoid incarceration. Witnesses to drug overdoses sometimes fail to call emergency services out of fear of prosecution by law enforcement, leading to needless fatalities. Drug cartels, fat with profits from providing illegal drugs to addicts, use their funds to purchase advanced weapons with which to terrorize Americans. Terrorist organizations use prohibition’s drug profits to finance their attacks on the U.S. and other nations.

[RELATED: N.H. Governor Signs Bill Granting Immunity for Victims, Witnesses Reporting Drug Overdoses]

President Obama has started a crucial conversation on the next steps that should be taken in unwinding an over-reaching federal War on Drugs. Restoring voting rights to non-violent felons, reforming sentencing guidelines, and letting states relax marijuana prohibition laws are all important policy moves. That said, these policies alone will not significantly transform a status quo where US drug laws now have their own lobbyists from the law enforcement and private prison industries who invest in politicians’ campaigns in an effort to obtain lucrative federal and state contracts.

Instead of discussing whether non-violent inmates are spending too long in jail for healthcare mistakes made with drugs, America should confront the broader issue of whether or not we should be incarcerating people for victimless “crimes” in the first place, at both the state and federal levels. While drug addiction is a serious issue that impacts countless families, it is a healthcare issue, and state and federal law enforcement resources are needed right now to tackle the very real violent and property crime threats that confront Americans.

History will remember the War on Drugs as a human rights disaster. Politicians in the future will pretend they never supported it. It is time to roll up our sleeves and begin the hard work of unwinding these laws nationwide on the state and federal levels.

Obama Praises Rand Paul, Koch Brothers in NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Speech

On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama gave a speech in Philadelphia at the NAACP national convention, which can be seen in the above-embedded video player, promoting criminal justice reform. In his remarks, he argued that tough-on-crime War-on-Drugs policies have slipped out of control, pushing the US incarceration rate beyond that of China. He also commented on the disparate racial outcomes of arbitrarily-enforced criminal laws targeting non-violent offenders, noting that Latinos and African-Americans are disproportionately represented in US prison populations.

During the speech, President Obama struck a bipartisan tone and, as The Hill points out, commented on some of the strange ideological bedfellows that have coalesced around the movement to reform America’s criminal justice system and victimless criminal laws.

[RELATED: Billionaires Charles Koch, George Soros to Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform in 2015]

As Republican Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul has said — no, and to his credit, he’s been consistent on this issue — imprisoning large numbers of non-violent drug offenders for long periods of time ‘costs the taxpayers’ money without making them any safer,'” said President Obama.

After continuing to highlight the financial and human costs of the mass incarceration of non-violent Americans, Obama said optimistically, “I am feeling more hopeful today because even now, when, let’s face it, it seems like Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on anything — a lot of them agree on this. In fact, today, back in Washington, Republican senators from Utah and Texas are joining Democratic senators from New Jersey and Rhode Island to talk about how Congress can pass meaningful criminal justice reform this year. That’s good news.”

He continued, “That doesn’t happen very often. And it’s not just senators. This is a cause that’s bringing people in both houses of Congress together. It’s created some unlikely bedfellows. You’ve got Van Jones and Newt Gingrich. You’ve got Americans for Tax Reform and the ACLU. You’ve got the NAACP and the Koch brothers. No, you’ve got to give them credit. You’ve got to call it like you see it. There are states from Texas and South Carolina to California and Connecticut who have acted to reduce their prison populations over the last five years and seen their crime rates fall. That’s good news.

In his speech, Obama advocated for policy positions including lowering or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, empowering judges to exercise discretion in non-violent cases, and restoring the voting rights of convicted felons who have served their time. He also encouraged companies to follow the leads of others such as Koch Industries who no longer ask job applicants if they have been convicted of a crime.

CNN notes that, on Monday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders who were facing long prison stints. On Thursday, he visited the El Reno Correctional Institution in El Reno, OK as a part of his criminal justice reform push, making him the first sitting US president to visit a federal prison.

Watch our latest “Consider This” episode on the drug war and non-violent offenders:


Congress Set To Take On Criminal Justice Reform This Year

By Casey Harper

A bipartisan group of 20 congressmen introduced a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill Thursday that would have huge implications for millions of Americans.

Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott introduced the SAFE Justice Act, a bill that would implement major reforms across all areas of the justice system, particularly how the country treats drug crimes.

The bill addresses a range of issues, from overcriminalization to the ballooning prison population. It would also make it harder for agencies to put criminal penalties on their legislation, prioritize prison time for violent offenders instead of low level drug offenses, and invest in police relations and accountability.

Mark Holden, general counsel and senior vice president at Koch Industries, told The Daily Caller News Foundation Friday that although it’s still up in the air, in his conversations congressmen tell him they’re optimistic it could pass this year. He agrees, hoping to “strike while the iron is hot.”

A key provision in the bill would make it more difficult for agencies to create regulations with criminal penalties, and those regulations would sunset after five years if not renewed.

“That’s the problem,” Holden told TheDCNF. “We’ve decided we want to make criminal a lot of things that aren’t criminal, and it’s a huge cost, human, societal, fiscal, all around, so yeah I think if that could happen that would be great for everybody. That’s a major part of the bill, the reversal of this trend of overcriminalization particularly by regulatory agencies.”

The bill is expected to significantly shrink the prison population, partially by treating drug criminals much differently than violent and sex criminals. Some drug criminals would have opportunities to have their sentences reduced by going through programs set up for them.

“The federal system is really a dinosaur in the way that it relies almost entirely on prison, and lots of it, to address drug crime,” Molly Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told TheDCNF. “The states are much more innovative and recognize that prison is both an expensive and ineffective solution to drug crime.”

The bill has bipartisan support from 10 Republican original sponsors and 10 Democrat original sponsors, as well as groups as diverse as Koch and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I think there are some great bills in the Senate. but there has been a bunch of them and there isn’t one in the way that this one feels like it’s a vehicle where they can get all of these different organizations and all of their networks and all of their money and partnerships that exist outside of the house to push this as a vehicle,” Matt Haney, director of policy for the criminal justice reform group Cut50, told TheDCNF.

Growing discontentment with the criminal justice system has been fueled by a plethora of police brutality cases, a growing resentment toward the drug war, and the financial strain put on states that can no longer afford to house their burgeoning prison populations.

“I live in the district where Freddie Gray lived,” Rep. Elijah Cummings said in a press conference Thursday. “I live within a few blocks of where he died, and…our country is better than this. What we are doing absolutely no sense. I don’t know that the stars will align this way, the way I’ve got these folks in the room…I don’t know whether they will align this way in my lifetime, at least my political lifetime, so lets take advantage of this.”

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Koch Industries’ New Policy: Stop Asking Job Applicants About Their Prior Convictions

Charles and David Koch, oft vilified by liberal politicos for their tendency to spend their disproportionate wealth on their favorite political causes, have been focusing their lobbying efforts this year on the promotion of criminal justice reform, a cause favored by many liberal groups. BenSwann.com recently brought news of the Koch brothers’ plans to fund a campaign against police militarization, their efforts to spread awareness of the plight of a man who was sentenced to 55 years for pot, and their unlikely tag-team partner in their criminal justice reform plot, progressive billionaire George Soros. The Koch brothers are also spearheading an initiative to restore voting rights to non-violent felons.

Now, USA Today is reporting that Koch Industries has announced a new policy change in an effort to help reformed ex-offenders obtain jobs. The corporation, which currently employs 60,000 people and hired 9,100 workers last year, will no longer ask job applicants about their prior criminal convictions. Koch Industries representative Melissa Cohlmia also said that the company has hired qualified individuals with criminal backgrounds in the past.

“Do we want to be judged for the rest of our life for something that happened on our worst day?” said Koch Industries attorney Mark Holden, commenting on the corporate policy change. Under the War on Drugs’ harsh prohibition laws, America’s incarceration rate has exploded, leaping past nations controlled by brutal dictators to take the number one spot worldwide. Holden advocated for a criminal justice system with a goal of protecting the public rather than “putting mentally ill people in prison as a way station or just kind of dealing with vagrants or people with drug problems.”

The above-embedded Inform video notes that Koch Industries is joining other employers like Target, Home Depot, Walmart, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond who have also removed the criminal convictions question from their job applications. The State of Vermont also recently stripped the question from its hiring process.

Said Holden in a statement cited by The Hill, “The criminal justice system should be improved to enhance public safety, honor the Bill of Rights, and treat everyone involved in the system with dignity and respect, from the accused to the victims of crime to law enforcement… Removing the question about prior criminal convictions from our job application process is one way to achieve this goal. As a large United States-based manufacturing company that employs 60,000 American workers we shouldn’t be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified and want an opportunity to work hard.” Koch Industries will instead perform workplace safety motivated criminal background checks after determining whether a candidate is qualified.

“The fact that more and more of our nation’s major employers — including a company like Koch Industries that is synonymous with conservative politics — are choosing to embrace fair-chance hiring policies shows that this is an idea with broad appeal whose time has come,” read a statement by National Employment Law Project executive director Christine Owens.

Koch Industries removed the criminal convictions question from its job applications last month.

Rand Paul Speaks Out on Criminal Justice Reform

Speaking at the nation’s oldest historically black university, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul renewed his commitment to sentencing and criminal justice reform.

Paul spoke on Friday to students, local leaders and activists at Bowie State University in Maryland. He stressed the need for rolling back civil asset forfeiture and mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

“If we’re for families with a mother and father around, we need to be for fixing the criminal justice system,” he explained. “Criminal justice, or the lack of criminal justice, it’s not a black or white problem. It’s a poverty problem.”

Paul spoke about African Americans who received harsher penalties:

“There’s a racial outcome to this. I don’t think there’s a racial intention,” he said. “But I tell people that I think they’re not looking if they don’t think that the incarceration problem in our country is not skewed towards one race. I don’t think it’s purposeful but I do think it is actual and it is real and we should do something about it.” (The entire speech is available on C-SPAN.)

BenSwann.com’s Annabelle Bamforth reported that Paul worked with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to introduce the REDEEM Act last year, which would have automatically expunged or sealed records for juveniles who commit nonviolent crimes.

Last year at a South Carolina fundraiser, Benswann.com’s Joshua Cook asked Paul about his views on police demilitarization, reforming drug sentencing, and restoring voting rights to non-violent felons.  Cook asked Paul, “Is your brand of republicanism the new civil rights movement?” See video below:

Sen. Paul is being praised for reaching out to the black community, which is rare for most Republicans. But some black activists, including Kevin Jackson, are concerned with Paul’s approach.

 Jackson told Cook in an exclusive interview that he has concerns with Paul’s approach.

“I was with Senator Paul in Missouri when the Ferguson stuff was breaking. He had gone over to meet with the NAACP at that time, and he was talking in the meeting that I had with him, he was talking about sentencing guidelines. And my warning to him was that it’s like trying to talk to serial killers. You’re not going to talk Ted Bundy out of killing young college coeds,” he explained.

“The problem with reaching across the aisle to [New Jersey Senator Cory] Booker and those guys is they have an ideology that is set, and if you’re going to come over and bend to our will then we’ll listen to you. If Rand Paul believes that he is going to make those guys bend to his will and have some sort of common sense, he doesn’t understand the fight,” he added.

“Yes, it’s good that Rand Paul goes over and throw out of the olive branch, but the olive branch should be ‘I’m here to listen,’ but if you think I’m just here to capitulate and go ‘hey what do you guys want and how much more can I give you?’ that’s not the case.”

Jackson explained that blacks talk about this lack of civil rights and lack of opportunities, but there are enough successful blacks, including doctors, lawyers and accountants, to prove that narrative wrong.

“If you can score a 1010 and get into college and some white kid has to score a 1230,  and you take advantage of the system overwhelmingly. In many ways blacks are committing crimes at levels that would be scandalous in most societies. So you’re getting a pass over all of this stuff,” he explained.

Regardless if one agrees with Sen. Paul’s approach or not, he is receiving positive feedback from black leaders. But the question still remains: will blacks vote for Paul’s brand of Republicanism in 2016?

Koch Brothers Launch Fight for Justice for Man Sentenced to 55 Years for Pot

“I sometimes drive near the prison where he’s held, and I think, ‘Gosh he shouldn’t be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there. … That wasn’t the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it,'” said former federal Judge Paul Cassell in comments to ABC News about the plight of Weldon Angelos, a father and rap record label founder whom Cassell was forced to sentence to 55 years for three low-level marijuana sales due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In 2002, then 24-year-old Angelos, whose record label had recently attracted a collaboration with rap superstar Snoop Dogg, had also been moonlighting as a pot dealer. Federal authorities caught wind of his side gig and launched a sting operation against Angelos, purchasing small amounts of marijuana from him on three separate occasions through an informant. Angelos, who happened to be carrying a gun for protection which he did not brandish or use for any violent purpose, was subsequently tried and convicted on three counts of selling narcotics while in possession of a firearm. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws forced Judge Cassell to sentence Angelos to 55 years with no chance of parole, a near-life sentence for the Salt Lake City father of two.

“If he had been an aircraft hijacker, he would have gotten 24 years in prison. If he’s been a terrorist, he would have gotten 20 years in prison. If he was a child rapist, he would have gotten 11 years in prison. And now I’m supposed to give him a 55-year sentence? I mean, that’s just not right,” said Cassell of Angelos’ case.

According to The Daily Beast, Angelos’ plight caught the attention of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose millennial outreach group Generation Opportunity used some of the duo’s oft-demonized out-sized wealth to produce a documentary, which debuted last week at the Newseum in Washington DC, highlighting Angelos’ unjust sentence. The documentary release coincides with a broader Koch brothers initiative to promote criminal justice reform throughout 2015. A trailer for the film can be seen in the above-embedded video player.

“[This year] offers a unique moment in history in which people of different backgrounds and political leanings are coming together to facilitate a substantive dialogue on how to fix [the criminal justice system]. We can work towards a more just system that reflects the rule of law without overcriminalizing non-violent offenses,” said Generation Opportunity president Evan Feinberg in comments to The Daily Beast.

Weldon Angelos’ family requested two years ago that President Obama grant clemency for the father of two, who has already spent 11 years behind bars, but the administration has yet to respond. Lisa Angelos, Weldon’s sister, described the impact his incarceration has had on his children, “Being around them you can feel their heart ache, even though their laughter, and watching them play and do the fun stuff, you can still feel it. Seeing what they have gone through by losing their father, it just emotionally destroys me.”

The Koch brothers, who are often accused by left-leaning politicos of using their disproportionate wealth to buy elections in an effort to bend policies in favor of the rich and at the expense of the poor, have in the past used their hard-earned dollars to help poor people facing unjust prosecutions obtain legal representation.

Ben Swann took on the federal government’s mixed messages on marijuana prohibition in a September 2014 Truth in Media episode, seen in the player below.

Billionaires Charles Koch, George Soros to Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform in 2015

Billionaire philanthropist Charles Koch is often demonized by liberal politicos and painted as a robber-baron type figure, despite his unflinching support for liberal-friendly issues like marriage equality, drug legalization, and defense cuts. George Soros typically funds progressive causes with his titanic wealth, drawing the ire of conservatives. As 2015 approaches tomorrow morning, The Wichita Eagle is reporting on some comments by Charles Koch that indicate that his New Year’s plans include spending even more of his so-called disproportionate wealth promoting criminal justice reform on behalf of those too poor to defend themselves from excessive sentences and wrongful arrests. What’s more, his push for fairness in the criminal justice system has placed him in an unusual position as the tag team partner to left-leaning billionaire George Soros, who is also funding the same cause.

Charles Koch has been funding efforts to reform the criminal justice system for a decade. He was first inspired to take on the issue when one of his companies, Koch Petroleum Group, was charged with 97 felonies in 1995, 96 of which were later dropped by prosecutors, but only after draining millions of dollars in fines and legal fees. The ordeal barely put a dent in the Koch fortune, but it did cause Charles Koch to reflect on what might have happened had he fallen victim to overzealous felony prosecutions without having sufficient wealth to afford top-notch legal representation.

Ten years ago, Koch dollars were first injected into the fight against the zero-tolerance, tough-on-crime War on Drugs policies that caused America to have the world’s highest incarceration rate when Charles Koch began pumping funds into the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in an effort to support their push-back against the rise of draconian criminal sentencing policies. Though his efforts have continued to this day, Koch plans to increase his spending on the issue in 2015. Said Koch to The Wichita Eagle, “Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country… And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.” He said that he intends to promote changes to the criminal justice system in hopes of “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”

Charles Koch’s attorney Mark Holden said, “We have more of America now in prison than they ever did [in South Africa] in apartheid. Let that swirl around in your head for a while.” Holden pointed out that legislative efforts to criminalize more and more activities with tougher and tougher penalties have disproportionately affected minority communities that are often subjected to racial profiling by law enforcement. “It definitely appears to have a racial angle, intended or not,” said Holden.

Koch’s reform efforts will be aimed at resolving some of the key issues caused by overzealous prosecutions in the wake of America’s zero tolerance society, including lack of funding for legal defense for the poor and the inability of once-incarcerated, non-violent individuals to move on with their lives by obtaining jobs and regaining their voting rights after being released.

As Americans debate the issue with chaotic scenes in Ferguson, MO and New York City as a backdrop, Charles Koch now finds himself on the side of George Soros and most American progressives, a fact which flabbergasted left-leaning commentators at The Huffington Post. With two financial titans from opposing political poles doubling down on criminal justice reform, major changes to the justice system may be around the corner in 2015.

Rand Paul And Cory Booker Partner Up For Criminal Justice Reform

Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have come together to introduce legislation that would reform the current justice system to allow low-level and non-violent offenders a better chance at leading a normal life after incarceration.

The legislation, titled Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, or the REDEEM Act, would allow adults who served sentences for nonviolent crimes to have their records sealed, which would provide an improved likelihood of gaining a good job. Additionally, nonviolent offenders would be eligible to acquire welfare and food stamps after serving their sentences.

The legislation would also “automatically expunge the records of juveniles who commit nonviolent crimes before they turn 15 and automatically seal the records of those who commit them after.”

The Act would encourage states where the criminal responsibility age is under 18 to be raised to 18 by offering preference to those states when they apply for federal community police grants. This would potentially cut down on sending “countless kids into the unforgiving adult criminal system.” The Act also places limits on solitary confinement of youth offenders.

“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if nonviolent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” said Paul in a statement.

Said Booker of his alliance with Paul for the REDEEM Act, “I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey, and this bipartisan legislation does just that.” Booker also said that this legislation “will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”

Despite Paul supporting Booker’s opponent during the 2013 special Senate election, the REDEEM Act is the second partnership from Booker and Paul. In June, the two senators teamed up to sponsor an amendment to a Justice Department spending bill that would stop the DEA from using funds to go after medical marijuana users and their providers in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.