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Push for voter ID marches on in Missouri

Though a court ruled against SJR 2, Representative Shane Schoeller wants to make sure that voter ID makes it on the Missouri ballot in November.
PFAW Foundation

New Lawsuit Challenges Voter ID in Pennsylvania

This week, voting rights supporters in Pennsylvania filed suit against HB 934, claiming that it deprives citizens of their basic and fundamental right to vote.
PFAW Foundation

An ALEC Bill's Journey

Bloomberg Businessweek put together a handy infographic charting the path of one particular piece of ALEC model legislation, the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act, on its journey from approval as a model through introduction in 12 states across the country, and eventually becoming law in three. Shielding corporations from liability for causing harm to consumers and the environment is a major ALEC priority, and this legislation makes it harder for states to hire law firms to bring suits against businesses.

ALEC claims that it is just a library for bills and falsely states on its IRS returns that it conducts no lobbying, but documents submitted by Common Cause to the IRS last week all but prove otherwise. Internal documents show that ALEC actively engages in all the hallmarks of lobbying – from advocating for bills to tracking their progress through statehouses nationwide.

PFAW Foundation

Call for ALEC Tax Investigation Spreads to the States

Fresh off of filing a major complaint with the IRS alleging that the American Legislative Exchange Council abused their tax-exempt status by acting primarily as a lobbying organization, the good-government group Common Cause is now pressing for state-level investigations. Yesterday, Common Cause asked New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to investigate whether ALEC’s activities are in violation of state law.

Nine companies based in New Jersey, including Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson and Merck are ALEC members, and an investigation by the Star-Ledger found that a close resemblance between ALEC model bills and several pieces of legislation and executive actions pushed by the Christie Administration. The investigation also noted that ALEC member corporations and their executives have given at least $200,000 to New Jersey officials who are responsible for advancing these bills.

ALEC claims that it only “provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level policy issues,” and “does not lobby state legislatures.” But it’s difficult to understand how an organization that pays for state legislators to go to exclusive resorts, where they discuss and vote as equals with corporations on model legislation, can be considered anything but a lobbying front. One thing is clear: ALEC certainly is not the “charity” they claim they are on their tax returns.

PFAW Foundation

Educators Ditch ALEC's Corporate-Schools Agenda

Who has ditched ALEC so far?

The rolling tally: 14 Corporations, 33 State Representatives.

A major component of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s agenda to transfer the public’s resources to a few private hands revolves around privatizing our public school systems. From model bills that sanction “Virtual Public Schools” run by for-profit companies to subsidizing private school vouchers with taxpayer money, ALEC places corporate profits above children’s needs.

Perhaps this is why the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), the national certifying body for teachers in the United States and an organization that is ostensibly dedicated to serving children’s educational needs, announced that they are severing ties with ALEC:

Given recent events, the new NBPTS President and CEO decided to discontinue engagement with ALEC. As a result, NBPTS terminated its membership as an Education Task Force Member of ALEC effective April 18, 2012, and also withdrew from participating in the upcoming ALEC conference....The decision to participate in ALEC had been made by previous NBPTS leadership.

–NBPTS spokesperson Brian Lewis

NBPTS is a non-profit organization, but they take positions on many aspects of education policy, including teacher-certification regulations. Before their departure, the organization sat on ALEC’s Education Task Force, which, as the Center for Media and Democracy reports, boasts private-sector members such as the James Madison Institute of Florida and the Pioneer Institute of Massachusetts, both members of the Koch-funded State Policy Network.

ALEC is too toxic even for some for-profit education companies. Last week, Kaplan announced that they are declining to renew their ALEC membership. 

PFAW Foundation

Introducing the 2012-2013 YP4 Fellows

After weeks of reviewing applications and conducting interviews, we’re pleased to announce People For the American Way Foundation’s 2012-2013 Young People For (YP4) Fellowship class! From a large and diverse pool of over 450 applications, 150 dynamic progressive leaders were selected.

Young People For (YP4) is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities.YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project, the Blueprint for Social Justice. YP4 helps them refine their plans, organize and network with fellow campus leaders, partners and alumni at regional trainings, through mentorship and at the National Summit.

YP4’s newest class is comprised of young progressive leaders from 32 states, 76% represent communities of color, 67% are women, 21% identify as LGBT. The Fellows will begin their YP4 experience this summer at their respective Regional Training, where Fellows will meet with 30-40 other young activists and organizers from their region as well as YP4 staff and organizational partners. The regional trainings provide Fellows with the opportunity to gain expertise in the issues affecting their communities and participate in workshops designed to develop the skills they need to become leaders in the progressive movement.

Meet YP4’s new Fellows!

PFAW Foundation

Leaked ALEC Documents Show Extent of Influence

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence over state legislative bodies is well documented. We’ve seen countless examples of corporate lobbyist-drafted model legislation, developed at exclusive retreats at fancy resorts out of the public’s eye, make its way to the statehouse floor, bringing disastrous results to working families, public education, the environment, voting rights and much more.

Last week, Common Cause released a bounty of ALEC’s internal documents as part of an official complaint to the IRS, claiming that ALEC has abused its tax status as a 501c3 organization. As a result, a new window was been opened into the processes responsible for creating these pro-special interest bills, revealing just how much power ALEC’s corporate members enjoy.

One such document, the minutes from ALEC’s 2011 Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force meeting in New Orleans, reveals how the private sector (ALEC-speak for “corporations”) has equal – and often greater – policy-making power than elected officials through their influence in developing model legislation that can become law. The document describes how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offered a resolution regarding federal efforts to curtail internet sites that sell counterfeit products, and after discussion amongst the public and private sector members, the resolution was defeated:

The Task Force then proceeded with a vote on the motion to amend by Mr. Castleberry, which was adopted by the private sector 8-1 in favor and by the public sector 19-3 in favor. On final passage of the resolution as amended, the public sector voted 17-1 in favor of the resolution, but the private sector voted 8-8 in favor; thus, the resolution failed on final passage because it failed to achieve a majority of support from the private sector.

In this case, the will of 94% of our elected representatives participating in the discussion was trumped by just half of the task force’s corporate members. To put it simply: unelected corporations are voting as equals with elected officials on model bills that become our laws.

This is how ALEC accomplishes its stated mission to “advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise”: by helping free market enterprises literally vote on public policy.

[H/T Republic Report]

PFAW Foundation

YP4 Featured Fellow: Johnny Buck

Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice and work on social justice projects of their choosing.

We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here. This week, we’re pleased to introduce Johnny Buck, representing Northwest Indian College.

Johnny Buck grew up near Priest River Dam on the Columbia River in central Washington state, and is a student at Northwest Indian College, where he focuses on environmental studies. Buck is also a George Washington University Native Political Leadership program Fellow at the Department of Education, a program designed to give young Native Americans the skills they need to be successful political leaders.

His goal is to apply what he’s learned to revitalize his tribe’s language and culture in the Wanapum Village and ultimately to benefit all Tribal Nations.

Young People For has been actively engaging the Native American community for several years. In 2009, Buck was a member of YP4’s Tribal College Leadership Program (TCLP), which brings together 23 tribal college students showing great leadership potential and seeks to empower young Native Americans to change their communities by connecting them to the larger progressive movement.

“My community is deeply rooted in culture, language, traditions and ceremony,” said Buck. “By helping to revitalize our horse culture and language, I have committed myself to the younger generations in my community.”

PFAW Foundation

ALEC in Arizona - On the Run

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and ALEC members are on the run in Arizona. As more Arizonans learn about the tactics and operating procedures of the obscure network, the organization and its corporate funders are scrambling to come up with ways to justify their unjustifiable agenda.

ALEC had operated in relative obscurity for decades since its inception in 1973. However in the past year, with the launching of the ALEC-Exposed project, and some diligent investigative reporting from journalists and good government organizations alike, the veil has been removed, and ALEC has been on the run since – in recent months, thirteen companies have withdrawn financial support from the organization and 28 state legislators have renounced their membership.

In response to these developments, the Arizona ALEC network has revealed just how entrenched it is with its corporate funders. A leaked email provided to PFAW Foundation shows that ALEC legislators held an event yesterday morning to discuss ALEC PR strategy – and that the event was being actively promoted by none other than Russel Smolden, head lobbyist of the Salt River Project, a public utility corporation that sits on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board:

Debbie Lesko and other ALEC legislative members both present and past would like to invite you to a meeting thisThurs. (April 26th), 11:00am at AGC to get the latest update on the fight that ALEC is waging in the media against its detractors. We would really appreciate your attendance

Russell D. Smoldon

Senior Director Government Relations

SRP

The ALEC agenda is out of the shadows, and its affiliates have been scrambling to come up with talking points to sugarcoat their policies. Unfortunately, no amount of obfuscation can conceal the truth. The ALEC agenda is harmful to everyday citizens because it rewards the corporations who fund the network – nearly 98 percent of it. When ALEC legislators and ALEC corporate lobbyists like Russell Smoldon agree to meet behind closed-doors like they did yesterday morning, their attempts to assuage their image crisis only tarnish their reputations further, for what could they could they possibly be discussing that requires confidentiality?

The following photos are of lobbyists arriving at and leaving from the closed-door ALEC-PR strategy meeting:

[Russel Smoldon (on the right) – author of leaked email, head lobbyist for the Salt River Project.]

[Tom Dorn (left) lobbyist for Peabody Energy, among others.  Ken Quartermian (right) lobbyist for Cox Communications Arizona, among others.]

[Joe Abate – lobbyist representing PHRMA, among other clients.]

[Spencer Kamps – lobbyist for Home Builders Associations of Central AZ.]

 [Marty Schulz – former registered lobbyist for Pinnacle West, now works at the Denver, CO-based firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.]

 

Click here to view PFAW Foundation’s press release on this development.

Endnote: In November of 2011 and April of 2012, PFAW Foundation released two reports, in conjunction with Common Cause, Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy, documenting the enormous influence that ALEC has in Arizona. The reports evidence how ALEC legislators have introduced and passed ALEC model legislation that has damaged communities and harmed the state – from attacks on public education to privatizing prisons to reducing consumer protections, the corporate-backed ALEC agenda has transformed Arizona into an ALEC model state, one that Arizonans, as evidenced by the recall of ALEC member and former Senate President Russell Pearce, are rejecting in force.

Following the release of the second report, Arizona Public Service Company (APS), Arizona’s largest utility in the state, announced it was severing ties with ALEC.

And for more information on State Representative Debbie Lesko - who was one of the hosts of the ALEC PR strategy meeting - and her ties with ALEC-sponsor SRP, please check out CMD's post on the connection.

PFAW Foundation

ALEC Confirms Shift to Economic Focus Just a PR Move

Responding to pressure from consumers who don’t want the companies they do business with to support an extreme agenda, 13 major corporations have withdrawn their membership from ALEC. The organization has been under pressure from activists outraged at ALEC’s support for draconian immigration policies, vote-suppressing legislation and gun laws like “Stand Your Ground."

 Last week, ALEC released a statement saying that it was disbanding the Public Safety and Elections Task Force responsible for turning these extreme policies into law, instead claiming that the organization would be shifting its focus back to economic issues:

“We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus.

“We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy. The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned.”

We were skeptical that the decision was anything more than a savvy PR move – and now an ALEC member has confirmed it. This move was just a stunt; the Public Safety and Elections Task Force’s whole portfolio will be reassigned to another committee, according Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas, the Task Force’s former chair: 

Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas chairs the Public Safety Task Force and although he is disappointed the committee is disbanding, he said many of the issues will be transferred to other committees.

"ALEC's decision won't impact the important issues we've worked on," Madden told The Christian Post"But I will say this, these groups are targeting ALEC because when conservatives get together, we influence state and federal policy in a major way and these groups are scared of us – and should be."

Considering the ever-growing list of corporations and legislators who have deserted the organization in recent weeks, maybe it’s ALEC that should be worried.

One such defector, State Representative Ted Vick of South Carolina told Ed Schultz his reasons for resigning:

“It started moving to the right and getting very extreme…right now if they continue to do the Right-Wing thing they are doing and pushing agendas that have nothing to do with more efficient government, then it doesn’t have a place in politics in my opinion, and that’s why I’m resigning.”

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PR stunt aside, the fact remains that ALEC’s core agenda is just as extreme and dangerous. Somehow, ALEC’s “jobs agenda” still manages to include attacks on working families, the environment, women, public education – the list goes on. As PFAW president Michael Keegan stated,

The true economic consequences of the ALEC agenda – which includes privatizing public resources such as schools and prisons, dismantling unions and stacking the deck against average people who try to seek justice in a court of law – is that wealthy special interests get even richer while the rest of us are left in the dust. ALEC believes in job creation – unless job elimination is better for the bottom line of a few corporations.

PFAW Foundation

ALEC Double Whammy: Whistleblower Complaint and Another Corporate Departure

It’s been a rough start to the week over at the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Common Cause has submitted a formal whistleblower complaint against ALEC to the IRS this morning, alleging that the organization has flouted federal tax laws by portraying themselves as a tax-exempt charity and misusing their 501c3 status by acting primarily as a lobbying organization, according to a press release.

501c3 organizations have very strict limitations on lobbying, and ALEC consistently states on its tax returns that it does not engage in lobbying. But it’s hard to see how an organization that helps facilitate meetings between corporate representatives and state legislators, produces model legislation and coaches state legislators on how to advocate for and defend such legislation can be considered anything BUT lobbying.

Corporations provide the vast majority of ALEC’s funding. But since their membership dues are written up as donations to a “charitable” organization, they can deduct the dues from their taxes – leaving the American taxpayers to make up the difference, says Common Cause president Bob Edgar. “Corporations that have been funding this organization have, in fact, been lobbying and getting a tax break. The taxpayers of the United States have been paying for a lobbying operation because these corporations can take this off on their taxes.”

The 4,000 pages of internal ALEC documents submitted to the IRS make the case that ALEC is an active lobbying organization, and by law, the IRS is required to launch an investigation.

As if that isn’t headache enough, a thirteenth company, Procter & Gamble, has ended its membership in ALEC. As a P&G spokesperson told Color of Change, the company “made the determination that ALEC does not help P&G compete for consumers’ loyalty and support.”

The pressure is now on Johnson & Johnson, one of the companies still connected to ALEC and a target of a petition drive to get ALEC-member corporations to leave the organization, to explain how ALEC’s extreme agenda benefits their consumers when their major competitor P&G concluded it did not.

PFAW Foundation

Introducing YP4 Featured Fellows

Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice.

We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here. This month, we’re pleased to introduce Crystal Obiukwu, representing Ohio State University.

“My Blueprint is a program that will teach young women, specifically teens, about reproductive justice and how to advocate for reproductive justice in their communities… I want to live in a world that truly embodies progressive values. I want a country where everyone has the ability to reach their full potential. I really want a world that is democratic and people oriented.

“I’ve mainly been involved in the feminist community and the reproductive rights community on my campus. I am starting to get involved in anti-racist work and I’ve been involved with my schools Occupy movement. I feel like my life experience and my identity as a Nigerian American woman brings a new perspective. Right now my university is dealing with a lot of hate crimes and racism on campus. We had a person come to a Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi vigil with a gun holster to intimidate activists, “Long Live Zimmerman” was spray painted on the Black cultural center on campus, and swastikas and the n-word were spray painted on an Obama mural in an area near students and a predominantly black neighborhood. This all happened within 48 hours. Previously an Islamaphobic ad that was funded by an extreme right-wing group was placed in our newspaper.

“Activist, students, and faculty immediately held an impromptu meeting after the 2nd hate crime had occurred. Two actions and a list of 3 demands were created. The next day we had over 200 students and activist go to the board of trustees meeting to read our demands and make them address racism on campus. Our demands were 1) have hate crime alerts go out to students so they can be informed about racism on campus, 2) have diversity be a priority at Ohio State with a diverse body of students and faculty that is representative of the country’s population, and 3) inclusion not tolerance; we want a campus that is genuinely inclusive of all kinds of students. We also had a sit-in in our student union until our first demand was met.

“All of the great student activists around me who do amazing work inspire me. The fact that they can be both students and accomplish incredible things inspires me to do my best as an activist.”

PFAW Foundation

ALEC Update: 12th Corporation Drops Out

Yum! Brands, the parent company of fast food chains such as KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, has decided to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to Color of Change. This makes Yum! The 12th company to disassociate from the organization in recent weeks.

This is a significant decision because it comes after ALEC’s decision to disband the Public Safety and Elections Task Force, the part of the organization responsible for the voter suppression and “Stand Your Ground” laws that exemplify ALEC’s extreme agenda and helped galvanize the recent corporate exodus from the group.

Think Progress notes that Yum! held a leadership position on a different committee: Labor and Business Regulation, which fought to repeal laws guaranteeing paid sick leave to workers. The corporation also was a member of the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force.

Responsible members of the business community are realizing with or without the Public Safety and Elections Task Force, ALEC’s extreme agenda is bad for business.

PFAW Foundation