The formal complaints against the American Legislative Exchange Council are mounting. A group of clergy in Columbus, OH have filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that ALEC violated its tax-exempt status by “significantly misrepresenting its activities to the IRS, the states, and the public in order to advance a legislative agenda — an agenda largely crafted by the organization’s corporate members — that elevates commercial gain for a few over the well-being of society’s less fortunate.”
ALEC is an ultra-conservative organization that works to shepherd pro-corporate, lobbyist-drafted bills into model legislation to be introduced in statehouses around the nation. Their extreme agenda seeks to bolster corporate profits by privatizing public resources, defunding public education, damaging the environment and attacking working families.
As such, Clergy Voice, composed of 18 pastors from mainstream Christian churches, believes that such an organization has no right to the same tax status reserved for charitable organizations:
“It has angered a lot of us that there is this group of the big and powerful in terms of industries and the extremely wealthy that is courting legislators to pass cookie-cutter legislation that really favors their particular interests,” said the Rev. Eric Williams, spokesman for the group and pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ on the Northwest Side.
Earlier this year, Common Cause submitted a similar whistleblower complaint against ALEC to the IRS.
Last week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a gala at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate founder Norman Lear’s 90th birthday and the Young Elected Officials Network.
The event highlighted Lear’s legendary career as a television producer, and how in 1981, he turned to that medium to express his concern about the growing right-wing movement in America – and People For the American Way Foundation was born. 30 years later, PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – consisting of nearly 700 progressive officeholders between 18 and 35 years of age – are at the forefront of change in their communities.
Members of Congress, celebrities, members of the board and community leaders were in attendance to celebrate Norman Lear, the YEO Network and the mission of People For the American Way Foundation.
From left: PFAW Foundation Founder Norman Lear, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan and board member Jane Lynch
From left: Board member Kathleen Turner and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison
From left: YEOs Kesha Ram, Melvin Carter and Angie Buhl
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 Elena Swartz, representing Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
Recognizing the importance strong voter turnout in order to foster positive change in her community, Elena chose to organize a Civic Empowerment Summit at Bryn Mawr as her Blueprint for Social Justice. The summit provided information on how students can be a voice for change through vote work on campus and in their community, and was strategically planned in the spring to help students plan their voter engagement work ahead of the upcoming fall elections. During the training, Elena shared strategies for effective campus and community outreach, volunteer recruitment, data management, voter registration and more. Elena’s project is so important because the right to vote is constantly under attack by those who want to disenfranchise certain groups of voters for political gain, such as students.
Across the country, states are implementing Voter ID laws that exclude student ID’s from the list of acceptable forms of identification, imposing strict residency requirements to register to vote and some are even requiring college students to travel to their home precincts to vote instead of casting a ballot near their campuses. By organizing and educating her fellow students, Elena is helping to empower young people to take a stand against these measures and strengthen our fundamental rights.
By Erik Lampmann
Norman Lear, more so than almost any other, understands the inspiration, joy, and revitalization to be had by bringing together a diverse and wide movement to share in moments of success -- large and small. This week, I was honored to attend Norman Lear’s 90th Birthday celebration and the kick-off to the Young Elected Officials Network’s national convening. An alum of the Young People For (YP4) millennial fellowship program, I was invited to the event to share my experience and represent young people active in the progressive movement. While being in the presence of celebrities, major donors, and political leaders would give any college student simultaneous sensations of absolute fear and overwhelming excitement, I think the most poignant emotion I felt during the night was a profound sense of purpose, of drive, of calling.
Of the activists and organizers I met Thursday, I was continually impressed not by their successes -- be they electoral, issue-based, or local -- but by their resounding human spirit. From Norman Lear’s keen ability to enrapture a crowd -- whisking them from applause line to somber reflection -- to the YEO members who not only envisioned change but came to embody it within themselves, I was humbled. From talking to students from different campuses about the wins and losses of their organizations this Spring semester to discussing the Presidential Medal Freedom with Dolores Huerta, to hearing Jane Lynch give an interview on the consequences of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case, I was astounded by the grace with which my peers in the movement campaigned for justice with compassion.
I will confess that I am, at times, disillusioned with the progressive movement, in general. As a campus organizer working on progressive public policy and LGBTQ justice in Richmond, VA, I am often disheartened at the gap between what we’ve currently achieved and the ideal that we continue to pursue. While everyday I see the stifling states’ rights conservatism of the former Capital of the Confederacy, local progressive wins seem much slower coming. For these reasons, the reinvigoration of the PFAW Foundation celebration of this past week could not have come at a better time. As I complete a summer research fellowship on political theory and strategize for next year’s mobilizations on-campus, I am reminded of the inclusive, accomplished, and intentional family of YP4 and the dedication of People For the American Way Foundation in the pursuit of justice, equality, and the American Way even despite the challenges ahead.
Indeed, our fight as a movement has never been more necessary or the challenges we face more dire. Most recently, conservative ad hominem attacks on Attorney General Eric Holder continue to distract Congress from meaningful action. Out-of-touch elected officials continue to hold hostage major pieces of policy legislation from confronting the student debt crisis to tackling the federal deficit. Voter suppression bills are -- this very minute -- actively disenfranchising the elderly, youth, and communities of color across the country. Reproductive justice continues to be vilified and erased from popular discourse by those who censure speeches in the Michigan State House, for example, or close all of the abortion clinics in Mississippi simply in order to devalue the personal autonomy of women. Racial profiling continues to make life for undocumented people in Arizona and Alabama that much more difficult. Queer folks continue to challenge a heterosexist culture that seeks to tokenize their experience while the elderly, young people, and the differently-abled are shunned to the margins of political discourse.
Reflecting on the significance of Thursday’s event as well as the struggles to come reminds me of a refrain within this piece, the need for solidarity and union within our movement family. I think my sentiment is expressed best by a quote I first heard at a YP4 training: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” -- Assata Shakur.
Erik Lampmann is a junior studying political theory and French at the University of Richmond (VA) and a 2011-2012 YP4 Fellow.