resolutions

77% of Business Leaders Want Disclosure Laws

Last week, we wrote about the negative reaction some local chambers of commerce have had to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s $75 million spending spree on campaign ads. It turns out small businesses aren’t the only ones upset by the Chamber’s political spending and wary of getting involved in national politics. Eliza Newlin Carney of the National Journal reports that many business leaders are questioning the wisdom of contributing to political campaigns, and especially of keeping those contributions secret:

In a Zogby International poll of more than 300 business leaders commissioned by the CED, fully 77 percent said that they “strongly” or “somewhat” support disclosure of the political money corporations spend, both directly and indirectly through third-party groups that run campaign ads. Two-thirds supported the statement that “the lack of transparency and oversight in corporate political activity encourages behavior that puts corporations at legal risk and endangers corporate reputations.”

Caught in the crossfire is the U.S. Chamber, whose pro-GOP spending and advertising blitz was underwritten in part by seven-figure corporate contributions. A trio of Massachusetts investors last month filed shareholder resolutions at some half-dozen corporations that sit on the chamber’s board, urging them to take a more active role on what they called the trade group’s “passive and compliant” board.

Shareholders object to the chamber’s aggressive and partisan midterm spending, its recent lobbying push to challenge or stall recently-enacted financial reforms, and to its policy positions on issues such as climate change, said Timothy Smith, senior vice president at Boston-based Walden Asset Management, one of three investor groups that issued the challenge. Shareholders have also approached close to two dozen companies that do not serve on the chamber’s board, Smith said.

And it seems that many business leaders took to heart the lesson that Target learned the hard way this summer when it spent money to help the campaign of far-right Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer and met with a strong backlash:

“I think there are real counter-pressures developing,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that advocates better corporate governance. Business leaders are increasingly sensitive to the risks that their campaign expenditures pose, said Freed. The uproar over Target Corp.’s indirect backing for a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate opposed to gay rights was a wakeup call, he added: “Companies are recognizing that we really need to protect ourselves.”

When 77% of business leaders join 84% of Americans in agreeing that their political spending should be disclosed to the public, it makes you wonder just who Republicans in Congress are looking out for by refusing to pass disclosure legislation.
 

PFAW

Hardly the End of DOMA.

Late last week, you may have seen headlines about a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit who ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. For anyone in favor of equal justice under law (and opposed to DOMA) this was good news. Unfortunately, the ruling is extremely limited. For your convenience, we’ve answers a few of the questions we've heard about the decision.

Q: What happened?

A: The case involved Brad Levenson, a public defender in the federal court system whose employer -- the Office of the Federal Public Defender -- denied his husband spousal health insurance benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Rather than simply accepting this state of affairs, Levenson filed a complaint with his employer -- the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit heard the case and issued a ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional, finding no rational basis to deny benefits to some legally married spouses and not to others.

Q: So does that mean DOMA is no longer in effect, at least within the states comprising the Ninth Circuit?

A: No, DOMA is still in effect there and everywhere else throughout the country.

Q: Why is that? Doesn't a circuit court opinion bind all federal courts within that circuit?

A: Yes, a circuit court opinion usually does just that. Normally, a circuit court opinion comes either from a three-judge panel or from all of the circuit judges. But this opinion came from just one judge, and it was more like an internal, administrative employment dispute resolution opinion.

Q: Why isn't it a regular court opinion?

A: Because the married couple claiming discrimination did not go to court and sue the federal government for the spousal benefits. Instead, Levenson, in his status as an aggrieved employee of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, filed an administrative complaint with his employer.

So Judge Reinhardt did not issue his opinion in his role as a federal appellate judge deciding the appeal of a lower court's legal holding in a conflict between two parties. Instead, he was acting in his capacity as the designated administrative decision-maker for the Ninth Circuit's Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders.

Q: Circuit Court opinions are binding on lower courts in that circuit. Who is bound by Judge Reinhardt's decision on DOMA?

A: This is an internal administrative ruling by an employer about one employee's benefits. It certainly helps Brad Levenson and his husband. But in his capacity as the administrative decision-maker who was designated to hear Levenson's case, Judge Reinhardt doesn't hold a hierarchically superior position over the next decision-maker in the next employment dispute in the Office of the Federal Public Defenders within the Ninth Circuit.

Q: There was another case last month where a Ninth Circuit judge ordered the government to provide benefits to a same-sex spouse. Will that have more of an impact?

A: Not at all. It was another case where the judge was acting as the decision-maker in an employment dispute resolution. It involved a Ninth Circuit employee covered by the employment dispute resolution plan specifically applicable to Ninth Circuit employees, as opposed to the one applicable to members of the Federal Public Defender system.

In fact, when Judge Reinhardt issued his decision last week, he explicitly said that he was not bound by the January ruling, because two different employee dispute plans were involved. That shows how these decisions have little to no value as binding precedent.

Q: Is either case going to be appealed to the Supreme Court?

A: No, because these employment dispute resolutions are not regular Circuit Court opinions released as part of a criminal or civil judicial proceeding.

Q: Has anything changed for the widow who is denied her late wife's Social Security pension benefits, or for the American man whose non-citizen husband is threatened with deportation?

A: No. DOMA still denies gays and lesbians the more than one thousand federal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. Last week’s news doesn't change that.

Q: What about a legislative remedy instead of a judicial one? Can Congress repeal DOMA?

A: Yes, definitely. President Obama is already on board and has called for repeal of this hateful law. We all need to work hard as hard as ever to get Congress to act.

PFAW