Facing unprecedented public scrutiny and the beginnings of a mass corporate exodus, the American Legislative Exchange Council is on defense. This morning, the organization issued a statement explaining that they are a “pro-growth, pro-jobs” policy organization, and really can’t see what all the fuss is about. Here’s a snippet:
"For years, ALEC has partnered with legislators to research and develop better, more effective public policies – legislation that creates a more transparent, accountable government, policies that place a priority on free enterprise and consumer choice, and tax policies that are fair, simple and that spur the kind of competiveness that puts Americans back to work.
"At a time when job creation, real solutions and improved dialogue among political leaders is needed most, ALEC’s mission has never been more important. This is why we are redoubling our commitment to these essential priorities. We are not and will not be defined by ideological special interests who would like to eliminate discourse that leads to economic vitality, jobs and fiscal stability for the states."
Unfortunately for ALEC, these defenses simply don’t hold water. If ALEC’s idea of “discourse” means putting corporate lawyers together with state lawmakers at secret conferences to draft pro-corporate legislation; and “economic vitality” and “jobs” means suppressing the vote, locking up immigrants, busting unions and wrecking the environment – all measures designed to funnel money into the coffers of ALEC’s corporate members regardless of the damage to others – then there’s a lot more fuss headed their way. Here’s part of PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan’s response:
“ALEC’s statement would have us believe that their policies promote ‘economic vitality,’ but it is difficult to see how policies that disenfranchise thousands of voters, create irrational gun laws like ‘Shoot First,’ promote fast tracks to prison for immigrants and endanger our health and safety by gutting environmental protections make any American better off. 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."
The full statement is available here.
So, Mitt Romney’s campaign has a new idea, which is that they will neutralize the media devastation caused by the GOP’s attacks on women by turning things around and accusing President Obama of waging a “War on Women.” So far, the one piece of evidence Romney’s team has been able to hustle up to back up their new claim is an out-of-context jobs number that Politifact has rated Mostly False.
Asked to explain their new tagline in more detail today, Romney’s advisers were at a loss.
In the meantime, Romney shows no signs of abandoning any of the GOP’s anti-woman policies. The candidates advisors told a reporter that they weren’t sure if their boss supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a landmark law – signed by President Obama – that ensures that women can sue for pay discrimination. Ledbetter fired back, saying, “If he is truly concerned about women in this economy, he wouldn’t have to take time to ‘think’ about whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.”
Romney has done a 180 on reproductive rights, supporting extreme “personhood” measures and calling the Obama administration rule making sure women have insurance coverage for contraceptives an “attack on religious conscience, religious freedom.” When a firestorm erupted over Rush Limbaugh’s false and degrading attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, Romney simply said Limbaugh’s sexist slurs were “not the language I would have used.”
And of course Romney tapped Robert Bork, a vociferous opponent of feminism and reproductive rights, to head his advisory team on courts and the law.
If Romney wants to convince American voters that his opponent is the one waging a War on Women, he’s going to have an uphill battle.
As the American people become more and more aware of the damage caused by the extreme pro-corporate agenda pushed in state legislatures by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the more evident it becomes that this organization is undermining our democracy by advocating for special interest bills that benefit the wealthy few at the expense of the many.
But ALEC can’t do this on their own. They need complicit state legislators to introduce the corporate lobbyist-drafted model bills in state legislatures, but they also rely on the millions of dollars paid annually by major corporations for membership in the organization. That’s why PFAW and a number of other advocacy organization have launched a petition calling on ALEC members like State Farm, Johnson & Johnson and McDonald’s to disassociate from the organization. Over 68,000 people have signed it so far.
ALEC’s agenda is so extreme that the organization is becoming unpalatable even for the corporations that fund it. The Coca-Cola company, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, and Intuit have already ditched the group, and the Gates Foundation has decided that they will no longer provide grants to ALEC. We need to tell major corporations that funding a secretive organization that hawks legislation that is not in the American people’s interest is not in their interest either. As PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan said,
“Corporate membership in ALEC isn’t just destructive to democracy, it’s also bad for business. Corporations that currently support ALEC have a choice to make: they can continue to underwrite reckless assaults on our rights and wellbeing, or they can stand up for their customers by leaving ALEC immediately.”
ALEC can be tied to the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws like the one that is hindering bringing justice for Trayvon Martin, as well as tons of model bills that are aimed at increasing corporate profits by privatizing schools and prisons, weakening environmental protections, dismantling unions, disenfranchising voters and making it harder to seek justice in a court of law. The American people want nothing more to do with ALEC, and neither should the corporations we support.
We noted on Friday that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, working with a Republican-led state legislature, had taken the extraordinary step of repealing the state’s enforcement mechanism for pay discrimination lawsuits.
But it turns out that’s not all. Daily Kos points out that along with equal pay repeal, Gov. Walker signed what reads like a wish list of bills from the Religious Right:
The first bill bans abortion coverage through policies obtained through a health insurance exchange, set to be created under the federal health care reform law starting in 2014. The only exceptions would be in cases of rape, incest or medical necessity. [...]
The second bill requires a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an exam and consult with a doctor alone, away from her friends and family. The doctor must determine whether someone is pressuring the woman into the procedure. Doctors who break the law could be charged with a felony. [...]
The sex education bill requires teachers in schools that offer sex education to stress abstinence as the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The bill also declares that sex education teachers do not have to address contraception. That's a dramatic shift from current state law, which requires teachers to instruct students on birth control options.
And it doesn’t end there. Walker has now decided to stop defending a law that gives gay and lesbian couples the right to visit each other in the hospital, a law that an anti-gay group is disputing in court.
That’s right. After making it harder for women to sue for pay discrimination, setting up demeaning hurdles for women seeking legal abortions, and giving the go-ahead for ineffective sex ed, Gov. Walker is going out of his way to try to keep same-sex couples from visiting each other in the hospital.
Is this the governor’s “jobs” agenda?
In July 2009, Wisconsin passed a law making it easier for victims of pay discrimination to seek justice in court.
Today, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill repealing the segment of the law:
The 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act was meant to deter employers from discriminating against certain groups by giving workers more avenues via which to press charges. Among other provisions, it allows individuals to plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state circuit court system, rather than just in federal court.
SB 202 was sent to Walker on March 29. He had, according to the state constitution, six days to act on the bill. The deadline was 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. The governor quietly signed the bill into law on Thursday, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, and it is now called Act 219.
Wisconsin voters have put Gov. Walker up for a recall election this summer, along with his lieutenant governor and four of their allies in the state senate. Two of the state senators up for recall, Terry Moulton and Pam Galloway, were a primary sponsors of the repeal. The other two, Scott Fitzgerald and Van Wanggard, voted for its passage.
The repeal of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act is just the latest extreme measure pushed through by Gov. Walker and his Tea Party allies, including an attack on collective bargaining rights, a measure to take away care from 12,000 low-income women served by Planned Parenthood clinics, and a restrictive Voter ID law that has already resulted in voters being turned away from the polls.
In an interview with Bloomberg today, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus claimed that accusing the Republican Party of waging a “war on women” is as absurd as accusing them of a “war on caterpillars”:
“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”
Perhaps Preibus should listen to women in his own party before declaring the GOP’s war on women to be a “fiction.” Speaking in Alaska today, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was very clear that the war on women exists and is alienating female voters. According to the Huffington Post:
"It makes no sense to make this attack on women," she said at a local Chamber of Commerce luncheon, according to the Homer News. "If you don't feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters."
She also said that she would continue to support funding for Planned Parenthood, adding that the courts have affirmed a legal right to an abortion and she stands by that.
Murkowski criticized GOP presidential candidates for not condemning Rush Limbaugh for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," which he later apologized for. Fluke was rejected as a witness before a panel on the Obama contraception mandate chaired by House Oversight And Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last February. (She spoke Thursday to HuffPost in a Q&A.)
"To have those kind of slurs against a woman … you had candidates who want to be our president not say, 'That's wrong. That's offensive.' They did not condemn the rhetoric," she said.
In yesterday's primary election in Wisconsin -- a major defining event in the long, often ugly GOP presidential contest -- less Wisconsin voters turned out to vote in the Republican primary (under 720,000) than signed the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker (roughly 1 million). The actual turnout fell short of what it was projected to be by a whopping 12 points.
Turnout in Wisconsin's presidential primary election was just over 23 percent, falling short of predictions it would be 35 percent.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, just over 1 million people voted in the presidential primary. That was the only race statewide, although President Barack Obama had no opposition.
About 719,000 people voted on the Republican side and about 290,000 voted on the Democratic side.
That equates to about 23.2 percent of the state's 4.3 million eligible voters.
The Government Accountability Board had predicted 35 percent turnout, the same as it was in the 2008 presidential primary when Obama and Hillary Clinton were battling it out. The board also factored in high interest in numerous local elections around the state.
Last year, Wisconsin voters recalled two state senators who had backed Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on working families. This year, Wisconsinites have put the governor himself up for recall, along with four of his anti-worker allies in the state legislature.
More than a million Wisconsinites signed a petition to get Gov. Walker’s recall on the ballot. If the recall succeeds, it will be the first major victory of 2012 against the Tea Party-controlled GOP.
Polls show that the recall elections, which will likely take place on June 5, are going to be close. Already, right-wing groups are pouring money into the state in an effort to protect Walker: the Republican Governor’s Association released an ad this week attacking two possible Democratic challengers to Walker. And we can expect to see much more where this came from – last year, out of state conservative groups spent millions of dollars to defend Walker’s friends in the legislature.
But the energy behind the recall effort is even stronger. Last year, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites took to the streets to protest Gov. Walkers anti-worker policies and showed up at the polls to vote out two of his supporters.
People For the American Way will be helping to mobilize support for the recalls in Wisconsin in the coming months, through staff on the ground, targeted advertising, and direct voter contact. You can read more about our efforts here.
We’ll be closely following the news out of Wisconsin and posting weekly updates on the PFAW blog.
For information on some of the power players behind Gov. Walker's war on working families and labor rights, check out these clips from the new Robert Greenwald movie, Koch Brothers Exposed.
Tomorrow, activists and progressive organizations will descend on the headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Washington, DC to protest the NRA-designed “Shoot First” laws that ALEC has shopped to state legislatures around the country. As Calvin posted earlier this week, “When politicians enact ALEC legislation that benefits corporations, real people suffer the consequences. The results are tragic:”
(Source: Data issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement)
Information for the rally is below, and pictures will be posted after the event.
WHAT: Rally in Washington, DC, to protest the ALEC campaign to pass the "Shoot First" laws that protect Trayvon Martin's shooter, and delivery of letter to ALEC headquarters demanding disclosure of NRA funding and immediate cessation of “Shoot First” legislative advocacy:
WHEN: Thursday, March 29, 2012 at Noon
WHERE: ALEC Headquarters, 1100 Vermont Ave., NW Washington, DC
Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL); Hilary Shelton, NAACP; Marc Morial, National Urban League; Rashad Robinson, ColorOfChange; Lisa Graves, CMD/ALECexposed; Mike Livingston, National Council of Churches; Diallo Brooks, People For the American Way; Doug Clopp, Common Cause.
Last weekend, People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch captured video of prominent Louisiana pastor Dennis Terry introducing Rick Santorum at an event with an incendiary sermon in which he insists that those who don’t believe that America is a Christian nation “get out” of the country.
The video quickly went viral, and Santorum was forced to distance himself slightly from Terry’s remarks, saying “I didn’t clap when he said that.”
As PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery wrote in a column for the Huffington Post, the incident illuminates the Religious Right worldview that Santorum and supporters like the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins – himself a parishioner of Terry’s – embrace:
While the media may understandably focus on Santorum's garbled economic message, his Sunday evening appearance is worth a longer look -- for what it tells us about Santorum and the Religious Right movement that is propelling his campaign.
The church at which Santorum appeared is Baton Rouge, La.'s Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, which Family Research Council President Tony Perkins describes as his home church. Perkins, in fact, was introduced at the event as a "dear friend" of Pastor Terry and as a church elder. Perkins, whose FRC has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for relentlessly promoting false and malicious propaganda about LGBT people, said of Greenwell Springs Baptist, "there is not a better church in the United States of America than right here." So in Perkins's mind, there is no better congregation than the one that applauded wildly at Pastor Terry's "Christian nation" assertions and his seeming suggestion that people who do not worship Jesus Christ should find some other country to live in.
Peter discussed his column and the Religious Right movement behind Santorum’s candidacy in an interview with TruthDig radio in Los Angeles yesterday. You can listen to the interview here.
The tragic death of Trayvon Martin – the 17 year old African American who was slain while walking down the sidewalk of a gated community – has shocked the nation, and has drawn international attention to the role of race relations in America.
The tragedy has also shed light on Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law, which expands the legal justifications for "justifiable homicide" – and which is key to the "self-defense" claims of Trayvon’s alleged shooter, George Zimmerman. This "Stand Your Ground" law, signed into Florida statutes in 2005, became a model for legislation pushed by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and with ALEC’s help has since been replicated in states across the country.
On April 26th, 2005, Florida became the first state in the nation to pass "Stand Your Ground" legislation, which expanded the circumstances under which the use of deadly force for self-defense is considered justifiable. Under the so-called "Castle Doctrine," a person’s right to defend themselves from attack in their own home has traditionally been recognized and typically in such circumstances the burden falls on the individual to prove that the use of force is reasonable. Under the expanded “Stand Your Ground” laws, the permissible use of deadly force for self-defense expands beyond the home, into spaces including personal vehicles and even public places, and the burden of showing that the use of force was unreasonable falls on the prosecution. It is such provisions which are apparently complicating the current investigations in the Martin shooting.
"Stand Your Ground" laws have been popping up around the country in recent years (24 states currently have them on the books) – and that’s no coincidence. Just as we have seen with the proliferation of Voter-ID laws, the force behind the trend is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-funded front group that has helped advance the most extreme laws adopted by state legislatures, from SB 1070 in Arizona to SB 5 in Ohio.
Again and again, we’ve seen corporations use ALEC to push laws that put profits above the wellbeing of ordinary people. In the case of “Stand Your Ground” legislation, the weapons industry and ALEC have advocated for a law that encourages more people to carry weapons, thereby increasing industry profits.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a prominent member of ALEC, and has used its influence within the organization to push pro-gun policies across the country. In 2008, ALEC employee Michael Hough appeared on NRA News to talk about ALEC’s amicus brief in support of the NRA’s position in District of Columbia v. Heller. Hough described ALEC as a “very pro-Second Amendment organization,” and also stated, “Some of the things we were pushing in states was the Castle Doctrine [the name for ALEC’s model bill], we worked with the NRA with that, that’s one of our model bills that we have states introduce, and another one was the emergency powers legislation which was enacted in a couple states.”
Despite their grassroots image, the NRA is far from being simply a grassroots organization. An extensive report by the Violence Policy Center documents how gun companies bankroll the NRA through their many opportunities to sponsor NRA programs and make direct contributions to the organization:
Since 2005, corporations—gun related and other—have contributed between $19.8 million and $52.6 million to the NRA as detailed in its Ring of Freedom corporate giving program.1 In a promotional brochure for the program, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promises that the “National Rifle Association’s newly expanded Corporate Partners Program is an opportunity for corporations to partner with the NRA....This program is geared toward your company’s corporate interests.” The vast majority of funds—74 percent—contributed to the NRA from “corporate partners” are members of the firearms industry: companies involved in the manufacture or sale of firearms or shooting-related products. Contributions to the NRA from the firearms industry since 2005 total between $14.7 million and $38.9 million.
That corporate funding helps to explain why the NRA has the means to donate, for example, $25,000 to ALEC in 2011 to achieve "Vice-Chairman" level sponsorship for ALEC’s annual conference. It also explains why NRA lobbying efforts are so important to their mission, since the laws they lobby for enrich the financial funders of the organization.
Unfortunately, until we change it, the ALEC model is working – for the corporations that fund the network. Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" legislation and ALEC’s model bill contain identical language, which has now been introduced in states across the country.
Those who aren’t served by this system are the American people. When politicians enact ALEC legislation that benefits corporations, real people suffer the consequences. The results are tragic:
(Source: Data issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement)