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.
Calls have been made for some time now for President Obama to officially support anti-bullying legislation. As of April 20, he stands strong behind the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
Mitt Romney is eager these days to change the subject from what the public sees as his party's "war on women." He seeks to close the huge gender gap that has opened up as women flee the party of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh in search of something a little less patriarchal and misogynistic.
But Romney's problems with America's women may be just beginning. He can distance himself from the theocratic musings of other Republicans and the macho bullying of Fox News talking heads, but he cannot run away from his own selection of former Judge Robert Bork, in August of last year, to become his principal advisor on the Supreme Court and the Constitution.
Bork hopes to wipe out not only the constitutional right to privacy, especially the right to contraception and to abortion, but decades of Equal Protection decisions handed down by what he calls a feminized Supreme Court deploying "sterile feminist logic" to guarantee equal treatment and inclusion of women. Bork is no casual chauvinist but rather a sworn enemy of feminism, a political force that he considers "totalitarian" and in which, he has concluded, "the extremists are the movement."
Romney may never have to elaborate his bizarrely muted reaction to Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" ("it's not the language I would have used"), but he will definitely have to answer whether he agrees with his hand-picked constitutional advisor that feminism is "totalitarian"; that the Supreme Court, with two women Justices, had become "feminized" at the time of U.S. v. Virginia (1996) and produced a "feminization of the military"; and that gender-based discrimination by government should no longer trigger heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
Romney has already said that, "The key thing the president is going to do... it's going to be appointing Supreme Court and Justices throughout the judicial system." He has also said that he wishes Robert Bork "were already on the Court."
So look what Robert Bork thinks Romney's Supreme Court Justices should do about the rights of women.
Wiping Out Contraceptive, Abortion and Privacy Rights
Romney certainly hoped to leave behind the surprising controversy in the Republican primaries over access to contraception, but Robert Bork's extremist views on the subject guarantee that it stays hot. Bork rejects the line of decisions, beginning with Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), affirming the right of Americans to privacy in their procreative and reproductive choices. He denounces the Supreme Court's protection of both married couples' and individuals' right to contraception in Griswold and Eisenstaedt v. Baird (1972), declaring that such a right to privacy in matters of procreation was created "out of thin air." He calls the Ninth Amendment -- which states that the "enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people" -- an "inkblot" without meaning. For him, the right of people to decide about birth control has nothing to do with Due Process liberty or other rights "retained by the people" -- it is the illegitimate expression of "radical individualism" on the Supreme Court.
Bork detests Roe v. Wade (1973), a decision he says has "no constitutional foundation" and is based on "no constitutional reasoning." He would overturn it and empower states to prosecute women and doctors who violate criminal abortion laws. Bork promises:
Attempts to overturn Roe will continue as long as the Court adheres to it. And, just so long as the decision remains, the Court will be perceived, correctly, as political and will continue to be the target of demonstrations, marches, television advertisements, mass mailings, and the like. Roe, as the greatest example and symbol of the judicial usurpation of democratic prerogatives in this century, should be overturned. The Court's integrity requires that.
In other words, the Court's "integrity" would require a President Romney to impose an anti-Roe v. Wade litmus test on all nominations to the Court.
Ending Heightened Scrutiny of Government Sex Discrimination under Equal Protection
Bork is the leading voice in America assailing the Supreme Court for using "heightened" Equal Protection scrutiny to examine government sex discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. While women and men all over America cheered the Supreme Court's 7-1 decision in United States v. Virginia (1996), the decision that forced the Virginia Military Institute to stop discriminating and to admit its first women cadets, Bork attacked it for producing the "feminization of the military," which for him is a standard and cutting insult --"feminization" is always akin to degradation and dilution of standards. He writes: "Radical feminism, an increasingly powerful force across the full range of American institutions, overrode the Constitution in United States v. Virginia." Of course, in his view, this decision was no aberration: "VMI is only one example of a feminized Court transforming the Constitution," he wrote. Naturally, a "feminized Court" creates a "feminized military."
Bork argues that, outside of standard "rational basis" review, "the equal protection clause should be restricted to race and ethnicity because to go further would plunge the courts into making law without guidance from anything the ratifiers understood themselves to be doing." This rejection of gender as a protected form of classification ignores the fact that that the Fourteenth Amendment gives "equal protection" to all "persons." But, if Bork and his acolytes have their way, decades of Supreme Court decisions striking down gender-discriminatory laws under the Equal Protection Clause will be thrown into doubt as the Court comes to examine sex discrimination under the "rational basis" test, the most relaxed kind of scrutiny. Instead of asking whether government sex discrimination "substantially" advances an "important" government interest, the Court will ask simply whether it is "conceivably related" to some "rational purpose." Remarkably, Mitt Romney's key constitutional advisor wants to turn back the clock on Equal Protection jurisprudence by watering down the standards for reviewing sex-discriminatory laws.
Judge Bork Means Business: the Case of the Sterilized Women Employees
If you don't think Bork means all this, go back and look at his bleak record as a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Take just one Bork opinion that became a crucial point of discussion in the hearings over his failed 1987 Supreme Court nomination. In a 1984 case calledOil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union v. American Cyanamid Co., Bork found that the Occupational Safety and Health Act did not protect women at work in a manufacturing plant from a company policy that forced them to be sterilized -- or else lose their jobs -- because of high levels of lead in the air. The Secretary of Labor had decided that the Act's requirement that employers must provide workers "employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards" meant that American Cynamid had to "fix the workplace" through industrial clean-up rather than "fix the employees" by sterilizing or removing all women workers of child-bearing age. But Bork strongly disagreed. He wrote an opinion for his colleagues apparently endorsing the view that other clean-up measures were not necessary or possible and that the sterilization policy was, in any event, a "realistic and clearly lawful" way to prevent harm to the women's fetuses. Because the company's "fetus protection policy" took place by virtue of sterilization in a hospital -- outside of the physical workplace -- the plain terms of the Act simply did not apply, according to Bork. Thus, as Public Citizen put it, "an employer may require its female workers to be sterilized in order to reduce employer liability for harm to the potential children."
Decisions like this are part of Bork's dark Social Darwinist view of America in which big corporations are always right and the law should rarely ever be interpreted to protect the rights of employees, especially women, in the workplace.
No matter how vigorously Mitt Romney shakes his Etch-a-Sketch, Americans already have an indelible picture of what a Romney-run presidency and Bork-run judiciary would look like and what it would mean for women. With Robert Bork calling the shots on the courts, a vote for Mitt Romney is plainly a vote against women's rights, women's equality and women's freedom.
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
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.
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.
People For the American Way launched a major new campaign today highlighting what a Mitt Romney presidency would mean for America’s courts. Romney has signaled that he’s ready to draw the Supreme Court and lower federal courts even farther to the right. And no signal has been clearer than his choice of former Judge Robert Bork to lead his campaign advisory committee on the courts and the Constitution.
In 1987, PFAW led the effort to keep Judge Bork off the Supreme Court. Ultimately, a bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate recognized his extremism and rejected his nomination.
Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett offered a solution for women who were going to be forced by the government to undergo a completely unnecessary ultrasound against their wills: "You can't make anybody watch, okay? Because you just have to close your eyes." The governor's suggestion would be almost comical, if it weren't for the tragic fact that forcing women to watch was the whole point of the legislation Corbett supported.
But it seems that Corbett's suggestion doesn't just apply to women seeking abortions in the Keystone state. It is, in essence, what the GOP is telling to every woman turned off by the party's attacks on reproductive rights, equal pay and domestic violence protections: "You just have to close your eyes."
Mitt Romney's campaign is banking on the fact that voters of both genders are concerned about the economy in these uncertain times. Polls show that they're right. But just because you're concerned with the economy doesn't mean you ignore it when a group of people are systematically taking away your rights for their own short-term political gain.
Sadly, this is the new normal. The Tea Party's success has been based on this "just close your eyes" formula. Swept into power on a wave of economic dissatisfaction, Tea Party legislators in Washington and the states asked the country to "close its eyes" as it did everything but fix the economy. "Pay no attention while we roll back decades of progress everything else you care about. Just close your eyes while we bash immigrants, cut essential services, make it very hard to vote, and take away collective bargaining rights". Many minorities have been affected, particularly in the last two years, but arguably and amazingly, no group has been under attack more than the American majority--women.
A new report from People For the American Way investigates the new landscape that the Tea Party is creating for American women. Mississippi is set to become the only state in the country without a legal abortion clinic. Texas is on the path to denying reproductive health care to 130,000 low-income women. Wisconsin repealed its enforcement mechanism for equal pay lawsuits. Senate Republicans are fighting to stop the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Following an all-male panel speaking on women's health, a woman who dares speak in front of Congress about the importance of affordable contraception is called a "slut."
Even with closed eyes, these things are very hard to miss. The Romney campaign has attempted to distract voters from this train wreck of anti-woman policies by claiming that a second Obama administration will hurt women economically. Last week, they hammered hard on the claim that women have accounted for 92 percent of job losses under President Obama- a mangled statistic that ignores, among other factors, that many of those losses were the result of Republican-led layoffs of teachers and other government employees. Then they decided to accuse Democrats of waging a "War on Moms" - forgetting, perhaps, the candidate's history of aggressively pushing low-income women to work outside of the home when their children are very young.
Women haven't bought it. In polls, Romney still trails Obama among women voters by double digits. And in an under-reported fact, among women ages 18 to 29, he's losing by an astounding 45 points. You don't need a political science degree that know that that spells disaster.
Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans seem to think they can get away with almost anything because, in the end, their Election Day hopes will be saved by a bad economy. The problem is, the people they attack on a regular basis - women, gays, Latinos, Muslims, you name it -know the Tea Party's record on the economy and its history of cynical, culture-war attacks that deeply affect the lives of real people. We have our eyes wide open.
In the week since the call went out for the corporations on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board to disassociate from the organization, a whopping TEN companies have publicly announced that they will no longer bankroll the American Legislative Exchange Council’s extreme agenda.
These entities have bid ALEC adieu, and more are sure to follow:
Arizona Public Service
American Traffic Solutions
PFAW and other advocacy organizations have launched a petition calling for the remaining companies to leave ALEC, putting increasing pressure on companies like State Farm and Johnson & Johnson to stop funding the organization responsible for so many attacks against workers, public education, the right to vote and so many other fundamental issues.
However, the member-corporations are only one part of the ALEC equation. Slowly but surely, ALEC-member state legislators are beginning to understand that ALEC’s toxic policies are not in the best interests of their constituents, and are backing out of the organization as well:
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is not the innocuous, bipartisan organization it purports to be. Their agenda is radical and wrong for Missouri. I was a member and saw firsthand the sort of extreme legislation they push on state legislators around the country. I disagree with ALEC's extremist agenda and encourage my colleagues in the Missouri General Assembly to end their affiliations with the group. If ALEC is too extreme for Coke, Pepsi, McDonald's, Kraft, Wendy's, Intuit and the Gates Foundation, it's too extreme for me and the people of Missouri.
As a legislator, I value the input that non-partisan organizations contribute to various issues. However, I do not believe that the American Legislative Exchange Council is a non-partisan organization. Due to the legislation that ALEC has been involved in forming and promoting, I will not be renewing my membership. I value and listen to all opinions, but ALEC's agenda has become harmful to my constituents, and the people of the State of Texas.
There’s much more work to be done, but the ALEC house of cards is beginning to crumble.
Greetings from on-the-ground as we count down to the recall elections in Wisconsin!
PFAW prepared to re-launch our ground efforts here this week, with PFAW’s Randy Borntrager and Sergio Lopez stopping in to help Scott Foval, who is starting as the new PFAW Wisconsin Coordinator. They visited the state’s Government Accountability Board on Tuesday, the deadline for the filing of recall candidate signature petitions: photos are posted on PFAW Wisconsin's newly-updated
There are now four Democratic candidates vying to challenge Scott Walker for Governor, and the Republicans have a surprise challenger who has filed to run against him as well. Wisconsin Republicans are running "fake Democrats" against the six Democratic incumbents who are also up for recall, which We Are Wisconsin says may constitute election fraud.
Meanwhile, right-wing darling Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch decided to go ahead and speak before the CPAC Chicago event, even though she might be recalled 3 days before she is scheduled to appear.
News broke this morning inRoll Call that U.S. Senator Ron Johnson is just about to purge his DC legislative staff, possibly half his office, in order to move to a messaging strategy instead of writing good legislation for Wisconsinites. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has tapped Johnson to become the messaging liaison between the Senate Republican Caucus and apparent GOP Presidential nominee Willard Mitt Romney.
BREAKING: Today Wisconsin Democrats have revealed evidence of what they say is proof that WI Gov. Scott Walker held sole hiring and promotion responsibility for the accused felons on his staff in the John Doe investigation.
Looking ahead to next week, WeAreWisconsin.org is sponsoring Equal Pay Day events on Tuesday, April 17th, encouraging supporters to tell Terry Moulton and Jeff Fitzgerald to stop The GOP's War On Working Women now!
Check out PFAW Wisconsin's updated Facebook pag at and our new Twitter feed @PFAW_WI. We are posting daily on the hot news in the recalls and general elections from now through Election Day.
The People For the American Way political team was in full effect this week as we had the pleasure to go to Wisconsin and meet our new Wisconsin PFAW coordinator, Scott Foval. Wisconsin is ground zero for progressives to push back on right-wing attacks on workers and the entire progressive agenda. Scott has a long history in progressive politics and has been on many campaigns around the country, going back to the Iowa Coordinated Campaign / Bonnie Campbell for Governor Campaign in 1994. We welcome him to the PFAW team in such a crucial year. He’ll be working with We Are Wisconsin and our activists in Wisconsin. Be sure to say hi and help the effort if you are in, or visiting, Wisconsin!
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."
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.