organized labor

New EPI Report Documents A Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012

New EPI Report Documents A Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012

A new report from The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), By Gordon Lafer | was published October 31, 2013.  It fully connects all the dots between the players involved in attacking the wages and labor standards of America’s workers – union and non-union.  It identifies the laws written, the authors of those laws and those who profit from such initiatives.

Couched as a response to difficult fiscal conditions, Republican governors and Republican-led state legislatures – many of them in battleground states — have been working hard at eviscerating the rights of public employees. Public workers, however, aren’t the only target of wealthy right-wing funders, major corporate lobbies, and corporate-funded lobbying organizations; non-union and private sector workers are also seen as fair game.

As expected, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is playing a prominent role in an anti-labor coalition whose agenda is moving along at breakneck speed.

The assault on workers’ rights have multiplied in the past few years. In addition to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union assault, “collective bargaining rights were eliminated for Tennessee schoolteachers, Oklahoma municipal employees, graduate student research assistants in Michigan, and farm workers and child care providers in Maine,” according to this Economic Policy Institute report written by Gordon Lafer.

The intro to this report begins:

“Over the past two years, state legislators across the country have launched an unprecedented series of initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections for both union and non-union workers. This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage.

“This report provides a broad overview of the attack on wages, labor standards, and workplace protections as it has been advanced in state legislatures across the country. Specifically, the report seeks to illuminate the agenda to undermine wages and labor standards being advanced for non-union Americans in order to understand how this fits with the far better-publicized assaults on the rights of unionized employees. By documenting the similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states, the report establishes the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country…”

When reading this in-depth and well documented expose, it doesn’t take long  before the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is brought into the discussion:

“This push to erode labor standards, undercut wages, and undermine unions has been advanced by policymakers pursuing a misguided economic agenda working in tandem with the major corporate lobbies. The report highlights legislation authored or supported by major corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and National Association of Manufacturers—and by corporate-funded lobbying organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Tax Reform, and Americans for Prosperity—in order to draw the clearest possible picture of the legislative and economic policy agenda of the country’s most powerful economic actors. To make the most clear-eyed decisions in charting future policy directions, it is critical to understand how the various parts of these organizations’ agenda fit together, and where they ultimately lead.

“This report begins by examining the recent offensive aimed at public-sector unions in order to point out the tactics commonly employed by corporate lobbies such as ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce; it establishes that their agenda is driven by political strategies rather than fiscal necessities. The paper then examines the details of this agenda with respect to unionized public employees, non-unionized public employees, and unionized private-sector workers. Finally, the bulk of the report details the corporate-backed agenda for non-union, private-sector workers as concerns the minimum wage, wage theft, child labor, overtime, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, sick leave, workplace safety standards, meal breaks, employment discrimination, and unemployment insurance.”

How successful has this cabal been?:

“Michigan and Pennsylvania both created ’emergency financial managers’ authorized to void union contracts. New Jersey and Minnesota’s legislatures both voted to limit public employees’ ability to bargain over health care. Ohio legislators adopted a law — later overturned by citizen referendum — largely imitating Wisconsin’s, prohibiting employees from bargaining over anything but wages, outlawing strikes, and doing away with the practice of binding arbitration. … Indiana, which had already eliminated most collective bargaining rights for state employees in 2006, adopted new legislation that prohibits even voluntary agreements with state employee unions.”

All of the Koch network members including; Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Independent Businesses, the Koch brothers–backed American’s For Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Association of Manufacturers and of course ALEC are identified as “major corporate lobbies” (players) supporting these attacks upon workers and wages.  

When researchers look to similar attacks upon public education, advocating charter schools, vouchers and private academies…to the efforts of suppressing voters through voter ID and similar legislation…efforts of establishing state sovereignty to seek taking back federally owned land by states…and election gerrymandering – at the core of each  sits the same actors, funded by the likes of the Koch brothers and using ALEC to write model bills advancing each of these agendas.  

All of this is fueled by the same corporations, lobbyists and foundations.  The “foundations” (Mackinac Center, Heritage Foundation, Heartland Institute, Pacific Research Institute and dozens more) receive Koch funding and are controlled by the cabal.  They dutifully issue position papers in support of these pursuits advanced by a conservative minority.  Corporate owned and controlled media outlets are then used to trumpet these ALEC initiatives to the public and – more importantly – voters as necessary and supported by a majority of “Americans.”

Legislation is how all of these efforts are advanced state-by-state and it is only through ALEC that a coordinated and swiftly moving legislative agenda can be disseminated and accomplished.  Without ALEC the corporations, businesses, owners and their “associations,” “federations” and “foundations” could not succeed.

What one learns from the EPI report is that though much of ALEC’s concentration appears to be “aimed directly at the heart of organized labor (unions), ALL American workers are under steady attack.  The report establishes similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states and the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country and targets all labor.”

The report also establishes that “Virtually all of the initiatives described in this report — including forced privatization, ‘right to work,’ and abolishing minimum-wage and prevailing-wage laws — reflect model statutes developed by ALEC and promoted through its network. This dimension of ALEC’s work is not aimed at immediately enhancing specific donors’ revenues, but at reshaping the fundamental balance of power between workers and employers.”

Please take the time read the full, enlightening and ultra-important EPI report completely -> HERE <-

 

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

By Amy Kerr Hardin at Democracy Tree

Democracy Tree reported late last week that the effects of anti-union laws directed at Michigan teachers, including the ban on payroll deduction of dues and right-to-work, had a miniscule impact on the voluntary payment of dues among Michigan Education Association members.

MEA president Steve Cook said a mere 1 percent didn’t pay. The GOP scheme was a flop.

While that number by itself speaks of the utter failure of bullying tactics employed by the Michigan legislature, it says even more when put in a larger context. Here are some more numbers that make that 1 percent non-payment truly astounding.

Let’s start with the soft numbers.

Although it’s difficult to pin down, somewhere between 41 and 51 percent of MEA and NEA members are Democrats. The results vary by study and by year (and possibly who’s reporting them). Similarly, about 25 percent, more or less, identify as Republicans and the rest as Independents. Without citing or clinging to any particular study or survey here, if those numbers are even remotely close to accurate, they say plenty about how teachers place the importance of their union membership over political affiliation.  And, even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate, it is safe to say that the Democrat to Republican ratio among Michigan teachers is certainly not 99 to 1.

Now, here are some hard numbers to gnaw on.

  • MEA union dues are currently set at 1.5 percent of the previous year’s salary, with an annual cap of $635 — a figure 99 percent are willingly to pay for representation they value– even under the GOP assault.
  • Average beginning pay for Michigan K-12 teachers is $34,100. Average overall salary for Michigan teachers is $55,541.
  • Lawmakers in Michigan earn $71,685, which is among the highest nationwide. Their expense account offers another $10,800 a year, with additional generous allowances for transportation costs and staff.
  • Nearly all public school teachers spend heavily out-of-pocket to supply their classroom — a National School Supply and Equipment Association Survey found that 99.5 percent spent on average $485 a year for classroom materials. That dollar number reflects 1.4 percent of an entry-level teacher’s salary in Michigan.

There are additional hard numbers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the siege on Michigan’s educators.

Some very disturbing trends were uncovered in a recent analysis conducted by the Citizens Research Council. Their report titled Michigan’s Single-State Recession and its Effects on Public Employment, spurred them to conduct a comparative state-by-state analysis of public sector employment trends since the 2007 “Great Recession”, with Michigan public education numbers in focus. They drew from data found in another report from The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. They found the following trends (emphasis mine):

Over the nearly four and one-half year period examined by the Rockefeller Institute, Michigan had the third largest slide in public sector employment (7.4 percent), behind Nevada (10.1 percent) and Rhode Island (8.3 percent).  In percentage terms, Michigan’s decline was nearly three times as large as the total U.S. public sector employment decline over this period (2.7 percent).  As documented in the CRC report, and confirmed by the Rockefeller Institute, job losses in the local government sector (11.4 percent – second largest decline behind Nevada) fueled the overall public sector decline in Michigan, as was the case for the nation as a whole (3.2 percent).

The job losses they cite in the “local government sector” are primarily from one subset — K-12 education.

Michigan’s job losses in this sector have been much more severe (more than a factor of four) compared to the U.S. total during the Great Recession…the losses have been fueled by the consistent plunge in education jobs (primarily K-12 education).  Education employment for the U.S. declined more than non-education, but the difference between the two sub-sectors was not as significant as the decline in Michigan.  For the U.S., education lost about 3.5 percent of the jobs in existence in December 2007, compared to a loss of about 2.0 percent of the non-education jobs.  Michigan, in stark contrast, shed over 17.8 percent of the jobs in education compared to the December 2007 level.  Non-education local government employment, which is dominated by public safety, is 6.8 percent below the December 2007.  This job loss is nearly three times as large as the loss in the U.S. for this sector.

The CRC drives the point home with the following observation:

What is striking from analyzing the data is the fact that Michigan’s employment contraction in [the public] sector has well exceeded the contraction experienced in the U.S. overall.   The job losses have been most acute in the local government sector, especially education.

Numbers don’t lie — Michigan public education is in great peril.

Amy Kerr Hardin

Indiana “Right-To-Work” (for less) Ruled Unconstitutional

Indiana “Right-To-Work” (for less) Ruled Unconstitutional

by Bob Sloan

600_right_to_work_statesLast year Indiana became the 23rd state to pass “Right to Work” legislation – a top initiative adopted and circulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  For several years ALEC (with a corporate membership of more than 300 national and multinational companies) has pushed legislation – that can best be described as anti-union – in most states.  In each state where ALEC’s legislative members are part of a GOP majority, these laws have been systematically proposed and passed, nearly word for word as they were written by ALEC’s corporate lobbyists.

Sweeping changes in party control of many statehouses after the 2008 and 2010 election cycles resulted in several new “red” states falling under the control of conservative led GOP lawmakers and Governors.  With GOP majorities in control of states such as Wisconsin, Arizona and Ohio (each with sitting Governors who are ALEC alum), ALEC’s “model legislation” began being shoved through statehouses with little or no notice to – or regard for – voter’s position on such proposed bills.

In this atmosphere, Indiana’s ALEC led legislature/assembly began adopting ALEC written legislation culminating in a contentious fight last year over a proposed Right to Work bill. Organized labor, activists and non-union workers turned out for weeks to protest passage of this anti-union legislation.  In the face of a majority of strong opposition lawmakers managed to pass the bill and Governor Mitch Daniels quickly signed it into law.

In what can only be termed a set-back to Indiana’s GOP controlled Legislature – and ALEC, a Superior Court judge in Lake County, Indiana has ruled the new Right to Work law unconstitutional, as reported by WISH TV, in Indianapolis today:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A Lake County judge has determined Indiana’s right-to-work law violates a provision in the state constitution barring the delivery of services “without just compensation.”

“Lake Superior Court Judge John Sedia found that the law wrongly requires unions to represent workers who do not pay dues. Indiana became the 23rd state in the nation to ban the collection of mandatory fees for representation from unions.

“Since then, union lawyers have gone to the courts to try and overturn the law. Sedia issued an order last Thursday declaring the ban on collections and associated criminal penalties unconstitutional.

“A spokesman for Attorney General Greg Zoeller says the state will appeal the ruling directly to Indiana’s Supreme Court.

“Union spokesman Ed Maher calls the ruling a victory for the middle class and dues-paying members.”

Though there was no mention of the involvement of ALEC or their 40 or so Indiana legislative members in pushing this legislation through in the public announcement, those tracking RTW legislation nationally know where the legislation originated and who is behind it.

Having researched and tracked ALEC’s activities over the years, it is expected that once the appeal is filed to the IN. Supreme Court an amicus curiae brief will be filed by ALEC and several satellite organizations such as Heritage Foundation, National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) and the Chamber of Commerce.  This is the standard Modus operandi for the conservative cabal and reported on by VLTP in an independent Report in 2011. Those opposed to these RTW laws should even now be preparing to throw their collective hats into the ring here in Indiana by following ALEC’s lead and preparing amici filings for the upcoming Indiana Supreme Court battle that is forthcoming.

ALEC in the News – Update on ALEC Activities…

ALEC in the News – Update on ALEC Activities…

by Bob Sloan

Been a hectic month since I last posted, so I have to apologize to readers and followers for the lack of material offered during the past thirty or so days.  Not that there wasn’t plenty of ALEC articles and material making the news circuits, I have simply been swamped with research and conferring with multiple government agencies inquiring about ALEC’s tax exempt and “charity” status.  I will write more on these conversations in the future – for right now, mum’s the word for obvious reasons.

Click on the headline for a link to the material, articles or documents posted below…

Sallie Mae drawing all-around fire

Written by Wade Malcolm
The News Journal

“In late May, Sallie Mae held its annual shareholders meeting, a routine, uneventful affair for most companies.

But not for the nation’s largest student lender. About 150 protesters gathered outside the meeting, and some managed to gain entry and the right to speak.

They demanded a meeting with company leaders to talk about student debt problems and questioned the company’s participation in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial free market group that helps businesses lobby state lawmakers and is despised roundly by liberals.

CEO John F. “Jack” Remondi agreed to meet with the students in June, and last month, the company quietly withdrew its ALEC membership…

…Sallie Mae says it joined ALEC to promote a different part of its business, separate from student loans, which collects unpaid debts on behalf of states and municipalities.

The company quit ALEC because, “the noise level was distracting from the original business purpose,” said Martha Holler, a senior vice president at Sallie Mae. “We will pursue other venues in which to share our collections expertise with state and local governments, and hopefully now our discussions with students … can focus on what matters most to us all, the success of our education loan customers.”

The same group of student activists that leveraged a meeting with the CEO and pressured the company to end its ALEC membership recently started circulating a petition asking the U.S. Department of Education to terminate a contact it has with Sallie Mae to providecustomer service for government-issued student loans…”

After Student Protests, Sallie Mae Becomes 50th Corporation to Dump ALEC – From PRWatch…

Sallie Mae has dropped its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after a student-led campaign demanding that the nation’s largest student loan lender cut ties with the controversial organization. Sallie Mae is the 50th corporation to publicly drop its ALEC membership in the past year-and-a-half as the organization has come under increasing public scrutiny.

Many students and young people were outraged that a company that profits from student debt would use their loan payments to fund ALEC, which (among other things) works to make the education system a for-profit endeavor and advances laws that make it harder for many college students to vote.

In August, at ALEC’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, organizers with the Student Labor Action Project and the United States Students Association gathered nearly 14,000 signatures on a petition demanding Sallie Mae drop its ALEC membership. A few months earlier, in May, at least 200 student activists protested outside Sallie Mae’s annual shareholder meeting, demanding that it end its relationship with ALEC and increase transparency about its other lobbying and political activities.

The announcement that Sallie Mae dumped ALEC came quietly, in a September 7 article in the Delaware News-Journal.

Colorado Republicans Are Out Of Step With Their Constituents On Climate Change

Coloradans overwhelmingly believe in climate change and acknowledge its impact on drought, wildfires, and their lives, according to new research by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Specifically, the report found that most Coloradans — 70 percent — believe global warming is happening. Relatively few — only 19 percent — believe it is not. Of the Coloradans polled, nearly half believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities and three in four say the issue of global warming is very or somewhat important to them personally.

While a large majority of Colorado residents recognize climate change is occurring, they’re less sure of the cause. The research revealed that while “virtually all climate scientists agree human-caused global warming is happening, many Coloradans, like most Americans, are unaware of this fact. Fully half (50 percent) believe that ‘there is a lot of disagreement among scientists’ about whether or not global warming is happening…”

…The state’s Republican politicians, on the other hand, are singing a very different tune. Last month, unsuccessful 2010 Senate candidate Ken Buck announced he would once again run for a U.S. Senate seat, this time against Sen. Mark Udall (D). Touring the state with climate denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Buck endorsedInhofe’s conspiracy theory: “Sen. Inhofe was the first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated. The evidence just keeps supporting his view, and more and more people’s view, of what’s going on.”

And Buck isn’t alone in his refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus — and the opinion of Colorado voters — regarding climate change. All four of the state’s GOP Congressmen are on the record questioning the existence of climate change or whether or not human activity has any bearing. Rep. Mike Coffman in particular has come under fire from the League of Conservation Voters, with the group launching multiple ads against the Congressman for ignoring the scientific facts regarding climate change.

Buck is running against two state senators, Randy Baumgardner and Owen Hill, in the Republican Senate primary. Sen. Baumgardner was opposed to the recently-passed bill increasing Colorado’s renewable energy standard, telling the Colorado Statesman, “It’s a slap in the face of rural Colorado.”

“I know it’s been said that we need ‘all of the above’ [in terms of energy sources] but the prime agenda from Washington, D.C. seems to be that renewable is the answer to everything,” Baumgardner told the Daily Caller. “People don’t like to be mandated that they have to meet certain renewable standards which seems to be another push not only at the state level but at the federal level.”

In addition to working to slash the carbon pollution that fuels climate change, the state’s renewable energy laws have been effective economic drivers. Between 2005 and 2010, the clean technology sector in Colorado grew by 32.7 percent and the state now has over 1,600 clean technology companies employing over 19,000 workers — fourth nationwide.

As for Sen. Hill, earlier this year he co-sponsored a so-called ‘academic freedom’ bill that would have permitted the teaching of antievolution and climate change denial in schools. While the measure died in committee, DeSmog blog notes that the language in the bill closely matched model legislation pushed by the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The Other NRA: How the Insidiously Powerful Restaurant Lobby Makes Sure Fast-Food Workers Get Poverty Wages and Have to Work While Sick

From PRWatch by Steven Rosenfeld (click on above link to read the entire informative article)

“While thousands of fast-food workers were preparing to walk off their jobs earlier this summer to seek raises to $15 an hour, the industry’s corporate lobbyist, the National Restaurant Association, was celebrating a string of political victories blocking state minimum wage increases and preempting local sick day laws.

“In June, the NRA boasted that its lobbyists had stopped minimum wage increases in 27 out of 29 states in 2013. In Connecticut, which increased its state minimum wage, a raise in the base pay for tipped workers such as waitresses and bartenders vanished in the final bill. A similar scenario unfolded in New York State: It increased its minimum wage, but the NRA’s last-minute lobbying derailed raising the pre-tip wage at restaurants and bars. The deals came despite polls showing 80 percent support for raising the minimum wage…

…“These are horrible things, but there are amazing things that are happening to change it,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director and co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), which has been working a dozen years to slowly change the industry’s exploitive business model and labor practices. “And there will be increasingly important stuff coming up…”

“…Most tellingly, almost every national chain—from fast-food outfits such as Yum! Brands Inc. (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC) and McDonald’s to full-service dining such as Darden Restaurants Inc. (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille)—have reported higher revenues, profits, margins and cash holdings to Wall Street analysts despite the recession, according to the National Employment Law Project. Giants like McDonalds had 7.8 percent revenue growth over the past decade, according to Gurufocus.com, a financial reporting site. Yum had 10-year revenues of 8.7 percent, and Darden’s 10-year revenues grew 9.1 percent.

“The NRA is the worst employer lobby in the U.S.,” Jayaraman said, speaking about its lobbying and PR operation that pretends it is not an industry dominated by Fortune 500 companies, but instead a rickety mom-and-pop operation teetering on the brink of ruin. “The [earnings] data does not bear any resemblance to what they say is true.”

“The business model—where almost everyone except for top management earns an average of slightly morethan $11 per hour—is premised on paying workers the lowest legal salary and has not changed in decades. AsThe New Yorker’s James Surowiecki recently explained, many of today’s largest service-sector companies, particularly restaurants and big-box retailers, were founded decades ago and sought to hire young people and housewives as low-wage, part-time employees, to give them work experience and spending money. “The reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have…”

“…New York’s passage of sick leave legislation grabbed headlines, especially as it became law when the city council overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto. But in the past two years, NRA lobbyists have pushedeight states to preempt or repeal local labor laws that include requiring paid sick leave. The industry—helped by prominent Democrats such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter—also beat proposed sick leave laws in Denver and Philadelphia.

“This trend started in Wisconsin and shows how right-wing alliances spread anti-labor legislation. In 2011, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker backed an industry-led effort to ban paid sick leave laws, like the one Milwaukee’s voters adopted as a ballot measure in 2008 while Walker was county executive — its top elected official. Seventy percent of voters had backed paid sick leave. That spring, the passage of Wisconsin’s bill preempting local laws was touted as a model by the NRA at meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the pro-corporate lobbying mill. ALEC members, almost all Republicans, introduced copycat bills in their states, Wellstone Action’s Goldfarb said, saying this was how the NRA’s priority spread and “scaled.” These were passed by GOP-majority statehouses, sometimes using strongarm tactics that dismayed labor organizers.

“This summer, for example, Republicans in Florida’s Orange County—near Walt Disney World—were lobbiedby fast-food giants, including Darden, which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Capital Grille, and Disney, and intentionally delayed acting on another sick leave ballot measure that had 80 percent support in polls. That tactic gave the restaurant lobby time to push its preemption bill through its legislature, which GOP Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in July. Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and Tennessee have all passed bans on local sick leave laws. Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering it.”

National Civil Rights Coalition Launches Campaign to End For-Profit Private Prison System

Corporate Investors and Board Members Urged to Drop Exploitative Business

“NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–September 4, 2013 – Today, ColorOfChange, in partnership with Grassroots Leadership, launched a national campaignto put an end to the for-profit private prison system. Through extensive and direct outreach, the campaign is asking investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to divest themselves of that business practice — or face being held publicly accountable…

“…Federal agencies and state governments contract with three main companies to lock people up: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The top two prison companies, CCA and GEO, are publicly traded and financed by investors, major banks and corporations, who hold shares in the industry. CCA and GEO Group make money by charging a daily rate per body that is sent to them — costing taxpayers billions for dangerous, ineffective facilities. The industry also makes money by avoiding tax payments. CCA will dodge $70 million in tax payments this year by becoming a real estate investment trust (REIT) and designating their prisons as “residential”.

“In order to maximize profits, prison companies cut back on staff training, medical care, and rehabilitative services — causing assault rates to double in some private prisons as well as by lobbying for and benefiting from laws that put more people in jail. In the 1990’s CCA chaired the Criminal Justice Task force of shadowy corporate bill-mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which passed “3 strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws that continue to send thousands of people to prison on very harsh sentences…”

Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas Files Brief in Opposition to ALEC’s Effort to Evade Open Records Law

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

“The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas has filed a brief with state Attorney General Greg Abbott in support of the Center for Media and Democracy’s request for records pertaining to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and further refuting ALEC’s effort to declare its communications immune from the state public records law.

ALEC’s arguments reflect a dangerous trend of claiming a constitutional right to close the public off from governmental body deliberations,” says attorney Joe Larsen, a member of FOIFT’s Board of Directors. “However, the real purpose of the First Amendment is to further the ‘free trade in ideas.’ That’s done through transparency, not behind closed doors.”

“As ALEC has come under increasing public scrutiny in recent years, they’ve taken new steps to cover their tracks and escape public accountability. In recent months, they’ve begun stamping documents with a “disclaimer” asserting that materials like meeting agendas and model legislation are not subject to any state’s open records law. In late July, Texas became the first state where ALEC formally asked the Attorney General for an exemption from sunshine-in-government laws.

“On August 15, CMD filed a brief with the Texas Attorney General asking his office to reject arguments by ALEC and Texas State Rep. Stephanie Klick that the lobbying organization’s communications with lawmakers should be kept secret from the public.

“FOIFT’s brief, filed last week, supports CMD’s position and adds additional arguments countering claims by Rep. Klick and ALEC — noting, among other things, that the arguments made by each are “mutually inconsistent…”

From the Sunbelt to Capitol Hill, Students Mass for Racial Justice

“As Sallie Mae Sits, Arne Duncan Gets Mailed

“Since late August, Jobs with Justice and the Student Labor Action Project have sent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan more than 25,000 e-mails demanding that the Department of Education end its contract with Sallie Mae. Dating back to February, Jobs with Justice has raised concerns over Sallie Mae’s membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council and violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that led to lawsuits, which are now resurfacing due to accusations from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that Sallie Mae violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and other “unfair or deceptive” practices. On May 9, students from the US Student Association, Student Labor Action Project and Jobs with Justice met with Duncan to raise these concerns about Sallie Mae and were told by the secretary to “hold him accountable.” Now, we’re holding Secretary Duncan accountable as the calls to put an end to this $300 million dollar contract scandal grow louder.

—Chris Hicks

Shareholder Activists: ‘We’re No Angels’ Edition

Among the activist initiatives pursued by the Community Church and Walden are:

UPS (United Parcel Service) – Community Church co-filed a resolution to UPS “seeking lobby disclosure, as the company still refuses to reveal its lobbying through trade associations. UPS also continues to support ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council], which is [sic] works to challenge renewable energy regulations at state levels.”

City Cable Channel Isn’t So Basic

State law could leave viewers in the dark

“WTMJ-4 is the current casualty in the dust-up between Journal Broadcast Group and Time Warner Cable.

“But Milwaukee’s City Channel could be the next to go dark, thanks to a 2007 bill pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its corporate member AT&T, former Democratic Sen. Jeff Plale, now working for the Walker administration, and former Republican state Rep. Phil Montgomery, Walker’s appointee to head the Public Service Commission… 

“…The Video Competition Act of 2007 took cable franchise agreements out of the hands of municipalities and gave them to the state. So when Time Warner warned its customers recently that 11 of its basic cable channels—including the City Channel—would no longer be included for free in its analog cable packages, it didn’t need to inform the Milwaukee City Council about that change. Time Warner will give a free digital to analog converter box to customers who request it by Nov. 11. But these customers will have to pay an extra $.99 for the formerly free service a year from now…

“…According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the Wisconsin law is modeled on ALEC’s Cable and Video Competition Act, a model bill written by its corporate members for use in statehouses around the country. Supporters promised it would lead to more competition, better customer service and lower cable rates.

“Bohl scoffed at those promises.

“I can only tell you it’s gotten worse,” he said.

“Time Warner could not be reached for comment.”

 

The Stranglehold on Our Politics

 

“Most of the electorate can’t be bothered with midterm elections, and this has had large consequences—none of them good—for our political system and our country. Voting for a president might be exciting or dutiful, worth troubling ourselves for. But the midterms, in which a varying number of governorships are up for election, as well as the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate, just don’t seem worth as much effort. Such inaction is a political act in itself, with major effects…”

“…The Republicans who took over the states following the 2010 elections arrived with an agenda strongly based on model laws supplied by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), heavily funded by the Koch brothers along with some other big corporations. The other group that benefited most from the 2010 elections was the passionately anti-abortion Christian right—which is not only an essential part of the national Republican Party’s base but also dominates the Republican Party in about twenty states, and has a substantial influence in more than a dozen other state parties. The Christian right is tremendously effective in motivating its followers to go to the polls—and then threaten a loss of support if their agenda isn’t adopted.

“The overall result of the new Republican domination has been that these states have cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations and moved toward a more comprehensive sales tax; slashed unemployment benefits; cut money for education and various public services; and sought to break the remaining power of the unions. Not only did Republican officials in these states manipulate the constitutionally guaranteed right to vote in their effort to win the presidency in 2012 and preserve their own power by keeping Democratic supporters from voting, but they are at it again. The constitutional right to abortion granted under Roe v. Wade has been flouted. The new strategy among anti-abortion forces is to limit legal abortions to the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Several states have adopted this measure and others are in the process of doing so…”

Gun Fanatics Score Big Victory in North Carolina

“For years, police officers in North Carolina had a choice when it came to confiscated guns. They could use them for law enforcement purposes—training, testing, examining—or they could destroy them.

“But a new law (PDF) passed by Republican lawmakers in the state changes that. Police officers can still use confiscated guns, but as of this week, they can’t destroy them. Instead, if a department wants to get rid of a gun, it has to sell it or auction it. Effectively, men and women who once worked to keep guns off of the streets must now moonlight as gun dealers.

Crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and passed at the urging of the National Rifle Association, the specifics of the “Save the Gun” law are straightforward. When faced with confiscated guns, law enforcement agencies must either donate, keep, or sell the items to licensed firearm dealers. The only guns that can legally be destroyed are those that are damaged or missing serial numbers, the latter an indication the gun was stolen. (In practical terms, that group doesn’t add up to many weapons; nationwide, stolen guns account for just 10 to 15 percent of those used in crimes.)

“As for what law enforcement thinks? After ALEC developed this proposal in 2011, the Fraternal Order of the Police, a national labor union, said that it preferred discretion when it came to dealing with confiscated weapons—a reasonable position. In North Carolina, the Sheriff’s Association, a trade group, declined to comment on the measure while it faced debate in the legislature. Still, it’s hard to imagine that local police are happy with a law that not only limits their options but also blocks judges from ordering the destruction of weapons used in a crime. Indeed, there’s something perverse about forcing a police department to sell guns that may have been used for assault or murder.”

All these laws come from individual concerns

“There ought to be a law. How many times have you heard that said?

“There’s also the common refrain: “We have too many laws…”

“…Every year, hundreds of bills are filed in Nashville by legislators who deal with issues brought to them by constituents, public officials and business interests. Every one of these bills addresses a specific concern of these individuals.

“In some cases the bills are actually drafted by lobbyists representing business or special interest groups. There’s also the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is responsible for drafting many of the “model” bills that are sponsored by Republicans in Tennessee and elsewhere. One of ALEC’s most popular is the voter ID law that is now facing a legal challenge here (and in North Carolina).

Plain Talk: Wisconsin’s school vouchers are a scam

“The recent news release from the State Department of Public Instruction revealing that 67 percent of the applicants to the Walker administration’s expanded school voucher program are already attending private schools elicited cries of “scam” from many quarters.

“And well it should have.

“That two-thirds of the voucher applicants had their children already enrolled in private schools lays waste the argument by Wisconsin legislative Republicans and the governor that vouchers are needed so poor families can rescue their children from poorly performing public schools.

“Not only was it a scheme to avoid the messy constitutional issue of sending tax dollars to private schools often run by churches, but in reality it was a foot in the door for a well-funded extreme conservative movement to weaken public education.

“The Koch brothers, the Heritage Foundation, the DeVos (Amway) family, the Walton family (Walmart) and right-wing front groups have been behind the push for so-called choice schools. Now that several states, like Wisconsin, are controlled by the new far-right Republican Party, they are pushing vouchers as never before.  And the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), of course, has provided the model legislation…

 

ALEC’s 40th Birthday Bash Crashed in Chicago

ALEC’s 40th Birthday Bash Crashed in Chicago

by Bob Sloan

As members of the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meet for their Annual Meeting in Chicago (August 7-9), the organization planned a “two-for” to also celebrate their fortieth corporate birthday.  In addition to a meeting to determine upcoming pro-corporate (anti-consumer) model legislation for the coming year, ALEC hoped to celebrate forty years of secretive activities that has brought American’s new state laws in reference to; “Stand Your Ground”, Privatized Prisons, Prison Industries, Tort “Reforms”, voter ID, voter suppression, fracking and anti-labor.

Why is ALEC so dangerous to our democracy – and how have they been able to chart a conservative course for America for the past forty years?  These questions were answered by the CMD General Counsel, Brendan Fischer in a recent interview on “Real News Network“:

“But with respect to how is this different from traditional lobbying, with traditional lobbying you at least have some level of transparency. If a lobbyist is going to meet with a legislator in a state, they’ll maybe get there ear for 15 minutes. With ALEC, legislators fly to ALEC meetings, usually on the corporate dime. Meetings are held in places like Amelia Island, Florida, or New Orleans, or this year in Chicago, usually at the nicest hotel in town. The corporate members that benefit from ALEC model legislation are footing the bill for legislators’ travel expenses.

While at these meetings, lobbyists get legislators’ ear for three days of meetings and workshops and other events where legislators are sold on these corporate-friendly ideas and urged to pass these bills that are going to benefit the corporations that are footing the bill for the travel, for the meetings, for the nights out. By the time legislators get back to the state, they are the ones who are already convinced that a particular bill or policy idea is right for the state. By the time the public gets a chance to weigh in, the legislator is oftentimes already convinced. So in some ways the legislators are the ones who are becoming the lobbyists for the corporate special-interest agenda advanced by ALEC.”

With all the media attention, things have not been going as planned for the ultra-conservative think tank as hundreds of protesters, activists, clergy, organized labor members and an angry public have turned out to protest ALEC’s existence, their anti-consumer legislative activities and efforts to prioritize corporate rights over human ones.

The protests in Chicago this week are the latest in a long line of similar actions undertaken over the past three years.  In April 2011 hundreds turned out in Cincinnati in the first ever Anti-ALEC protest/rally.  At that event a whistleblower turned over hundreds of ALEC’s secret “model legislation” earmarked for presentation in state legislatures to fatten the bottom lines of ALEC’s corporate membership.  CMD published all of the material at a PRWatch website: www.alecexposed.org to warn the public of then current and upcoming “initiatives” of ALEC that would be detrimental to the general public.

Since that initial protest, VLTP along with organizations such as People For the American Way (PFAW), Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Common Cause, Color of Change and a half dozen others have pursued ALEC continuously.  We have crisscrossed America following ALEC from state to state, city by city to set-up and protest all of their activities and to offer information to locals about ALEC’s legislative record and ongoing agenda.  Common Cause and VLTP were joined by Clergy Voice in Ohio in filing whistleblower complaints/claims with the IRS, asserting that ALEC’s IRS (c)(3) exempt status is being used to openly lobby at the state and federal levels for legislation they themselves wrote on behalf of corporate interests.  Such activities are prohibited for “charities” holding the 501 (c)(3) exemption.

ALEC protesters have turned to social media of late in an effort of informing more Americans about ALEC.  A special Facebook Group page was established to allow activists to communicate, plan and announce events planned for Chicago this week.  Activists have attracted unions by exposing ALEC’s anti-worker, anti-union legislative efforts.  In Oklahoma city earlier this year at ALEC’s spring summit, AFLCIO members joined with the Teamsters and local unions to organize a huge anti-ALEC protest, rally and march.

In Chicago AFSCME has weighed in along with the Chicago Teacher’s Union

The ALEC protesting started on Monday (Moral Monday) of this week as protesters staged a sit-in at the fashionable Chicago resort/hotel, the Palmer House where several protesters were arrested:

Six people were arrested Monday when protesters descended upon the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago to push back against the impending visit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose conservative agenda, activists say, promotes policies and legislation that protects corporate interests and disenfranchises workers and voters.

Chanting “No to ALEC,” Goodman, along with fellow members of the Chicago Moral Monday Coalition, such as Natalie Wahlberg, were arrested for linking arms on the steps of the hotel’s lobby, at 17 E. Monroe St. According to the Chicago Police Department, six protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing for causing a disturbance and refusing to leave the lobby. (see video of the event here.

The arrests demonstrate how ALEC coordinates with Hotel security, local police and some say Homeland Security to provide protection to the hundreds of corporate representatives that attend ALEC events to wine and dine thousands of state legislators in an attempt to woo them into sponsoring proposed legislation beneficial to corporate interests.  In Phoenix in November 2011 dozens of demonstrators were pepper sprayed by local police – most wearing their name badges backwards to hide their identity – before arrests were made at a protest in front of the Westin resort in Scottsdale.

Obviously with their vast influence, money and connections (nearly 2,000 state legislative members), ALEC is able to deter local authorities from the primary task of “serving the public” to “licking the boots of the corporate elite” at each event.  Instead of protecting the public and their rights to protest and demonstrate, local authorities are quick to arrest on behalf of ALEC.

Yesterday, PRWatch published information about ALEC’s efforts in Chicago, exposing the think tank’s upcoming agenda:

CHICAGO — This week, the corporate and legislator members of the American Legislative Exchange Council are meeting at the swank Palmer House hotel in Chicago to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary, be educated in corporate sponsored workshops and adopt legislative priorities for the coming year. Here is what is on the agenda for ALEC’s 40th — notably, some of the workshops carry a $40,000 pricetag for corporate sponsors.

Fracking, Virtual Schools, and Privatization

  • New ways to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or county governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds. Members of the Agriculture Subcommittee — which is chaired by Jeff Case of CropLife America — will consider a bill to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or local governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds, which happens to benefit many members of CropLife’s trade association and other big ag companies. Contrary to Jeffersonian principles of local democracy, for years ALEC has promoted bills to preempt local efforts to establish everything from paid sick days to municipal broadband.
  • ALEC's Energy, Environment & Agriculture (EEA) task forcePresentations on how fracking America can lead to increased profits through exporting America’s natural gas. American Petroleum Institute representatives Jon Shore and Rebecca Heimlich will give a presentation on “Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing: Coming Soon to Your District.” Jason French of energy company Cheniere Energy will present to the Energy Subcommittee about “LNG [Liquid Natural Gas] exports: A Story of American Innovation and Economic Opportunity.”
  • Discussions of the wonders of nuclear energy and offshore drilling. Other energy-related agenda items include a presentation on “Nuclear Energy’s Continuing Role in Providing Baseload Electricity,” and another on “Developing America’s Offshore Energy Potential: Good Sense and Good Cents.” ALEC will also consider a “Resolution in Opposition to a Carbon Tax.”
  • More climate change denial? Members of the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force will be part of a breakfast plenary session called “A Thoughtful Approach to Climate Science.” The title is less inflammatory than some of its past panels — at the 2011 ALEC meeting, legislators attended a workshop titled “Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2” — but given ALEC funders like the Koch brothers and members like the Heartland Institute, it seems unlikely that the organization has woken up to the dangers of climate change.
  • Expanding virtual “schools,” which enriches ALEC’s online school corporate funders, such as K12 Inc.The Illinois Policy Institute — the State Policy Network affiliate in the state — will present on “digital education.” IPI employees had pushed a Virtual Charter School plan in Illinois, apparently in collaboration with ALEC member K12 Inc., the nation’s largest provider of online charter schools (which has become notorious for poor educational outcomes and high profit margins). Additionally, at least two “workshops” — which carry a $40,000 pricetag — will deal with online education: “Modeling State Funding Formulas, K-12 Online Course Providers” and “Statewide Full-Time Virtual Schools: The Case for Parent Choice vs. Local Control.”

(Read the full agenda at the link provided above).

These topics are why so many Americans are now putting their safety and freedom on the line to step forward and actively protest ALEC.  The future of our society and indeed our nation are at peril from this organization and their powerful members.  Now that organized labor has joined the fray in earnest, I’m hopeful ALEC’s days are numbered and the countdown to the end is accelerating.

Finally, a great article by The Nation encapsulates the complete ALEC story and forewarns all of us of what the future holds if ALEC is allowed to continue operations unabated.

Street protests against ALEC like those planned in Chicago directly led to the organization’s exposure two years ago. After University of Wisconsin–Madison history professor William Cronon wrote a blog post examining the organization’s role in providing model legislation similar to the “Budget Repair Bill” pushed by Governor Scott Walker (a former ALEC member as a state legislator) that led to the famous Madison capitol occupation, Midwestern activists organized a protest outside the annual ALEC convention and a series of informational teach-ins in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two hours later, a whistleblower telephoned protest organizer Aliya Rahman, offering access to 800 of ALEC’s model bills.

Since that leak two years ago, and the subsequent investigation by The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy’s, “ALEC Exposed,” as well as the CMD’s ongoing coverage through ALECexposed.org, the organization has faced intense national scrutiny, drawing protest from a wide variety of progressive groups in cities around the country for their role in writing and promoting a battery of right-wing legislation.

 

ALEC Cabal News, Articles and Material for the week of July 22 – 29th

ALEC Cabal News, Articles and Material for the week of July 22 – 29th

by Bob Sloan

Much ALEC news this week as activists and organizations gear up to take on ALEC in Chicago – the city of ALEC’s “Birth” in 1973…Click on a headline to read the full article.

Dick Durbin to Hold Senate Hearings on ALEC, the NRA, and “Stand Your Ground”

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced Friday that he will hold hearings this fall on the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the NRA in spreading “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, which the Center for Media and Democracy uncovered last year, after launching ALECexposed.org.

Sen. Durbin’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hear testimony on the NRA-backed legislation, which has become law in over two dozen states since being adopted as a “model” by ALEC in 2005.

The announcement comes six days after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was initially cited to protect Zimmerman from arrest, and the jury was instructed to consider Stand Your Ground when deciding his fate, even though the defense did not request a ruling under the law’s criminal immunity provisions. The one juror who has spoken publicly said that the state’s Stand Your Ground law influenced their decision to acquit. As CMD’s Executive Director Lisa Graveshas documented, the NRA played a key role in approving those jury instructions, in addition to helping initially draft the Stand Your Ground law and taking it to ALEC to become a “model” for the nation.

Koch-Funded Climate Contrarians Make Mischief on Capitol Hill

With Congress about to head out of town for its summer recess, a Washington-based think tank is ramping up a campaign to foil any attempts to institute a tax on carbon emissions,The Hill, a Washington political trade publication, reported this week.

“We’re hoping to put the final nail in the coffin of the carbon tax,” said Benjamin Cole, the communications director for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA). “The proposal should be dead on arrival by the time lawmakers come back from August recess.”

Over the last decade or so, IER and AEA have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil; the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and gas industry’s trade association; the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a secretive nonprofit group linked to Charles Koch and his brother David, the billionaire owners of the coal, oil and gas behemoth Koch Industries; and the Charles Koch-controlled Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, one of a handful of Koch family funds.

Top IER-AEA officials also are well-entrenched members of the Koch brothers’ climate change contrarian network. IER and AEA President Thomas Pyle, for example, is a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. IER and AEA Director of Regulatory and State Affairs Daniel Simmons, meanwhile, worked for the API-, ExxonMobil- and Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a stealthy lobby group that has been trying to repeal state standards requiring electric utilities to use more renewable energy. Before his stint as director of ALEC’s Natural Resources Task Force, Simmons was a research fellow at the Koch-founded and funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Not to be outdone, IER founder and CEO Robert L. Bradley, Jr. — a former public policy analysis director at the now-defunct Enron Corp. — is an adjunct scholar at the Koch-founded and funded Cato Institute and the API- and Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. He also has been a featured speaker at the API- and Koch-funded Heartland Institute’s annual climate science-bashing conference, and is a member of the academic review committee at the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason. The Institute for Humane Studies’ chairman, I should add, is Charles Koch.

New Normal Growth, Or A New Social Contract

…For starters, this includes opposing the attacks on collective bargaining rights, particularly in the 27 right-to-work-states mainly in the Midwest and South that also oppose unions that support collective bargaining. Austerians should also oppose wealth-limiting legislation put out by ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, such as privatizing public education, limiting voter rights, as well as legislation that severely reduces corporate regulation and taxation, which has given Big Business even more leverage over their employees welfare and standard of living.

So there is a lesson to be learned here. Any social contract requires a quid pro quo to survive. If corporations and Big Business wish to limit government reach and spending, they will have to tolerate higher wages and living standards for their workers. Otherwise, we know from past history–even current history–what happens when a social contract is broken.

The Gunshine State

When it comes to lax gun laws and frequent gun violence, Florida is an epidemic in itself. Editorialists, op?ed writers and journalists in the state’s own newspapers regularly mock it as the “Gunshine State.” The sarcastic phrase is a verbal play on Florida’s official nickname, “The Sunshine State,” adopted by the state legislature in 1970. The mockery is well earned. The state’s compliant legislature has been used for several decades as a Petri dish by the gun-mad scientists of the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA).

Some have shrugged and concluded that Florida’s inert citizenry gets the kind of weak gun laws it deserves. But these virulent ideas — from Florida’s pioneering “shall issue” concealed-carry- permit law to the misshapen monster twins of its “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws — have been injected into the veins of scores of other state legislatures all over the country. The NRA, packaging its poison in the back rooms of a slick and well-funded network of right-wing legislators known as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has already pushed two great waves of ill-advised and poorly considered legislation into American life. The first was a nationwide weakening of state concealed-carry laws; the second, a combination of the “shoot first” castle doctrine and the “shoot anywhere” stand-your-ground laws. 

Dark clouds of yesteryear return to threaten right to vote

Only the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, capped off by the broad federally enforced protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally brought justice. “The arc of the moral universe,” Martin Luther King Jr. could assert, “is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Yet today that justice — the right of free and full access to the ballot box for Americans, regardless of race, class, wealth or status — is again in doubt.

Almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s recent decision gutting major portions of the Voting Rights Act, six states of the old Confederacy — Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Virginia — moved quickly to impose voter photo ID and other restrictive voting requirements to which the Justice Department had taken exception.

The argument for voter IDs is that states must guard against impersonation and other flagrant voter fraud. But repeated studies show those offenses are so minuscule that they border on the nonexistent. The real reason for the new voter ID laws is no mystery. It’s a deliberate effort to reduce voting by minorities, students and low-income citizens — constituencies deemed likely to vote for liberal candidates.

Today’s voter suppression effort originated with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), an organization backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and major corporate interests. And now it’s being pushed by a Republican Party that seems turned 180 degrees from its 19th-century birth as the agent of liberty and the franchise for African-Americans.

Alarmingly, I see the historic march to a liberated, rights-for-all voting order in America that inspired so many of us in the civil rights era being deliberately sabotaged for partisan, economic and ideological motives.

Exposing Arizona’s Political Corruption

The Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation has added several more dates and locations for this presentation. http://www.azadvocacy.org/forums-a-events/upcoming-event-details

ALEC

WHAT: Join Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation to expose how lobbyists and Big Money buy favor with officials at the our expense. We begin with a special showing of Bill Moyers’ United States of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), exposing how Big Money uses campaign cash and freebies to buy access to OUR tax dollars for greater profit at the expense of jobs and voter priorities. We then highlight important bills being voted on by the legislature and Congress on Clean Elections, other political anti-corruption/conflict of interests bills, voting rights and election administration. Learn more about our March 18, 2013 U.S. Supreme Court hearing to defend every eligible citizen’s right to register to vote without the barriers Arizona politicians keep in place.

ALEC Determined to Spread For-Profit Education Nationwide

Schools nation-wide are considering bills promoting for-profit education, designed by corporate bill mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), at least 139 ALEC-designed bills have been introduced across 43 states just within the last 6 months. Of those, 31 have become law.

The CMD report, “Cashing in on Kids,” states that programs designed to divert taxpayer money from public schools to private and religious schools have been spreading across the country for over two decades. Milwaukee became the first U.S. city to implement a school voucher program in 1990, under then-governor Tommy Thompson, who was closely involved with ALEC.

“For-profit schools in Wisconsin now receive up to $6,442 per voucher student, and by the end of the next school year taxpayers in the state will have transferred an estimated $1.8 billion to for-profit, religious, and online schools,” the report states.

This Land is your Land, this Land is Gas Land

The Obama Administration has proposed new regulations for hydraulic fracturing on 756 million acres of public and tribal lands. The rules were written by the drilling industry and will be streamlined into effect by a new intergovernmental taskforce established by the president, to promote fracking — a practice that has been linked to water poisoning, air pollution, methane emissions and, most recently, earthquakes.

White House visitor logs show the president’s top adviser on energy and climate, Heather Zichal, met with the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and other industry groups 20 times last year in the run up to the rules proposal. They were further honed to industry specifications in a series of meetings between the oil and gas lobby and the White House Office of Budget Management, and are based on a piece of model legislation authored by Exxon for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Under the rules, drillers will report chemicals used in fracking to an industry run site, FracFocus.org, already used in Pennsylvania and other states. The disclosures won’t need to be made until after a well is fracked. Nor will they be vetted for accuracy. Certain chemicals won’t even be disclosed at all, since they constitute alleged trade secrets. Furthermore, the rules would sanction drilling in close proximity to homes and schools, as well as allow wastewater — the toxic byproduct the of fracking — to be stored in open, outdoor pits. 

The impacts of privatizing the turnpike

“We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another,” veteran journalist Ted Koppel said recently on NPR. “We’ve privatized a lot of what our military is doing. We’ve privatized a lot of what our intelligence agencies are doing. We’ve privatized our very prison system in many parts of the country. We’re privatizing the health system within those prisons. And it’s not working well.”

The privateers have an army of contractors, consultants, think tanks (with the Reason Foundation in the lead) and lobbyists. In particular, they see the country’s huge aging transportation infrastructure as a great money-making opportunity. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, and traffic congestion is widespread. The federal highway trust fund is running out of money.

This is a “public-private partnership,” or P3, which is a concept pushed by an infrastructure-industrial complex composed of global construction corporations, investment banks, private-equity firms and elite law firms organized as vertically integrated consortiums. The influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has pushed “model legislation” for P3s in statehouses across the nation. 

Voter ID: How did we get here? Part I

…We’re just going to assume Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (D-Butler) was thinking of the founders when he introduced his Voter ID legislation in 2011, using that specific aerial section of the Constitution as justification.

“Currently in Pennsylvania, it’s impossible to board a commercial airplane, cash a paycheck, operate a motor vehicle or even purchase season passes to a neighborhood swimming pool…without displaying a valid photo ID,” he wrote on his website upon introducing House Bill 934, the Pennsylvania Voter Identification and Protection Act, in 2011.

His bill would require all commonwealth citizens to show a state-issued ID at their respective polling places come election day.

The Pennsylvania legislation, modeled on an Indiana law passed in 2005 and pushed forward by the American Legislative Exchange Council, had a high price tag. And not just because it was a waste of everyone’s time as Pennsylvania’s full-time Legislature earned their hefty full-time paychecks.

 Gerald Meier: It’s government by and for the few in Wisconsin

Dear Editor: Our forefathers established a democracy so we would have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. What we have now is a government of the few, by the few and for the few, and this is not only true in Washington, but unfortunately, especially true here in Wisconsin. We do not have a state Legislature but a Midwestern branch of the Koch brothers-influenced American Legislative Exchange Council. If you read their wish list, it sounds much like Wisconsin’s budget. It must be great for them that what they spent in Wisconsin is working out so well.

We should respect the Kochs, as they made their billions the good old-fashioned way; they inherited it from their oil baron father. Who can blame them for wanting to keep as much of it as possible? Fortunately for us, they have chosen to dole out some of their vast fortune to our governor and his chosen legislators. These are great times for the “few brothers.”

George Zimmerman, off the hook

http://vimeo.com/fiorecartoons/george-zimmerman-off-the-hook to watch a video on stand your ground and ALEC…

The George Zimmerman trial was about much more than race.  In fact, while everyone was talking about racial issues surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, the jury was guided by metastasizing Stand-Your-Ground laws.  You need look no further than the jury instructions to find the power of the NRA and ALEC.

The defense in the Zimmerman trial was able to put the burden of proof on the victim, Trayvon Martin.  The question became, what had this unarmed teenager done to scare an armed man who was following him, not, why did the armed man follow and kill the unarmed teen?  The guy with the gun had more legal protections than the unarmed kid.  What would happen if we expanded these gun rights even further?  That’s where Shoot-em-up Charlie comes in.

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find there are cases that are even more awful than the Zimmerman case.  While Shoot-em-up Charlie takes the lead on this cartoon, stick around at the end to listen to a truly disturbing 911 call from a man about to put these new laws into action.

Be sure to comment, like, share and do all that good social media stuff so more people can see this cartoon and we’ll continue to have a discussion about these ridiculous laws.

‘Stand Your Ground’ group pushes privatization of public education

The group behind “Stand Your Ground” laws in a number of states has been mighty busy working to get laws passed in the area of school reform — and the aim has been the privatization of public education.

That group is the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, which likes to call itself a “nonpartisan public-private partnership” but is actually a corporate-backed enterprise that writes “model legislation” that its membership of nearly 2,000 conservative legislators use in states to pass laws that promote privatization in every part of American life: education, health care, the environment, the economy, etc.

Bill Moyers, in a program called “United States of ALEC,”  “the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of,” one with a “vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.”

SCOTUS v. the Right to Vote: Three Strikes, but We’re Not Out

“Supreme Court Shreds Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act” was a typical news headline June 26, this one from the National Journal. According to Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, the court’s decision in the case known as Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al. “effectively struck down the core” of the law. [1] “Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years,” Leahy explained, “yet the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices.” Rep. John Lewis said the court’s decision “put a dagger in the heart” of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The 5-4 decision has been widely condemned, but undoing the damage anytime soon will be difficult.

Even so, an earlier and less well-known Supreme Court decision competes with these two for the damage it has done to electoral democracy. The Court’s 2008 ruling in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board upheld a restrictive Indiana voter ID law. This cleared the way for a flood of state laws making it harder for many low-income and minority citizens to vote. Widely promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing think tank that produces “model” legislation for state legislatures, ID requirements and other restrictive voting laws plagued the 2012 elections in more than 30 states.

Point Austin: United Defense of the Fetus

Early in last Friday’s Senate debate over the anti-abortion bill (HB 2), the bill’s sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar (author of the Senate companion), was asked if anyone or “any organization” had asked him to file his bill. Hegar said no, that he had authored the bill on his own, and that he doesn’t look to anyone “outside the Senate” when drafting legislation. It was a predictable question and an equally predictable answer. The question raises the specter of undue outside influence, and unless it’s their direct constituents, legislators do not want to be seen as taking direction from lobbyists or special interest organizations.

Yet it doesn’t take great insight to connect the dots from Hegar’s bill and its House counterpart, carried by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, to the national organizations that have been promoting – indeed, drafting – this kind of legislation for legislatures across the country. Similar bills have been filed or passed in Indiana, North Dakota, North Carolina, Wisconsin, etc. According to Bloomberg Businessweek (July 11), “In the first six months of 2013, 17 states passed a total of 45 new restrictions on abortion.”

The most notorious national “bill mill” is the corporate-driven American Legislative Exchange Council, which specializes in conservative economic legislation – Lauben­berg, in no coincidence, is the Texas ALEC chair. In the past, ALEC occasionally promoted anti-abortion legislation, but now largely leaves that task to AUL. AUL annually issues a massive manual, Defending Life, filled with tendentious “scholarship” purporting to document such dubious notions as “fetal pain” before viability (the presumed justification for the 20-week abortion limit) and the repeatedly discredited connection between abortions and breast cancer that remains part of the Texas “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that must be provided by clinics to women seeking abortion. AUL also ranks states according to their success in restricting abortion; before last week’s ramrodding of HB 2, Texas was 14th, so we can presume Gov. Perry can wave a higher ranking in his next failed presidential primary campaign.

 

 

Activists, Union Workers and Chicagoan’s Prepare for ALEC’s August Conference

Activists, Union Workers and Chicagoan’s Prepare for ALEC’s August Conference

by Bob Sloan

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) plans to celebrate their 40th birthday from August 7th to the 9th this year.  A big event for this predominantly conservative organization, to be sure.  The birthday bash coincides with ALEC’s Annual Meeting – one of several key events held annually where corporate prepared legislation is introduced to more than 2,000 state lawmakers to be carried back to their home turf and introduced as proposed new laws.

This year the ALEC Annual Meeting will differ from 37 of the previous 39 such meetings as activists, American workers, protesters and Anarchists are preparing a rousing “welcome” for ALEC’s members – corporate and legislative – when they arrive in Chicago.  Similar protests and rallies against ALEC have marked each of their yearly events since April 2011 when a small group of students and liberal activists held the very first Anti-ALEC protest in Cincinnati.  Following that protest a whistleblower came forward and released hundreds of secret ALEC documents and proposed “model legislation” to the Center for Media and Democracy.  CMD launched “ALEC Exposed” at PRWatch and published the documents for American’s to read, evaluate and discuss.  As more and more citizens became aware of ALEC, the groundswell of anger over such manipulation of our daily lives by a corporate “charity” grew…as did the number of protests.

Following Cincy, protesters and activists followed ALEC to New Orleans for the next meeting…then to Phoenix, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and now they’re preparing for Chicago and perhaps the largest turnout of protesters yet.  The growth of ALEC protesters has grown in part due to the involvement of America’s workers – union and non-union – who continue to suffer job losses and lack of available jobs due to ALEC’s pursuits of Right To Work (for less) and other initiatives to abolish organized labor or diminish their voices.  In Oklahoma this spring, the AFLCIO and Teamsters organized the ALEC protest and are again at the front in Chicago.  Their involvement and reporting on ALEC’s non union activities has attracted other strong unions such as AFSCME to participate in the Windy City protest.

At each subsequent ALEC event, the numbers of protesters have grown as more and more has become known about ALEC and their activities.  The public has become knowledgeable about some of the more oppressive laws beneficial to corporate interests disseminated by ALEC and passed through lobbying and campaign contributions from ALEC’s corporate membership.  These include such laws and initiatives as; Right To Work, voter ID legislation and suppression, stand your ground (Trayvon Martin), privatization of public schools, vouchers and “virtual” education (all of which benefit one or more of ALEC’s corporate members) and tort reforms that limit the ability of consumers to recover damages from malpractice or product related injury (such as cancer and illness from asbestos contamination).

Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy groups have also joined the ranks of those opposing ALEC, calling for Americans to turn-out and protest in Chicago.  Through it all, ALEC has maintained a staunch “fuck you” stance against all who oppose them and their agenda by continuing to advocate for corporate interests over the rights of Americans.  They enlisted the help of other right-wing think tanks in an attempt to deflect some of the bad publicity about them and more recently have attempted to avoid referring to themselves and their members as “ALEC” by requesting that the organization now be called the “Exchange Council” to avoid the stigma that has attached to “ALEC” since 2011.

ALEC decided to hold this bash in Chicago where the IRS Exempt 501 (c)(3) “charity” was born in 1973, formed by several disgruntled conservative Republicans looking for a way to change the course of the Republican party and eventually the path of the United States to one of conservative principles; limited government, free markets, individual liberty and federalism at the state level.  As with most terminology used by ALEC’s wordsmiths, the definition of these terms to ALEC supporters is far different than what one would find in Websters.  By founding ALEC as a “Charity” it has allowed ALEC to amass tens of millions of dollars to use in legislative efforts – without declaring or paying any taxes on those millions.  Further it allows individuals and corporate interests to also deduct their ALEC contributions, given in pursuit of seeking corporate-friendly legislation that fattens their bottom line(s).

Since 2011 there have been three complaints filed with the IRS, asking that agency to investigate ALEC’s use of “charitable” funds to advance legislation and promote lobbying, in violation of the 501 (c)(3) provisions and requesting that the charitable classification be rescinded and the government recover any taxes that should have been paid on money used to lobby and influence legislation.  All of these complaints are now pending and under consideration by the IRS.  VLTP is a complainant in one of those whistleblower complaints and awaits a determination by the IRS on the documents provided in that complaint.

To ALEC, limited government is defined as limiting the government’s ability to regulate actions of corporations, manufacturers or businesses that may cause harm to Americans. Individual liberty is seen as corporate liberty…the ability to operate without government interference at the sacrifice of true individual liberties of Americans.

Free-Markets are those markets controlled by ALEC’s more than 350 large, multinational companies that control specific markets by limiting the abilities of true small businesses to break into existing markets.

Federalism is perceived by ALEC as: “a government closest to the people is fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.”  In other words, since ALEC has a vast influence over state legislatures through membership and control of governor’s mansions in many states, turn over federal control to the states (and through them, ALEC) to run our country.

ALEC has been hugely successful in many of their hidden initiatives designed to meet their twisted definitions of such terms as federalism and free markets.  As an example we have only to look to the ongoing battles in Wisconsin (Governor Walker, an ALEC alum), Arizona (Governor Brewer and ALEC Alum), Ohio (Governor Kasich an ALEC alum) and South Carolina (Governor Haley another ALEC alum).  In each of these – and several other – states, the ALEC agenda has been pushed down the throat of voters by legislatures controlled by ALEC members and Governors who are members of ALEC’s large alumni pool; repeal of clean energy regulations, eliminating worker rights, lowering wages and attempting to abolish minimum wage, ending collective bargaining, privatizing our schools, prisons and government institutions, making it more difficult for minorities to vote and restricting women’s rights.

For all these reasons, ALEC must be pursued and abolished before our country can begin to heal and return to a form of democratic government on behalf of the people rather than the corporate interests and elite business owners.  Chicago next month is only the “next step” in the process of returning state governments to the will of the people and wrenching power from those who get such power by doing the bidding of their corporate masters through ALEC.

We hope that many readers will turn out for the various rallies and protests in Chicago (Unions planning a large event on August 8th at ALEC’s Palmer House Hotel).  If you are unable to attend, please consider contributing to the efforts of those organizations participating; VLTP, CMD, Common Cause, AFLCIO, AFSCME, PFAW, etc.  Your dollar may be the one that finally breaks ALEC’s stranglehold on our nation…

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

By Bob Sloan

Today prison industries are booming with hundreds of thousands of prisoners employed in factories manufacturing a myriad assortment of products and providing services such as call centers, customer service, marketing, reservations and manual labor for municipalities.  Thousands of American workers have been displaced by companies choosing low paid prisoners as a labor force.  Many of these companies realize additional profits from subsidized leases for state manufacturing facilities within prison compounds.  This has been the trend since 1999 but today, as a Burl Ives lyric proclaims, “times, they are a changin’…”

Nevada represents the latest resistance to prison programs taking jobs out of the private sector and allowing unfair competition between private businesses where one company has access to low paid prisoners for their private workforce.

On May 29th legislation reining in control of Nevada’s prison industry program, passed the state Senate and was sent to the desk of Governor Brian Sandoval.  On June 1 the Governor signed the new legislation and it becomes law in Nevada on July1, 2013.  The introduction, passage and signing into law of this necessary legislation is a huge victory for opponents of prison industry programs in the U.S. – and signals to other states the need for similar vigilance of prison industrial programs.

Sen Smith 4-29

Senator Debbie Smith

Known as Senate Bill (SB) 478, the Nevada legislation was introduced and sponsored by the Senate’s Interim Finance Committee as a means of tightening controls over Nevada’s prison industry partnerships. Author of the bill was Senator Debbie Smith, Chair of the Senate Finance and Interim Finance Committees.

Private companies (union and non-union) joined ranks with union leaders in support of changing state laws regarding prison industry operations in Nevada.  

Sen. Richard Bryan

Sen. Richard Bryan

Former Nevada Governor and U.S. Senator, Richard Bryan, met several times with the state Board of Prison Commissioners and appeared before both Senate and Assembly committee meetings where he argued that necessary changes must be made to the existing prison industry regulations.

Senator Bryan was not involved in the actual writing or introduction of this measure (Senate Bill 478), but in interviews he stated he supported the proposed original legislation as it would open the program to needed transparency that would limit unfair competition complained of by workers and businesses in Nevada.  The Senator has not spoken publicly since the legislation was amended and passed, so it is unknown if he continues to fully support the amended language of SB 478.

Danny Thompson

AFLCIO Exec. Sec. Treasurer, Danny Thompson

sb 478 hearing conway

Ironworkers Local 433 Bus. Agent, Robbie Conway

Support also came from the AFLCIO, the local Ironworkers union and several law enforcement unions.  The AFLCIO’s Executive Secretary Treasurer, Danny Thompson and Ironworkers Local 433 Business Agent, Robbie Conway were the most vocal and outspoken union representatives on the prison industry issue.  Both made appearances before the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Nevada Senate and Assembly at hearings and meetings to object to the use of inmate labor to openly compete for the jobs of unemployed Nevada workers.

While both Thompson and Conway objected to prisoners being used by private companies to compete against other private businesses and workers, they were very concerned about the safety of Nevadans from projects built using prisoners in a “training program”.  One such project was the bridge over Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas.  Another is the Wet ‘N Wild water park project being built in Summerlin.  A third is the SkyVue Wheel on the Las Vegas strip.

wet n wild

SkyVue pic

All of these projects were scheduled to be built with structural steel components manufactured by prisoners working in a prison industry training program located at High Desert State Prison.  That was the intent until the public became informed about the use of prisoners manufacturing key structural components for such projects and in response the Governor ordered the closure of the prison industry where the steel was made.

This state action in Nevada follows similar legislative amending in Texas in 2009-2010 after businesses complained of unfair competition from prison industry operations there.  The Texas circumstances are nearly identical with a situation that consequently evolved in Nevada just three years later.

Lufkin Industry’s trailer division was shut down due to an undisclosed operation by a prison company making the same products and selling them competitively in Lufkin’s market.  Following this discovery, the Texas legislature enacted laws to protect workers and competitors from prison operated industries using inmate labor.

This legislative session, Nevada was forced to take similar steps to protect workers and business owners from suffering the same fate as workers in Texas.

Silver State Industries (SSI), operated by the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) enters into contracts with private companies to allow the use of inmates as a labor force for manufacturing goods.  Previously these partnerships were developed quietly with a total lack of transparency or notice to competing companies regarding any possible impact upon private business or Nevada’s unemployed workers competing for business or jobs.

Cox-listens-to-testimony-cropDirector Cox of the Nevada Department of Corrections candidly admitted earlier this year that he and his department had not been following requirements and protocols called for by state law and department regulations.  Besides the undisclosed competition using inmate labor, there is an issue of lost money from possible mismanagement of the NDOC.

One of more of these “industry” operations using prisoners as a labor force for select private companies resulted in substantial dollars lost to the state due to non-payment of leases, wages, utility costs and other expenses advanced to companies in an effort of keeping them operating and prisoners employed.  SSI’s current account receivables are in excess of $600,000 and previously in 2010 $800,000 was sent to collectors to try and recover.

As a result of poor business practices, SSI has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and nearly exhausted a $1.5 million dollar contingency fund.  The industry closed by order of the Governor was a metal/steel fabrication plant at the High Desert State Prison.  This single operation is at the center of the controversy surrounding prison labor and unfair competition that formed the basis for the new legislation.

Silver State Industries had a long standing contract with Alpine Steel, LLC that allowed inmates to manufacture structural steel used in public and private projects secured through standard industry bid procedures.  Alpine used the cheap labor they paid to inmate workers as a means to secure numerous competitive contracts utilizing low labor projections/costs.  Other companies protested they were losing work and thus unable to hire more unemployed steel workers due to unfair competition from Alpine using state prisoners as the company’s “private workforce”.

When it was discovered Alpine was not paying the lower wages owed to the inmate workers or salaries of NDOC supervisory staffers, the story elicited strong reactions from taxpayers and lawmakers alike.  In addition to these payroll defaults, Alpine was behind on agreed lease and utility payments and had failed to reimburse the state for worker comp premiums on the inmate workers – for a period of approximately four years.  The state paid the wages of staffers, the work comp premiums and utility costs which mean the “taxpayers” were subsidizing a substantial amount of Alpine’s operation.

Under media and public pressure, the Governor became involved in December of last year.  Almost immediatelyAlpine’s prison industry operation was ordered closed.  Following the closure Alpine and the NDOC negotiated a repayment agreement with the Attorney General’s office that was very favorable to Alpine’s owner.  The agreement allows Randy Bulloch to make monthly payments to the state over a period of another four years until the debt is paid.  Surprisingly, this agreement does not provide for any interest, fine or penalty for the huge debt from the default(s).  Ultimately the state wound up on the hook for $438,000+ owed by Bulloch.

DD Connett

NDOC Deputy Director, Brian Connett

These default(s) were known to NDOC Director Cox and Deputy Director Brian Connett (Deputy Director of the Prison Industry) but neither took any positive steps to recover the money owed and bring Alpine current.

As originally proposed, SB 478, subsection 7 required notices and an opportunity to be consulted about proposed new prison industry projects be provided to private companies and labor organizations.  It further required the NDOC Director and Deputy Director of Prison Industries to provide the Senate Interim Finance Committee (IFC) on Industrial Programs with information on possible impacts upon labor or sales from proposed new prison industries.

Instead of requiring the NDOC to consult directly with businesses that may be affected by new or proposed industries, the amended legislation (subsections #7 in the amended text) calls for other state agencies or departments to conduct studies and submit reports of possible conflicts involving labor or market sales.

Though the legislation as passed does not contain all the provisions hoped for by supporters, necessary key provisions calls for more transparency and oversight over prison industries – and their competition against private companies having to compete against low prison wages.

Two key provisions of SB 478 are the provision that the NDOC must provide documentation to the IFC for approval of new programs and then if approved there, any proposed program must be considered by the Board of Prison Commissioners (composed of the Governor, AG and Secretary of State) for final approval.  Though this provision was already in place, these were circumvented previously.  The second change is the addition of a second union representative added to the IFC Industrial Program Committee.  This will help ensure Nevada workers are protected from unfair prison labor displacing them or taking jobs from a constantly dwindling job market.

Provisions that the NDOC seek approval for new industry projects from the Bureau of Prison Commissioners, provide notice to the private sector, consultation with businesses and labor on proposed new industries and that any industry have an “insignificant” impact upon displacement of workers; were requirements that were not followed.  These actions – or lack of action – were behind the need for this new legislation in the first place.  Ironically this failure to inform or consult directly with competing companies and unions necessitated SB 478…yet as passed, that critical component has been removed from the final language of the bill.

Cox originally took the position of “neutral” on the proposed legislation…then changed that to “opposed” to the bill.  Finally after negotiating out the requirement to provide direct notice to labor or competing companies, Cox and the NDOC came out in “support” of the measure.  This manipulation gives the appearance that the NDOC wants to avoid any direct notice or contact with the very businesses the prison industry program will be competing against.

The default by one company resulted in complaints against the NDOC for using inmate labor to compete unfairly against private companies.  Everyone involved realized the potential for lost jobs in the private sector along with lost sales to competing companies and led to hearings and meetings before the Board of Prison Commissioners and several Senate and Assembly Committee meetings in 2012 and early this year.

Ultimately information that came out in those hearings and through the media revealed that the NDOC’s prison industry program was “off the chain” (to use the vernacular) and being operated without any true oversight – by the NDOC or other government authorities.  In the end Alpine Steel did Nevadans a favor by their defaulting across the board.  The action of this one company is what angered the public and led to a quick response from lawmakers and the Executive branch.

Unexpectedly, the NDOC continued to use Randy Bulloch as a spokesman for continuing prison industry operations as they were.  Bulloch appeared at nearly every Committee hearing; before the Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Senate Judiciary Committee and before the General Assembly – side by side with SSI Deputy Director, Connett – speaking in support of continuing the prisoner “training program” and arguing that using such labor was really not unfair competition.  At one point he argued if he and other companies using inmate labor had to pay prisoners fair or comparable wages, it would result in closing prison industries altogether.  In advancing that argument he failed to realize that while the low wages and cheap lease of state owned industry facilities to his company provided increased profits, such came at the expense of workers displaced by the prisoners and businesses that lost contracts to Alpine due to the use of prison labor.

This was the “unfair competition” businesses, the public and organized labor protested against and the legislature agreed with them on.  That’s why it was unexpected to see Bulloch, Cox and Connett continue to confer and present arguments against reform of the prison industry in the face of widespread calls demanding reform by everyone else.

SB 478 surprised everyone – lawmakers and public alike – by how quickly it advanced through the Senate and then Assembly once introduced.  Historically proposed legislation takes a substantial amount of time being discussed, amended and again discussed before ever getting to the point of a vote.  This bill introduced on March 25th passed in just over 60 days and will become law approximately 90 days after submission.

The NDOC and the department’s head of SSI will remain in charge of the state’s prison industry program.  Even after demonstrating the agency and top administrators violated the state laws and administrative regulations, the NDOC has been able to successfully maintain overall control.

I weighed in on this issue in Nevada as soon as the issue became public.  As the Executive Director of the Voters Legislative Transparency Project (VLTP), I provided research, a “white paper” report with documentation to Governor Sandoval, AG Cortez-Masto, Secretary of State Miller, members of the state Assembly, the IFC on Industrial Programs, the Senate and personally to Director Cox.

VLTP Directors and staff traveled to Nevada to be in attendance at some of those meetings and spoke directly with Mr. Bulloch and others on the issues.  Many of the tough questions posed to Cox and Bulloch in subsequent hearings or meetings originated from the VLTP analysis and report.

VLTP has publicly supported the legislative efforts to bring the prison industry program in Nevada under control and force it to operate in a transparent manner.  I’m gladdened that all the effort put into solving this issue has been successful and will benefit workers and businesses moving forward.

The final version of SB 478 came as a result of compromise between lawmakers, businesses, union leaders, workers and the NDOC.  None of those involved got everything they wanted but that’s how “compromise” works.  It’s a needed step in the right direction and now new SSI industry programs or projects will come under intense scrutiny and vetting prior to implementation.  Such scrutiny was absent previously.

Expecting the same government bodies; the Legislature’s IFC and the Board of Examiners to protect the interests of workers and competing business owners is difficult.  Oversight and transparency will be the key ingredients to keeping the prison industry program from once again getting out of control.  This new legislation appears to provide both.

ALEC & Corporate Tort Reform Efforts Surface in Federal Court Decision

ALEC & Corporate Tort Reform Efforts Surface in Federal Court Decision

Featured photo credit: Tim Meko/For the Center for Public Integrity

By Bob Sloan

Recently a federal case involving gross physical abuse, discrimination and underpayment of wages to 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered such abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer, was decided by a jury in favor of the workers.  The jury awarded $240 million in actual and punitive damages.  Following that judgment another federal judge has reduced that award to a total of $1.6 million.

In an article about this case, written by Chris Young for the Center for Public Integrity, Young identifies two key factors that resulted in the huge reduction in the amount of the award.  First the American’s with Disabilities Act has caps that limit the amount of damages.

“Under the act, compensatory and punitive damages are capped at $50,000 for companies like Henry’s that employ between 14 and 101 employees.”

Secondly, the judge who reduced the award, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa is a frequent attendee of pro-corporate seminars and is considered to be “corporate friendly.”

“An Iowa federal judge who frequently attends business-friendly judicial education conferences slashed a landmark $240 million verdict to $1.6 million for 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer.”

In fact in a related story by Young, Judge Wolfe is one of the top attendees of conservative “junkets” paid for by the likes of the Koch Family Foundations and organized by the Koch funded George Mason University:

“The most-traveled judges, according to reports filed online by the judges, were U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa and Chief Judge Thomas B. Bennett of the Northern District of Alabama Bankruptcy Court. Each reported attending nine seminars.

“Wolle is a “senior status” judge, meaning he is semi-retired. He did not respond to requests for comment.”

The reduction of the initial jury award by Judge Wolfe appears on the surface to be legally required under existing ADA rules and legislative restrictions.  The judge’s hands were “tied” by the law setting a limit on what those disabled workers could receive.  A larger and more important question is – who is responsible for tying the hands of our judiciary?

When we look beyond the law and investigate why such “caps” are in place, we find that in most cases pro-corporate and anti-consumer laws known as tort laws, originate within and are spread by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC claims to have 2,000 elected state lawmakers as members and close to 100 sitting U.S. Congressmen and women are ALEC alumni.  This legislative membership is sponsored, funded and works in concert with more than 350 corporations.

One of ALEC’s key initiatives over the past two decades has been the pursuit of “tort reform” legislation that limits the ability of consumers to recover damages inflicted by defective products, negligence, medical malpractice or corporate malfeasance.  In fact, ALEC and their corporate partners have developed and distributed dozens and dozens of model legislative tort reform “bills” and many of these have been successfully passed and now serve as the “law of the land” regarding consumer and worker rights.

Last year VLTP published several articles related to the ALEC/Koch Cabal’s involvement in unduly influencing our state and federal judiciaries.  This influence included the filing of Amicus briefs (friend of the court) in important cases involving key topics important to corporate interests; tort reform, second amendment gun rights, taxation, EPA and environmental issues and telecommunication laws.

Additional influence involves “training” seminars sponsored and paid for by conservative funded think tanks, corporations and foundations such as the Koch Family Foundation(s) and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.  Federal judges are treated to all expense paid junkets to plush resorts where they attend seminars focusing upon the ALEC/Koch agenda of limited government, free-markets and federalism.

Other sponsors of these events include federal judges themselves who help fund these conservative training sessions for new judicial appointees to enhance their knowledge and skills in complex areas of the law – from a conservative POV. The main or core corporate funding comes from:

  • The Searle Freedom Trust
  • ExxonMobil Corp.
  • Shell Oil Co.
  • Pfizer Inc.
  • State Farm Insurance
  • Dow Chemical Co.
  • AT&T Inc.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce 

All of these companies and organization have one thing in commonality: they are all either ALEC members, former members or supporters of ALEC and representatives of most even now sit upon ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council.

The Center for Public Integrity identifies the same companies, foundations and family names involved that VLTP identified over a year ago…and ABC reported on over a decade ago.  Since 2000 states have implemented law after law written by corporate interests, adopted by ALEC and supported by legislators working on behalf of ALEC instead of the rights of their constituents.

In 2001 ABC’s 20/20 presented an expose titled “Junkets for Judges” which can be found on YouTube in a two part presentation.  Here is a link to part one.  Though the 20/20 expose concentrated upon George Mason University’s involvement in providing these trips for our judges,we found several additional universities and private, non-profit organizations participating in these efforts at both the state and federal level.  All but one are provided by conservative organizations, foundations or schools:

•    George Mason University(Law and Economics Center – LEC)   (Recipient of Koch funding totaling $20,297,143 from 1986-2006 ), Earhart Foundation, JM Olin Foundation.
•    Foundation for Research on Economics and Environment (FREE).  Funded by ExxonMobil, GE Foundation, Koch Family Foundation  ($1,305,500 through 2006), JM Olin Foundation, Earhart Foundation and Castle Rock Foundation (Coors). ($65,000 in 2009) and the Claude Lambe Foundation ($1,540,000).
•    Northwestern Law Judicial Education Program (funded by many key ALEC members, including Koch)
•    Liberty Fund providing judicial conferences and seminars to/for Judges.
•    Federalist Society  (Koch funded   $1,437,200 through 2006)
•    Aspen Institute (Koch funded  $1,115,000 through 2006 with David Koch on the BOD).
•    University of Kansas, Law and Organizational Economics Center (LOEC) begun in 1995 by Henry Butler  with a $1,000,000 grant from the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation (see section on Henry Butler below).
•    International Judicial Academy which provides seminars for judges on the International level.

These seminars are a way for ALEC’s corporate members and contributors to assist the cabal’s pursuit of influencing judges to render pro-corporate decisions on important issues and cases.  Another concern is the fact that one or more of our sitting Supreme Court Justices have attended seminars organized or held by these groups and openly favor corporate interests – as witnessed by the decision in Citizens United.

This latest case involving the ADA and 32 mentally disabled workers being cruelly treated by their employer, the outcome of the ALEC/Koch cabal’s pursuit of writing our laws is high-lighted.  Telling our judges how to rule in individual cases through the use of amicus briefs after wining and dining them at plush resorts and indoctrinating them in conservative based ideology – has been successful for the cabal.

Today this cabal is busy privatizing the USPS, public schools, buying up newspapers and media outlets.  No doubt as more and more legal challenges erupt from these activities pursuing control of the media, labor, wages and upcoming model legislation, our courts will be tasked with determining the legality of those pursuits.  Already courts are now busy deciding key cases involving voter ID laws, immigration laws, second amendment challenges and the legality of new laws privatizing our schools.

With friendly judges, cooperating lawmakers and greedy corporations working hand in hand, American consumers, voters and workers are completely compromised.  Unless and until Americans say enough is enough this will continue with corporate owners, investors and politicians reaping the rewards at our expense.  Please join us in abolishing this cabal and returning our country to a country of the people – instead of a growing corporatocracy…

ALEC’s War on Workers

ALEC’s War on Workers

By James P. Hoffa on Huffington Post…

Finally the Teamsters and other unions are beginning to “get it”…

Corporations are upping the ante in their attempt to take control of the political process. Under the guise of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s most powerful are drafting legislation that is appearing in statehouses across the country. And the target is not just union members, but the entire middle class.

Funded in large part by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, ALEC is casting a wide net as it attempts to empower CEOs while undermining democracy. ALEC wants to make it harder for workers to contribute to political campaigns and causes. They want to alter telecommunications laws so that large phone companies can increase consumer costs while reducing consumer protections. They want gut public education by cutting student funding and implementing a voucher system. These are but a small sampling of ALEC’s work across the country.

Read the full Hoffa article on Huff Post -> HERE <-