Koch Family Foundations

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…

Richard Fink: The Koch Brothers’ Big Tobacco Man Behind the Kochtopus Curtain

Richard Fink has long been one of the Koch Brothers’ inner circle, playing the role of both political strategist and close confidante.
Richard FinkSome say the Koch Empire wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without Fink. Without him and his ideas, what is now pejoratively known as the “Kochtopus” probably would not have branched so far into research or political advocacy.
kochtopusBut relatively few people have heard of Richard Fink. And even fewer know of his connections to Big Tobacco – connections which may have influenced the creation and actions of Koch-funded front groups for decades to come.

With the Kochs’ support, Fink established the Mercatus Center in 1980, and then co-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) in 1984, where he served as President and CEO. Later, Fink helped found Americans for Prosperity to succeed CSE in 2004.

Fink sits on the board of the Institute for Humane Studies and is the former President of two Koch Family Foundations. Further, he has served as the Executive Vice-President of Koch Industries since 1989.

The Koch Brothers are best known as a key funder behind the climate denial machine and for their political attacks on President Barack Obama, as Jane Mayer exposed in her must-read New Yorker article.

The Kochs have donated over $25 million to front groups that attack climate science, create doubt and confusion among the public, and otherwise delay accountability for polluters.

Americans for Prosperity has campaigned against efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and amplified the “Climategate” attack on scientists, calling global warming the “biggest hoax the world has ever seen.”

But the Koch front groups’ involvement in the tobacco industry has gone largely unreported.

In 1999, the major tobacco companies were accused of a mass conspiracy to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking. The United States Department of Justice filed a racketeering lawsuit against major cigarette manufacturers, and sought $280 billion in penalties.

To combat this, Big Tobacco called on its allies for support – including the Mercatus Center and Citizens for a Sound Economy – both created by Richard Fink.

THE MOBILIZATION UNIVERSE

In a document called “Mobilization Universe,” as seen on the Tobacco Archives, Philip Morris laid out a plan to call on its allies. The goal: avert White House filing of the federal suit.

Its plan was to leverage third-party relationships to “oppose DOJ appropriations request for federal suit task force, oppose federal legislation enabling cause of action against the industry, and persuade the Administration and Senate and House Democrats of the political liability in a federal suit.”

Philip Morris laid out its key targets and key message points, examples of which include “Assumption of risk,” “Money grab,” and “Bad for Gore and Senate and House Democrats in 2000.” The document calls for third-party surrogates to write op-eds, LTEs and editorials, give speeches or testimonies, create policy reports, join coalitions, and provide access to policymakers, to name several.

CSE and the Mercatus Center were documented as allies several years before that, as well. In 1991, both CSE and Mercatus were part of a portfolio of organizations Philip Morris had cultivated to support its interests during a federal suit. Many other Koch-funded organizations were also included in this list, including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

A HISTORY OF ALLIANCE

For several years, Fink acted on behalf of Big Tobacco using tactics laid out in their mobilization strategy – dating back from 1985, when he wrote federal representatives urging them to eliminate the US Tobacco Program. In a hand-signed letter, he wrote:

“Dear Representative: On behalf of the 220,000 members of Citizens for a Sound Economy, I urge you to consider the heavy costs of the U.S. tobacco program, and the enormous benefits to consumers and taxpayers which would result from the elimination of that program.”

The elimination of the tobacco tax bill would have lined the pockets of Big Tobacco CEOs, with less taxes and easier access for farmers to grow tobacco. Fink aligned not only himself but the entire membership of CSE with the interests of Big Tobacco.

In 1988, Fink wrote to the Surgeon General to express concern about the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health’s inquiries into the subject of tobacco and U.S. trade policy. He warned that it would be unwise to suggest any foreign trade barriers, ending, “we hope that you will keep these thoughts in mind as your department discusses U.S. trade policy toward tobacco.” This letter was tracked down by the Checks & Balances Project in the Tobacco Archives, with an addendum from Samuel Chilcote – President of The Tobacco Institute – urging others to follow Fink’s lead and support.

For Fink’s efforts, Chilcote thanked Fink in a hand-signed letter on behalf of the tobacco industry, writing, “When an advisory body such as the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health ventures into the field of U.S. trade policy, it is vitally important that the public record be balanced by the sound economic views and sensible business judgments that you provided.”

A LEGACY OF LOBBYING

In 1988, Fink testified on behalf of CSE to the National Economic Commission, urging them to avoid tax increases – increases that would have negatively impacted Big Tobacco’s profits.

Under Fink’s guidance, CSE participated in coalitions and partnered with other tobacco front groups, honing the dirty public relations tactics employed today by the Kochtopus Empire to delay action on combating climate change.

CSE joined the “Coalition for Fiscal Restraint” (COFIRE) in 1988, along with Koch Industries and Philip Morris. This is the only coalition in which Koch Industries represented itself as a corporation, rather than through its myriad front groups.

CSE also took part in “Get Government Off Our Back,” the front group created in 1994 by RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company to fight federal regulation of the tobacco industry. Its involvement in this group was kept in strict confidence until eventually made public via the Tobacco Archives. During this time, CSE was funded to the tune of at least $400,000 by the tobacco industry for its efforts to limit government regulation.

In 1998, CSE lobbied against California’s Proposition 10, an amendment to raise tobacco taxes in the Sunshine State. Members of CSE wrote letters to legislators and put forth a pledge to vote no. Ultimately, the effort “went up in smoke” and Prop 10 passed.

In 2004, Citizens for a Sound Economy split into two groups, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and FreedomWorks.

Richard Fink continued to lead Americans for Prosperity as President, and the tobacco lobbying efforts continue under the smoke of a new banner.

The most recent AFP pro-tobacco effort occurred this past summer, when it campaigned to oppose CA’s Proposition 29. If Prop 29 had passed, it would have increased tobacco taxes and directed the money raised from taxes towards cancer research – insidious given the Koch Brothers’ support for cancer research at places like MIT.

AFP, along with the tobacco industry, spent around $40 million to defeat Prop 29, mostly on anti-Prop 29 television ads.  During that campaign, AFP was also part of a broader coalition of tobacco and anti-tax groups. According to maplight.com, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds bankrolled almost the entire campaign.

The arguments made against Prop 29 were very similar to those made by Citizens for a Sound Economy in 1998 when it unsuccessfully campaigned against CA Prop 10.

This was not AFP’s first attempt to shill for Big Tobacco.

In 2006 AFP campaigned to oppose tobacco tax increases in several different states – South Dakota, Texas, Kansas, and Indiana. For their work in South Dakota, AFP received money from US Smokeless Tobacco, Retail Tobacco Dealers of America, and Tobacco Warehouse of Rapid City. It also opposed taxes in Texas, Kansas, and Indiana. The following year, in 2007, AFP campaigned to oppose Texas’ smoking ban in indoor workplaces.

Finally, in 2009, AFP and Philip Morris were both asked to react to Virginia’s smoking ban, in an email from Karen Corriere of Altria Group, Inc. (the parent company of Philip Morris). Unsurprisingly, both voiced their opposition quickly. Americans for Prosperity reacted in full, hiring a company to make tens of thousands of calls to the offices of Virginia legislators, pressuring them to vote against the ban.

FISCAL TIES TO BIG TOBACCO

Throughout the years, the alliances were tied together in one of the most politically influential ways – money. The following is just a sample Big Tobacco’s money trail:

  • In 1987, Roger Ream – Vice President of CSE – wrote to the Tobacco Institute asking for funding. Given their alliance, it is likely they achieved their goal.
  • For its participation in the “Get Government Off Our Backs” (GGOOB) campaign, CSE received $400,000 in 1994 from RJ Reynolds and other tobacco corporations.
  • In 1996, CSE requested a funding increase of $500,000 from Philip Morris. Due to the handwritten “OK $500,000” at the top of the letter, this was almost definitely approved.
  • In 1999, Beth Stevens of CSE wrote to Kirk Blalock of Philip Morris requesting $100,000 in funds to support their efforts “to fight increased government spending, taxes, and regulation.”
  • In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the Mercatus Center received public policy grants from Phillip Morris: $10,000 in 1999, and $20,000 in 2000. CSE received a total of $520,000 in 1999.
  • In 2000, in a memo to Philip Morris, CSE requested two million dollars to lead the opposition against tax increases and a Medicare suit to fund “big government” initiatives. The plan: “CSE will develop and run print, radio, and television advertising inside the Beltway and in targeted states. They will generate letters and phone calls to Congress from constituents. CSE will also educate Members of Congress and their staffs by preparing and distributing policy papers, conducting congressional education events, and meeting directly with offices.”

HOW DOES FINK TIE INTO ALL THIS?

Richard Fink first formed his alliance with Big Tobacco in 1985 when he urged legislators to eliminate the Tobacco program. But his value to the tobacco industry only increased with time, much like Dick Armey’s did at FreedomWorks.

As Fink gained more influence and power, his relationship with the tobacco industry tightened. When asking the Tobacco Institute for funding, Roger Ream of CSE wrote: “Recently, our president, Richard H. Fink, was appointed to the Consumer Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve and to the Department of Transportation’s Amtrak Privatization Commission. This further enhances CSE’s credibility and effectiveness on these issues.”

From the beginning, Fink’s position in the government was used as a selling point to earn funding support from Big Tobacco, exemplifying CSE’s ability to reduce taxes and fight government regulation.

Richard Fink came to the Koch brothers in 1977 to urge them to turn their libertarian ideals and love of “free markets” into political advocacy. In 2009, he advised them to do everything in their power to change the course of the 2012 election.

The Koch Brothers and their allies have funded attacks on climate science, attacked clean energy and stifled the green debate via an army of front groups. Lo and behold, they also worked with Big Tobacco to stop common-sense regulations and public health measures on smoking. In fact, fighting the tobacco file helped them to hone the playbook they would continue to use to fight against accountability for polluting the atmosphere, harming their workers and fenceline communities, and subverting participatory democracy.

Just as the severe health risks of tobacco are no longer up for debate, neither should be the reality of climate change, though the “Merchants of Doubt” shilling for a killing have – in a self-serving manner – maintained a façade of “controversy” over the issue for decades.

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This article is posted at The Checks and Balances Project  (Holding government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public) and may be seen at http://checksandbalancesproject.org/2013/01/31/richard-fink-the-koch-brothers-big-tobacco-man-behind-the-kochtopus-curtain/

 

National Federation of Independent Business–great another member of the Cabal

The NFIB is currently the lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case NFIB v. Sebelius challenging President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform legislation in its entirety. The suit is being brought forward by the NFIB’s legal arm, the Small Business Legal Center. The NFIB legal arm’s advisory board includes Wendy Lee Gramm, who founded the Mercatus Center‘s Regulatory Studies Program at George Mason University and C. Boyden Gray, a former White House Counselor during the Bush Administration who helped found the Federalist Society. [19] Both the Mercatus Center and the Federalist Society are funded by the Koch Family Foundations.

The NFIB is a private-sector member of ALEC and has had representatives on the ALEC Civil Justice Task Force, Health and Human Services Task Force and Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force.

To read up on more about NFIB, please click here

There is also an excellent article from Brendan Fischer at PR Watch – Who is Bankrolling the Fight Against Obamacare, which you can read by clicking here that talks about NFIB.

And just check out the list of tags to this article.  These guys are involved with a lot of right wing Cabal organizations