sex trafficking

Latest ALEC Material, Articles and Activities…

Latest ALEC Material, Articles and Activities…

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Texas Attorney General Rebuffs ALEC’s Effort to Declare Itself Immune From Open Records Law

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

“MADISON — Texas Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued an Open Records Letter Ruling rejecting an effort by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to declare itself immune from the state’s public records law, after the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas filed briefs in the matter. Texas is the first known state where ALEC has formally asked an Attorney General for an exemption from sunshine-in-government laws. ALEC’s extreme efforts to evade public records laws have relevance in every state in the country, including Wisconsin, where CMD is separately litigating a case against Sen. Leah Vukmir, ALEC’s Treasurer, for her failure to disclose documents sent from ALEC to legislators.

“We applaud Texas’ commitment to open government and for rejecting ALEC’s astounding scheme to keep its communications with legislators secret,” said Brendan Fischer, CMD’s General Counsel. “We hope that Attorneys General in states across the country will similarly put the interests of the public and its right to know ahead of the interests of special interest lobbying organizations.”

“The Open Records Letter Ruling from the Attorney General’s office rejected the claim from ALEC’s Washington, D.C.-based attorneys that disclosure of the organization’s communications with legislators would burden its “freedom of association” rights. The Ruling was issued September 25 and released today…”

Is the WI Legislature Above the Open Records Law?

“MADISON, Wis. – The Center for Media and Democracy has sued Republican State Sen. Leah Vukmir under the state’s Open Records Law to obtain correspondence she had with The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a shadowy organization that works with corporations and conservatives to write model legislation.

“Vukmir and Republican State Attorney General J.B. VanHollen said she does not have to comply when the legislature is in session, which now is almost constantly.

“President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council Bill Lueders has a different view.

“We respectfully disagree with the position taken by the Attorney General. It’s highly unlikely that the legislative intent was to immunize lawmakers from civil action,” Lueders said…”

Rep. Chris Taylor: In ALEC’s underworld, democracy is a burden

“Entrance to the 40th anniversary conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council was tightly controlled. But I had become a member, paid the $575 registration fee, and produced the required identification. For two days in August, I submerged myself in the ALEC underworld. Though I had witnessed the ALEC agenda in our own state, from the attack on workers’ rights and gutting of fair employment laws to the promulgation of right-to-kill bills, I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the extent of ALEC’s infestation of American policy decisions.

ALEC is a menage a trois of wealthy corporations, conservative think tanks and right-wing state legislators that, over the past four decades, has birthed a political machine plowing through state legislatures. All across America, statehouses are passing ALEC model bills to maximize corporate profits and domination at the expense of most people. As Wall Street Journal columnist and Club for Growth founder Stephen Moore” (also an ALEC ‘Scholar’)  summed up: “What we really need is more rich people.”

“ALEC’s primary purpose is to develop model bills on “free market” topics that legislative members advance in their states. State legislators, big corporations and conservative think tanks members form task forces in eight different issue areas to develop and adopt model bills that benefit corporate America. Many corporations, including ExxonMobil and Reynolds American, cough up money in exchange for task force membership. That corporate cash greases ALEC’s wheels  and provides “scholarships” for state legislators, who are wined and dined at ALEC corporate-sponsored receptions. Conservative think tanks provide the data and research, while state legislators are the foot soldiers, marching to a corporate drum to advance policies that maximize corporate profits…”

Why Is Google Working With A Group That Undermines Climate Change Laws

“Google has long been a champion for clean technology and good climate change policy. So why is it working with ALEC, an organization that tries to destroy pro-environment regulation?

“No one could accuse Google of ignoring climate change. For a time, the company pursued homegrown cleantech inventions, and lately has shifted to pouring investments into large renewable projects. Google’s top executives have even lobbied directly for climate and clean energy policies in the halls of Washington.

“This track record is exactly what climate advocates are holding against Google now that the search giant is reportedly working with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a powerful free-market lobbying group that has devoted itself recently to undermining state renewable energy and climate laws…”

Why Microsoft, eBay (And 650 Other Businesses) Are Calling for U.S. Climate Action

“NEW YORK CITY – Today’s new IPCC climate science report and the fast approaching first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy have policy leaders busy promising ways to curb global warming pollution and avoid future devastating storms.

“American corporations are no less busy when it comes to combating climate change. But in addition to internal strategies to curb energy use and climate-warming pollution, many are realizing they need to put pressure on state legislatures and members of Congress…”

“…Microsoft is another good example. Not only is the software giant an EPA-recognized leader in renewable energy purchasing, but also, its engineers are developing algorithms to shift data center computations to times when the share of renewable energy on the grid is highest, such as when wind velocities pick up. Microsoft has also adopted an internal fee on carbon, which should serve as a sign to legislators about business’ willingness to account for external costs.

Forward-thinking climate policies can only further improve the business case for companies like Microsoft. The software giant’s recognition that involving itself with groups that actively fight renewable energy policies is counterproductive to reaching its renewable energy goals. The company is changing its relationship with groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has tried unsuccessfully to roll back state renewable energy standards this year…”

Yelp! Joins ALEC Amidst Ongoing Criticism

‘The online review site Yelp! recently joined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a private sector member as at least 50 corporations and nonprofits have cut ties with organization. The controversial right wing organization is best known for promoting “Stand Your Ground” and voter ID laws, but are also connected to Arizona’s SB1070 and anti-union laws.

‘It has just been discovered that Yelp! paid ALEC at least $10,000 to join the organization on the same week as the Trayvon Martin case began, making the timing of their decision even more peculiar.

“As Colorlines previously reported, ALEC has consistently disregarded the racial implications of the legislation they promote, most notably the “Stand Your Ground” law that was pivotal in the Trayvon Martin case. ALEC and Yelp! have joined forces to promote anti-SLAAP laws (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which are often used to intimidate people making statements on public forums.

“There is a new website for people who want to encourage Yelp! to stop working with ALEC.”

Shareholder Activists More Goliath than David (Pro ALEC & Pro Corporate Article)

“When graying cohorts of nuns, priests, clergy and other religious proxy shareholders hitched their wagon to the Center for Political Accountability’s crusade against Citizens United and corporate political spending, it was reported by most news sources as cute and endearing. After all, it’s a bit of the David v. Goliath scenario playing out as the faith-based underdogs take on companies with sinister motives and deep pockets full of “dark money” which they spread around to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican candidates and other bêtes noires of the left.

If one reads the media reports following the release this week of the 2013 “CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Policy Accountability and Disclosure” you’d think little David scored big-time with a single stone fired from CPA’s sling at the corporate American Goliath. Well . . . yes. And no. Yes, in that some companies capitulated to CPA and proxy shareholders for more transparency. No, in that many other companies held fast to privacies guaranteed by Citizens United despite the onslaught of proxy resolutions submitted by a matrix of leftist organizations, which includes the nominally religious-based investment groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility. Little David is indeed far more of a Goliath than the general public has been led to believe…”

Today’s top opinion: Rock the boat

“I’m offended by what’s happening in Richmond today,” said Del. Kenneth Plumat a Reston town hall recently. The veteran legislator is, like just about everyone else, in high dudgeon over the seamy underbelly of the gift culture that has been exposed byGov. Bob McDonnell’s travails. (The Times-Dispatch will host a Public Square about cleaning up state government Oct. 8.)

“But, like just about everyone else in state political circles, Plum laments a problem partly of his own making – and taking. Over the years, he has accepted plenty of swag: a trip to Turkey, tickets to Kings Dominion, dinners, shows, and more. Yet Plum has hauled in much less than other lawmakers. House Speaker Bill Howell, for instance, routinely benefits from the generosity of groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), law-enforcement associations, and the banking industry.

“The gift economy in state politics is bipartisan and pervasive. In January, for instance, theVirginia Hospitality and Travel Association gave gift baskets worth $202 to nearly 100 state lawmakers. A month later, Wawa gave every member of the General Assembly a cooler with books, a T-shirt, coffee cup, coffee and coupons. This might help explain why so many lawmakers have said so little about the governor’s involvement with, and failure to report gifts from, Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr. Nearly everyone lives in a glass house. As state Sen. Chap Petersen wrote in early August, “the political culture in Richmond . . . can be summed up in four simple words:  Don’t Rock the Boat…”

“It is encouraging to learn that Sen Scott Fitzgerald is once again a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). (JSOnline 9/23/13)

ALEC is a group that links politicians and mostly large corporations to write model legislation that can be introduced in legislatures throughout the country.

“According to the Center for Media and Democracy, in 2013 139 ALEC model bills to fund private and religious schools with taxpayer money were introduced throughout the nation.

“Other model bills aim to gut workers’ wage protection and benefits not to mention limit collective bargaining rights for folks who still have them.

“With Sen Fitzgerald getting his directions from out-of-state corporate interests that have the resources to buy his time and attention we can rest assured that he’s on the job and working for us.” 

(As most are aware, ALEC has worked behind the scene for years writing, developing, lobbying for and passing tough on crime legislation to incarcerate millions.  At the same time they wrote legislation to allow private corporations to capitalize off of incarceration via; private prisons, prison healthcare, commissary contracts, phone contracts, GPS monitoring and more…but now when non-ALEC legislation is proposed to crack down on sex advertising, they come out in opposition, fearing the financial impact upon internet companies who garner millions from such advertising):

“JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Top law enforcement officers across the country are pushing Congress for greater authority to go after a booming online industry that hosts ads for child sex traffickers. But they are encountering opposition from an unexpected source — conservative state lawmakers who fear a government clamp down on Internet businesses.

“The conflict highlights the difficulty of policing an online marketplace that has rapidly evolved under a generally hands-off approach by government.

“A coalition of conservative lawmakers and businesses has drafted a model resolution that could be considered next year in state capitols from coast to coast. The document, obtained by The Associated Press, urges Congress to deny state prosecutors the enforcement power they seek over the ads— warning that it could discourage investment in new Internet services…”

“…Advocates for online businesses said the legal change could force startup companies to keep track of thousands of specific state laws and could lead to government intrusion into other Internet areas.

Carl Szabo, the policy counsel at NetChoice, a trade association, outlined his concerns last month during a closed-door task force meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of conservative lawmakers and businesses that crafts model legislation for states. The organization carries particular sway with Republicans, who now control more than half the state legislatures.”

Fargo lawmaker at forefront of opposition to proposed beefed-up child sex ad law

‘FARGO — The role state Rep. Blair Thoreson, a Fargo Republican, serves with a national conservative group has him leading an effort to block a change in federal law to allow state prosecutors to go after websites that host ads for child sex trafficking.

‘Thoreson said Friday he’s concerned the proposal backed by numerous state attorneys general, including North Dakota’s, could have a “chilling effect” on Internet commerce.

The Fargo lawmaker is chairman of the Communications and Technology Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit alliance of conservative state legislators, businesses and foundations.

The task force recently approved a draft resolution asking Congress not to grant the request of attorneys general from across the country who want to be able to prosecute websites for hosting child sex ads under the Communications Decency Act of 1996…”

“…Thoreson said the draft resolution still needs approval from ALEC’s board of directors before it can be released as a model resolution for conservative lawmakers to introduce in state capitols across the country…”

US criminal justice system: Turning a profit on prison reform?

“Lobbying groups for commercial enterprises are hoping new sentencing laws would translate into higher profits.

“A little more than two million people in the United States – that’s one out of every 140 – are locked up, making the US the biggest jailer in the world.

“Some hope that this obscene rate of human incarceration might begin to decline as reform of mandatory sentencing laws is close at hand. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder denounced mandatory minimums and then backed up his words on September 19, with a directive to prosecutors to not apply mandatory sentences to low-level drug offenders. The day before, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimonies from advocates for sentencing reform urging the Committee to approve the Justice Safety Valve – a law that would restore sentencing discretion to judges.

“That legislation not only enjoys bipartisan support, but an endorsement from none other than ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC has even authored its own version of the Justice Safety Valve.”

“As others have pointed out, ALEC might seem like an unlikely ally to a bill that seeks to take the mandatory out of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. As the stewards of America’s two largest for-profit private prison corporations, ALEC – a so-called bill mill for “free-market” legislation – was a champion of many of the harshest sentencing laws passed throughout the 1990’s, including “truth-in-sentencing” and “three-strikes” laws. These laws locked judges into a rigid matrix of sentencing guidelines that have been one of the primary causes for the swollen numbers in federal and state prisons over the past two decades…”

Gaming the system

“But while ALEC’s endorsement of mandatory sentencing reform is appreciated, how and what “alternatives” it is inclined to promote requires scrutiny. Indeed, as early as 2011, the Justice Policy Institute portended the organisation’s likely shift away from increasingly unpopular mass incarceration policies, noting the organisation was in the process of establishing a backdoor infrastructure that would enable its members to reap financial gain whenever the policymaking winds changed – anticipating an eventual public revulsion at the spectacle of a mass prisoner population that seems, in some part, to have happened.

“In competition with private prisons are other industries which are coming up with solutions to reduce incarceration costs that will benefit them. For instance, a 2007 brief by ALEC recommended releasing people early from prison with conditional release bonds, similar to bail bonds, effectively setting up bonding companies as private parole agencies.”

“The report suggests, in other words, that there are plenty of other people happy to step in and make money off of an inevitable “reform”.

“For example, before the Public Safety and Elections Task Force was shut down in 2012, the American Bail Coalition (ABC) served as one of its executive members. Since 1993, ABC had cultivated such a reliable relationship with ALEC that in 2010 it called ALEC its “life preserver“. During its alliance with ALEC, ABC wrote at least 12 model bills. In 2007, ALEC and ABC proposed legislation that dressed itself up as a “solution” to prison overcrowding. The law would have allowed the early release of certain non-violent and juvenile offenders with the posting of a bond, thus providing its supporters – private bail agents – a new source of profit…”

 

What Happens in Vegas… Could Get You 10 Years to Life

Unpacking the proposed Nevada sex trafficking legislation (Part 1)

Why is a 39-page bill that criminalizes a whole lot of normal people being sold as a way to save the child sex slaves?

Well, saving the (white female) child sex slaves has proven to be a powerful narrative. After all, who is actually for sex trafficking of a minor, right? Only the most depraved among us. So, we must support this tough on crimes legislation. It’s a no-brainer to pass, no? NO. And herein lays the problem.

Is history repeating itself?

The historical link to the “white slavery” panic of the early 1900’s is hard to ignore. Prostitution in the U.S. was largely legal until changing women’s sexual norms led to a “white slavery” panic that resulted in the closing of brothels with the White-Slave Traffic Act, better known as the Mann Act in 1910. According to historian Mark Thomas Connelly, “a group of books and pamphlets appeared announcing a startling claim: a pervasive and depraved conspiracy was at large in the land, brutally trapping and seducing American girls into lives of enforced prostitution, or ‘white slavery.’” The reality was numerous young women were drawn into prostitution for “mundane” economic reasons. The ambiguous language of the Mann Act allowed selective prosecutions and was used to criminalize forms of consensual sexual behavior for many years.

Although human trafficking can be defined as being put in a situation of economic exploitation that you can’t get out of; rather than focusing on forced labor, servitude and slavery-like conditions, the trafficking framework has been used in selective ways. The general conception in the U.S. is that all human trafficking is sex trafficking. This conception developed because a crusade against prostitution attempted to conflate sex work with human trafficking, a claim for which there is no evidence, even according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

An executive summary of human trafficking put forth by the non-profit Center for Health and Gender Equity concludes that “conflating human trafficking with prostitution results in ineffective anti-trafficking efforts and human rights violations because domestic policing efforts focus on shutting down brothels and arresting sex workers, rather than targeting the more elusive traffickers.”

Misconceptions about the problem are fueled by sensationalized stories that’s simplicity in the child sex slave narrative makes them potent, haunting, and easy to mobilize around. Enforcement resources and investigations in the U.S. are going into a group of human trafficking task forces focusing almost entirely on commercial sex. It is a structure built on vice squads rather than labor investigators.

Some testimony to the legislature on sex trafficking bill AB67 (& related AB113) from the first hearing on Wednesday, February 20th provides an enlightening perspective.

Issue #1:  Vague and overly broad definitions—is our goal to put more people in prison?

From the Clark County Public Defender’s Office:

“The substantially increased penalties in Section 42 of AB67, including life sentences in some cases, are particularly concerning given the vagueness of the law. While nobody disagrees that a violent child sex trafficker deserves a lengthy prison term, the concern is that individuals will receive substantial prison terms that are not merited by their conduct … making it more serious than an attempt(ed) murder charge.”

“AB67 likely runs afoul of the vagueness doctrine, which holds that ‘[a] conviction fails to comport with due process if the statute under which it is obtained fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what is prohibited, or is so standardless that it authorizes or encourages serious discriminatory enforcement.’ U.S. v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 304 (2008). For example, the addition of the phrase ‘or other thing of value’ to the definition of prostitution in Section 8 could criminalize innocent conduct between persons in a committed relationship.”

“Furthermore, because there is no carve out for the legal prostitution that exists in Nevada, Nevadans are left to wonder whether they would be prosecuted under this statute for engaging in otherwise legal conduct, such as driving a legal sex worker to her place of employment. In addition, discriminatory enforcement by law enforcement is a strong possibility, especially because the vast majority of the prosecutions in Clark County arise out of law enforcement undercover sting operations that seem to disproportionately target African-American males. Simply stated, it is insufficient to leave it up to prosecutors and/or judges to determine what the law means and how it is to be applied.”

FACT: United Nations member states have recently mandated a study on the use of the “trafficking” framework. The concern is that due to opportunities lent by vagueness of definitions; the issue of trafficking has been sidetracked and used to further particular political agendas that often have little to do with protecting people from exploitation and abuse.

Issue #2: Where is the data and evidence of this huge scary problem?

At the February 2nd “From Prosecution to Empowerment” human trafficking conference at USC, Attorney Martina Vandenberg, founder of the pro bono organization Civil Justice: The Human Trafficking Legal Resource Center expressed: “In the field of human trafficking, I detest data because most of it is made up and bogus. It is really an appalling area.”

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto testified at the hearing and stated in the media that the Polaris Project, a national human trafficking organization out of Washington, DC that sent their policy director here to help write our state legislation, has identified a huge sex trafficking ring between Nevada and California that presumably runs from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Reno to Sacramento. Yet, when asked if there was evidence to back this claim Polaris Project’s Policy Program Director, Mary Ellison submitted this:

“In 2012, the NHTRC (National Human Trafficking Resource Center) Hotline received 174 calls from Nevada. Out of these calls, twenty-one (21) of them were classified as crisis calls, and forty-eight (48) of them were classified as tips from community members reporting suspected trafficking. The NHTRC had fourteen (14) cases from Nevada in 2012 that involved minors and had a total of forty-one (41) cases that had ‘high’ or ‘moderate’ indicia of human trafficking situations.”

Where is the evidence of the mass human trafficking ring? What happened to these cases and how many people were rescued or arrested?

The reality is there is no systematic state or local data on human trafficking. Furthermore, the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) community project that began to collect data on youth engaging in the sex trades in Las Vegas a couple years ago has been suspended for the past year. Previous studies completed in NYC and Atlantic City painted a portrait of youth who were rarely forced into the sex trades by a pimp trafficker, but rather homeless due to lack of a social safety net and participating in an informal economy of sex exchange for financial reasons. Street youth commonly report being abused more by the police than by pimps.

Issue #3: Who stands to benefit? Or follow the money (and motives)…

There is a lot of federal money available for anti-trafficking efforts in a time of austerity and sequestration when many budgets are being slashed. A little known fact is that the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) that just passed had the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) added to it as an amendment reauthorizing funding though 2017 after expiring at the end of 2011. The U.S. State Department’s definition of trafficking includes any person under 18 found to perform commercial sex and any commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion.

Law enforcement and non-profit rescue industry service providers work together in a closed loop network of funding. Where is the oversight and accountability for waste, fraud, or abuse to prevent corruption? According to a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General Michon Martin, oversight and accountability for the monetary beneficiaries of this legislation are “beyond the scope of this bill.” Hmmm….

Kids Caught in the Culture Wars: Is This Really about Protecting Youth?

Law Enforcement: Is this about Arrest Numbers?

Judge William Voy of Clark County District Court Family Division testified he would keep youth who were arrested for engaging in sex trades in a “controlled therapeutic setting where the children could not run from” or they would forcibly be returned by staff. It was unclear how long they would remain in the “safe house,” but he did indicate until prosecution and vice work with the child as a witness to develop testimony against their “perpetrators.” Does he realize the newly reauthorized TVPA “provides assurance that a minor victim of sex trafficking shall not be required to collaborate with law enforcement to have access to residential care or services provided with a grant under this section?”

The inclusion of all juvenile prostitutes as trafficked has presented obvious problems. U.S. research points out that only a minority fit the “forced by a third party” trafficking profile. There is a clear difference between juveniles who are forced into the sex industry by the sex slavery black market and juveniles who are homeless or living in abject poverty with no other recourse but to sell sexual services. Tying assistance to the identification of a pimp is often counterproductive and fails to help the victims who need it most.

Evangelical Non-Profits: Is this a Moral Crusade?

Lisa Thompson, liaison for the abolition of sexual trafficking for the Salvation Army, during a recent presentation at The Justice Conference stated: “Sex trafficking is a battle of ideas.” The Church in America too often does not do enough to address the ideology upon which sex trafficking is based – “an ideology that disassociates sex from love, responsibility and children.” Thompson explained: “One of the reasons sex trafficking is flourishing is that we, as a Church, do not do enough to address the ideology that disassociates sex from love.” She continued: “Sex is not work. God did not create any woman for the purpose, excuse me, that she be a cum receptacle.”

In her testimony to the Nevada legislature, Melissa Holland said that her organization in Reno, Awaken INC (“In the Name of Christ”) was in the process of getting both a safe house and transitional housing in place for the victims of sex trafficking. If religious education and activities are a compulsory aspect of the services provided to clients, I hope she realizes that could be a human rights violation. It would also go against separation of church and state, disqualifying them from receipt of federal funds for trafficking services. I have to agree, “I don’t think prayer is among the recognized best practices for fighting human trafficking.”

Where are the Real Solutions? Prevention Over Prison

Three simple steps to ending sex (and other labor) trafficking, exploitation, and abuse:

1) Stable sustainable wage income

2) Affordable long-term housing

3) Equitable education opportunities

The major driver of human rights abuses, including trafficking is vast economic inequality. Only rights can stop the wrongs.

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Cross posted from The Nevada View.

Written by Jennifer J. Reed, MA
PhD Student, Department of Sociology
University of Nevada, Las Vegas