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This is a post from Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People Campaign, co-authored by Legal Fellow Sean Siperstein and campaign Intern Nima Shahidinia. Get involved, and follow @RuleByUs on Twitter for more information!

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held its national convention at a plush resort in Scottsdale, Arizona this past week. The little-known, but extremely influential corporate-backed membership organization and policy clearinghouse for state legislators was met with inspired counterprotests by a diverse array of activists. Demonstrators included Occupy Phoenix, members of the Tohono O‘Odom Nation, and a number of labor unions and other community groups (both national and local).

ALEC Protest, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 29, 2011. Sign reads "American Legislators Exemplifying Corruption." Flickr image via Mentamark.

Why the fuss, and why such a broad-based opposition? Part of it stems from the fact that ALEC– as a new report by Common Cause and People for the American Way documents—has an unparalleled level of influence over top legislators in Arizona in particular, and essentially wrote a wide array of legislation in that state. This impact includes the state’s infamous SB1070 immigration law, efforts to privatize of prisons, and attacks on workers’ rights, environmental protections, and public education.

Another important fact the report highlights: the 22 corporations on ALEC’s “Private Enterprise Board” have spent over $16 million on influencing Arizona state elections over the past decade. Overall– as documented by the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed project– ALEC receives 98% of its funding from corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations. Each corporate member pays between $2500 and $25,000 a year in annual fees, and many corporations provide direct grants.

This is truly illuminating and worth highlighting because, as last month’s landmark IRRC report on corporate campaign spending and transparency documented, one large gap between what major corporations (including ALEC’s funders) claim they spent on “political activity” and what they actually spent occurs in the realm of state politics. Additionally, it’s often most difficult to track and quantify corporate influence in state elections due to lower disclosure requirements.

In other words, taking this all together, Citizens United only paves the way for more spending and influence in states like Arizona– sometimes through direct advocacy for candidates via shadowy means like SuperPACs– by ALEC’s corporate membership.

In light of Common Cause’s findings in this and other reports and ALEC’s track record– which also has included legislators receiving paid-for, plush vacations that they could not otherwise afford, ranging from family getaways to adult entertainment—the implications for the organization’s leverage over elected officials are, to say the least, troubling.

In Arizona and across the country, this means narrow benefits for corporations that own and build private prisons, threaten the environment for short-term gain, and oppose workers’ rights, but overall damage to longer-term foundations for progress and to individual citizens’ health and civil rights. In other words, it’s the exact kind of subversion of democracy by self-interested factious interests that the Constitution’s framers wished to guard against in constructing a system where the voice and individual rights of We the People ideally took precedence.

The solution, for the sake of our democracy and for all of the critical issues where ALEC is distorting it in a regressive way, is the bold but necessary one that the Democracy is For People campaign exists to help mobilize. We must organize, but not just merely against ALEC and its funders, but for reclaiming our Constitution and our democracy from the warped logic that somehow places corporate “rights” to influence elections at the heart of the American creed.

On January 21, 2011—the 2 year anniversary of Citizens United—Americans around the nation will be gathering in their town halls and public spaces to demand a constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United and curtails corporate dominance over elections.

We’ll have more here on Citizen Vox later this week on some of the amazing grassroots organizing going on across the nation to build for the National Day of Action. And meanwhile, it’s not too late to sign up to join us, your fellow citizens, and legendary Texas populist Jim Hightower for another nationwide round of organizing parties on Bill of Rights Day, December 15!

Stunning Statistics of the Week:

Despite millions spent on ads, public funding wasn’t triggered in Wisconsin race
Millions of dollars were spent on ads in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, but because they weren’t “express advocacy” ads, the huge sums didn’t trigger the state’s public funding mechanism. The public money was "Public Citizen Money and Democracy Update"supposed to be available if special interest groups attacked. Meanwhile, it looks as though some of the money that came from outside groups can be traced back to the Koch brothers.

Boehner blasted for fundraising despite looming government shutdown
The government might shut down, and you are a key player in the negotiations to stop it from happening – or getting things up and running if a shutdown occurs. So do you cancel that fundraiser, which is so inconveniently timed? Not if you are House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner is being blasted for not cancelling the event, scheduled for Saturday night, at which donors will have to cough up $250 to attend, $2,500 to get a photo with Boehner and $5,000 for a special VIP meet and greet.

Home Depot shareholders may get say on company’s political spending
People who own stock in Home Depot will vote on whether they can have a say over the company’s political spending, the Securities and Exchange Commission has decided. The SEC sent a letter to Home Depot in response to that company’s attempt to keep a shareholder resolution on corporate spending off a proxy statement. Likely other companies will see keep this in mind when putting their proxy ballots together.

Public financing of elections bill reintroduced
Standing alongside actor Alec Baldwin, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) this week reintroduced the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill that would give public money to congressional candidates who decline to take huge corporate donations but instead rely on small donations from voters. Public Citizen sent a letter of support, saying, “At no time in history has a strong congressional public financing program been so sorely needed – and so demanded by the American public.”

Meanwhile … Obama likely to forgo public financing
Once again, it appears that President Barack Obama is going to run a presidential campaign without tapping into the public financing system. In fact, experts predict that no candidate will use the public funds for the general election.

Strip club visit, improper reimbursements uncovered in Fiesta Bowl investigation
A $1,200 visit to a strip club, a $30,000 birthday party, improper reimbursement of more than $46,000 campaign expenditures to lawmakers including Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl – these are some of the problems identified by details by a panel investigating potential campaign finance violations of Fiesta Bowl executives. As a result, the president of the Fiesta Bowl has been fired. McCain has donated the contributions to charity.

Money in judicial races is harming integrity, lawyers say
More money than ever is being poured into judicial races, and that is having a detrimental effect on judicial independence and integrity, according to a new report from DRI, an organization of corporate defense attorneys. They recommend more disclosure of who pays for attack ads and disqualification of judges who receive too much money.

Paul, recipient of coal money, leery of new coal miner protections
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) isn’t sold on the need for more protections for coal miners. That shouldn’t be too surprising given that his campaign benefited from millions of dollars of expenditures from the coal industry.

Visit DemocracyIsForPeople.org to learn more! And make sure you don’t miss the latest,  subscribe to receive the Money & Democracy Update weekly email.

Shareholder meeting season is upon us!

I know, Public Citizen is known for watch-dogging corporations not investing in them.

But this is the time of year that the Corporate Reform Coalition (a coalition Public Citizen chairs) gears up to do some serious protesting outside of company meetings (and to ask tough questions inside the meetings too.)

Corporate cash in elections corrupts our public officials and thwarts important progressive reforms by spreading misinformation and drowning out the voices of average people.  The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the power to change this.  Until they act, we’ll be joining with shareholders who are fed-up with the lack of transparency and who are striking back with resolutions and rallies to pressure companies to do the right thing themselves. With those things in mind we picked a couple of big corporations this year that stood out as uniquely deserving of activist anger for their meddling in our democracy and our lives.

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Last Wednesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted an event called Shifting Tides: Worker Centers and a New Model of Representation, a live-streamed symposium to inform representatives from industry and government about how worker centers are empowering workers and communities, in an effort to coordinate weakening these centers’ ability to impact business practices. The event was put on by the Chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative. Apparently, companies hiding behind the veil of the Chamber and other business associations like the Orwellian-named Workforce Fairness Institute are the only voices qualified to decide what constitutes freedom and fairness in the workplace.

Out of the four guest speakers at Wednesday’s event, only one could be traced back to a specific company, and only from earlier in his career: Joe Kefauver, formerly an executive of Walmart and Darden Restaurants – both targets of worker center campaigns that educate the public about poor treatment of employees. Kefauver now heads Parquet “How do We Challenge the Social Justice Narrative?” Public Affairs, which is tied to another anonymous corporate front group, Worker Center Watch, and is a member of ALEC. The other guests included George Washington University Professor Jarol Manheim, who has a long history of opinions that favor of employers over union interests and who recently wrote a report for the Chamber; Stefan J. Marculewicz, a corporate lawyer; and Brian E. Hayes, a former Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board who once made the unprecedented threat to quit the NLRB so that it wouldn’t be able to achieve quorum.

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The weekend of January 19, 2013, will mark an incredible confluence of events. As a nation, we will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., inaugurate President Obama to a second term and reach the third anniversary of the disastrous "MOney Out Voters In" Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling by the Supreme Court.

We can’t think of a better time to stand up for the power of real people in our democracy.


In 2010, after Citizens United, a tidal wave of corporate money was funneled through super PACs and secretive front-groups to elect an obstructionist Congress and regressive state legislatures. Through gerrymandering, voter ID laws, registration restrictions and other tactics, often based on model bills from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporate-backed politicians sought to secure their own power against democratic accountability.

In 2012, an unprecedented $6 billion was spent to influence the presidential, Senate, and House elections, mostly coming from just a handful of corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals. Small wonder, then, that everyday Americans feel their voices aren’t heard in Washington and Congress continues to slide to all-time low approval ratings.

We want our democracy back. We want to get money out of politics and restore and expand voting rights.

That’s why on January 19 and the surrounding days, hundreds of local activists, with support from Public Citizen and an amazing coalition of organizations, will be participating in a nationwide action to educate our friends and neighbors, rally our communities and demand action from our representatives. We want you to lend your voice in any way you can: click here to find a Money Out, Voters In event near you!

While we continue to build this movement from the ground up, action is still needed at the top. On February 13, President Obama will deliver the first State of the Union address of his new term. He has expressed support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and yet in this past election he played along with the super PAC game.  Now is the time for him to put the full weight of his office behind the effort to get big money out of politics. Sign the official White House petition asking President Obama to use the State of the Union address to call on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that will restore democracy for We the People.

To be a part of this historic weekend of Money Out / Voters In events, click here.  Learn more about Public Citizen’s work in this movement and join the millions who have already signed the petition to overturn Citizens United by clicking here.

Dan Mayer is Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign legal fellow. Follow our efforts to pass an amendment to get money out, voters in!” on Twitter: @RuleByUs and #MoneyOutVotersIn or #Democracy4Sale.

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