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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!

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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.

It’s been a big week for climate change. Here’s a roundup of the news in case you’ve had trouble keeping up:

Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted a UN Summit on climate change in New York, convening leaders in government, business, finance and civil society to “galvanize and catalyze climate action.” The idea was that world leaders would announce major new initiatives. To some extent it was a success, although it didn’t prompt major announcements from the U.S. or China, the 800-pound carbon emitters in the room.

President Barack Obama spoke at the summit, urging aggressive action, particularly from China. He announced an executive order requiring federal agencies to “factor climate resilience” into foreign aid and development decisions. Regarding major actions on climate change, he simply referred to the EPA’s proposed rule to curb carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, which Public Citizen strongly supports and seeks to strengthen. He also noted that the U.S. is on target to meet its pledge to cut emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. For its part, China said it would try to peak its carbon emissions “as early as possible.”

Just last week, the U.S. made two other announcements:

  • The Department of Energy proposed a rule that would require hotels to use more efficient heating and cooling equipment. The rule could reduce carbon emissions by 11.29 metric tons, which is like taking 2.3 million cars off the road. It’s also another example of how climate change policy makes good economic sense. DOE estimates that the rule would cost businesses up to $9.39 million per year but save them up to $13.1 million per in energy costs. Those benefits are in addition to $7.2 million annual savings from reduced carbon emissions.
  • The White House announced that it secured voluntary commitments from some large chemical manufacturers and retailers to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, more quickly than the law requires. This is an important development, as HFCs are 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing climate change.

There were several other important developments around the summit as well:

  • The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate issued a blockbuster report concluding that stopping climate change might not cost us anything. The crux of the analysis: Over the next 15 years, we’ll spend $90 trillion on new infrastructure world-wide anyway. Ambitious measures to combat climate change would add just 5% to that figure. When you factor in the benefits – like better public health from reduce air pollution – the measures will likely be net-positive for the economy.
  • New York City announced a major plan to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, which will set the city on target to curb its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. That’s the reduction that the UN has said industrialized countries must make to prevent catastrophic climate change.
  • The World Bank announced that 73 countries, 22 states, and over 1,000 businesses have pledged support for putting a price on carbon. The list includes the European Union and China, but not the U.S. It doesn’t provide any specifics on what anyone will do. Nor is it legally binding. But it’s a start.
  • The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, originally launched with Standard Oil money, led 180 institutions and hundreds of individuals in announcing that they will divest $50 billion in assets from fossil fuels.
  • Over 340 institutional investors worldwide that control at least $34 trillion in assets called on governments to put a price on carbon.
  • Google announced that it would sever ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) because of the group’s opposition to sound climate change policy. “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place,” Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said. “And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.” Public Citizen pointed out that by the same reasoning, Google should leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well. Facebook soon announced that it too was leaving ALEC.

Ahead of the UN Summit, over 300,000 – and possibly as many as 400,000 – people joined the People’s Climate March in New York City. It was the largest climate demonstration in history, shattering the organizers’ goal of 100,000 participants. In addition to the march in New York, activists held 2,808 other events in 166 countries.

We also learned some bad news last week:

  • The Global Carbon Project reported that greenhouse emissions grew by 2.3 percent in 2013, demonstrating that we still have a long way to go in fighting climate change. We need to start moving in the opposite direction, quickly.
  • This past August was the hottest in recorded history. May and June also set new records, and April tied the record set in 2010.

So we have our work cut out for us. But we can solve this problem – and evidence is mounting that stopping climate change will benefit consumers and the economy, not hurt us. We just need to convince our governments to act. You can start by telling the EPA that you support its proposal to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Google’s 2014 annual shareholder meeting attracted what may have been the largest protest ever on its Silicon Valley campus, and an acknowledgement by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt that shareholders are loudly calling for more political spending transparency, as well as a promise to come up with an answer.

Public Citizen organized with a range of groups including Forecast the Facts, Eviction Free San Francisco, and Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) to rally with more than 100 people on Wednesday afternoon in Mountain View, California.

Sam Jewler at Google Protest

Sam Jewler speaks at a protest outside of Google’s shareholder meeting in Mountain View, CA.

Then Sam Jewler of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch entered Google’s shareholder meeting with Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management, who officially introduced the shareholder proposal calling on Google to disclose more about its political spending.

The proposal earned a 24 percent vote – which sounds small, but executives own all but 38 percent of the vote. That means almost two-thirds of voting shareholders supported the political spending disclosure resolution.

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Note: This post originally appeared in The Hill’s Congress Blog.

There is a vast and dangerous imbalance of transparency in Google’s relationship with the American people. The company, which has a $395 billion market capitalization value – the second largest after Apple –  can see our Internet searches, our inboxes, our contacts, our instant messages, our use of maps to get around, our shared documents, and more. “No one knows as much about its customers as Google,” said the chief executive of Europe’s largest newspaper publisher recently. In fact, Google’s business model relies on collecting as much information as possible about its users and selling it to advertisers, which then follow us around the Internet, peddling their wares with an eerie omniscience.

Compare Google’s all-seeing position with how little we know about what the tech giant is spending to influence our government. We know Google is providing what it calls “substantial contributions” to at least 39 trade associations and membership organizations, including extreme right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which pours tens of millions of dollars into election ads, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which writes and lobbies for conservative legislation. But we don’t know how much funding it provides them, or to what ends – which is the ultimate definition of dark money.

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