Posts Tagged ‘Common Cause’

"Public Citizen Lady Liberty"This week, we will present our take on the proposed Cap One-ING merger (hint: we have concerns that this would create another too-big-to-fail institution). An announcement from the Federal Reserve is due soon. Watch this space for more.

Also today, we will be giving you details about our petition drop at Starbucks headquarters. Late last Friday, Public Citizen activists submitted more than 15,000 signatures to Starbucks, demanding the company stop requiring gift card customers to give up their right to go to court. The terms of service of the coffee giant’s prepaid cards contain a forced arbitration clause and class-action ban that unfairly restricts its customers’ legal rights.

Speaking of petition drops, we will be joining folks from CALPRIG and Common Cause today to deliver more than 10,000 signatures to a California Assembly member calling on the state legislature to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. That’s the one that let corporations spend as much as they want to influence elections.

Also today, we are urging everyone to tell the Senate not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. A vote is scheduled for tomorrow, and Public Citizen is joining with other organizations to help generate 500,000 emails to senators in 24 hours. Make your voice heard on this critical issue!

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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!

Today’s Flickr photo:

Flickr photo by Common_Cause

If you read one thing today…

When U.S. Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas weighed in on the controversial Citizens United decision a year ago this week, lending their voices to the majority to give corporations a green light to spend unlimited amounts of money in our elections, they may have acted in a gross conflict of interest. (Color us surprised.)

Turns out the justices stood to benefit from the decision. They both have ties to Charles and David Koch, wealthy brothers who fund an array of conservative causes, and have both attended “retreats” held by Koch Industries, which spent $2.5 million in last year’s elections. (Thomas’ wife, Ginny, also ran a nonprofit group that benefited greatly from the Citizens United decision.)

Public Citizen ally Common Cause alleges that because of these connections, Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves when SCOTUS took up Citizens United. Common Cause filed a petition yesterday with the Department of Justice to look into the potential conflict.

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