BREAKING: South Carolina State Senator Ted Vick (D) Resigns from ALEC

SC State Rep. Boyd Brown

On Monday, April 23, 2012, State Rep. Boyd Brown of South Carolina sent an email to all SC state legislators in which he urged his fellow legislators to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Brown called ALEC a Koch-funded special interest group that wields too much power and causes legislators to neglect their constituents. Brown wrote that money continues to “be the cancer on the body politic, and with ALEC it has taken over.” He called “scholarships” through which ALEC funds legislators’ trips to conferences at fancy resorts a “pay-for-play scheme.” Brown’s plea had an effect. Today, April 24, South Carolina State Rep. Ted Vick (D) announced he is resigningfrom ALEC. In a public statement regarding his decision, Vick wrote in part, “Over the years, ALEC has steadily drifted to the right and away from its original purpose . . . I have found myself voting against their legislation more and more . . . Recent revelations concerning ALEC’s funding sources from radical elements

SC State Rep Ted Vick

have proven to be the final straw for me. ALEC has become too partisan and too extreme. . . . ALEC has become part of the problem and I can no longer be a member of this organization.” In press releases on its website, ALEC maintains that it has been the target of an organized intimidation campaign and harassment tactics carried out by “liberal front groups” that are simply attacking ALEC’s free market policies, without addressing any of issues raised by the groups regarding problems with the legislation ALEC has been spreading.

BP Ads Say Everything’s Great in the Gulf; Fisherman Report Sicknesses, Deformed Sea Life

Tumors on Gulf shrimp

Two years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is running ads on TV promoting tourism in the Gulf of Mexico. The ads say the seafood is great, the beaches are inviting and times have never been better down in the Gulf. But reports from people who live and fish in the Gulf aren’t so great. In fact, they’re scary. Fishermen report seeing wide-scale deformities in sea life, like shrimp without eyes, tumors on their heads, crabs with rotting shells and fish with sores on their bodies. One fisherman reported catching 400 pounds of eyeless shrimp. The harvest of brown shrimp has  decreased by two thirds and the white shrimp have been wiped out. Gulf families report that their children, who were well prior to the BP spill, now chronically suffer from diffuse illnesses, like inflamed sinuses, upset stomachs, rashes and allergies. Fishermen complain of  headaches, chronic cough, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhea, and bleeding from ears and nose — and they have no money to pay for medical care. Some are seeking enough money from BP to enable them to leave the Gulf coast for good.

Procter & Gamble is 13th Company to Dump ALEC

Procter and Gamble products

Procter and Gamble, makers of Tide clothing detergent, Dawn dish detergent, Bounty paper towels and other well-known products, has become the 13th company to flee the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) amid growing controversy over the group’s political operations. Procter and Gamble is the largest packaged goods company and advertiser in the U.S., and it joins twelve other major companies, including Kraft Foods, Intuit, Blue Cross, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola in opting not to renew its membership in ALEC for 2012. ALEC has been identified as a source spreading “Shoot First” laws, like the one that Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida brought into the spotlight, as well as school voucher bills, anti-immigrant bills like Arizona’s SB1070, and voter suppression laws that are sweeping across the country. A New York Times article reported that the good-government group Common Cause has filed an IRS complaint  about ALEC, saying ALEC functions as a lobby group despite its IRS designation as a charity. Federally-designated charitable groups are subject to sharp restrictions against lobbying under IRS rules.

Source: Talking Points Memo, April 23, 2012

Dow-Funded PBS TV Series Promotes Dow and Its Product Lines

A new, four-part PBS television show airing this month called “America Revealed” is sponsored by the Dow Chemical company, whose products and commercial interests the program showcases. The arrangement leaves PBS open to charges that it is serving as a cheerleader for big industry in exchange for cash. The first episode aired on April 11, and was about large-scale agriculture — an area in which Dow is a leading business. The show examined the corn industry and portrayed controversial genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in a positive light. Dow manufactures genetically-modified seeds. Similar, self-serving segments follow in other areas in which Dow also has commercial interests: Infrastructure/Transportation, Energy and Consumer/lifestyle.

ALEC Fingered for Lobbying

A front page article in the New York Times on April 21, 2012 exposes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a stealth business lobbyist that pushes pro-business, anti-public interest legislation in state capitols from coast to coast. ALEC is a little-known, non-profit organization that brings state legislators together with corporations to draft model legislation favoring businesses. The group has a sophisticated system for shaping state-level legislation. Legislators pay a nominal $50  fee annually to join ALEC, but corporations pay dues ranging from $7,000 to $25,000 per year, which affords them guaranteed access to legislators at upscale events like cigar receptions, conferences and pigeon shoots. Businesses use these opportunities to promote new laws to legislators benefiting the companies’ bottom lines. ALEC claims to be bipartisan, but of 104 leadership positions in the organization, Republicans fill all but one, and the policies ALEC promotes are almost exclusively right-wing. ALEC’s role as a driving force behind the wave of “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws sweeping the country has made the group a target of public anger.

Seven Sponsors Drop Rush Limbaugh in Missoula

Logo of embattled KGVO Radio in Missoula, MT

The grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off KGVO radio in Missoula, Montana saw major success this week after seven local advertisers pulled their ads off the show. Dave Chrismon, organizer of the effort get Limbaugh off KGVO, started RushOutOfMissoula.com, a website that lists businesses that sponsor Limbaugh’s show.  RushOutOfMissoula supporters started contacting the listed businesses and telling the owners how they feel about their support “for this bully.” In response, seven businesses pulled their ads quickly, in under a week.  Chrismon updates the list regularly to reflect which businesses have quit advertising on the show.  The grassroots success is not coming without difficulty, though.  Some Limbaugh sponsors are digging in their heels and adopting a bully approach themselves.  Chrismon reports receiving a number of heavy-handed emails from some local business owners.  One wrote, “You’re a coward and a liar.  You are dangerous to a free society.  A gas chamber mentality.  You want to silence those you do not agree with.  You bad-mouth and bully those who are not even a part of your emotional tantrum of passion (didn’t you accuse rush of those very tactics).”  Another advertiser threatened, “ . . . your blackmail approach is going to get you in court starting now.  I am inquiring about a class action suit to show you just how wrong you can be. . . If (our business) is not taken off your site and a letter of apology to follow by noon, April 19th, 2012, legal council will be put into place.  Blackmail is still illegal as you will find out.”  Chrismon also says KGVO is comparing the total number of signatures on the anti-Limbaugh petition citizens delivered earlier this month to the total of pro-Limbaugh emails they are getting through their website’s feedback form, and they say petition supporters are losing.  But citizens aren’t giving up. They are redoubling their efforts to call the remaining sponsors and tell them how they feel about Limbaugh, and urge them to drop their support for the show.

Marine Corps Air Squadron Adopts Religious Name and Symbol

American Hornet jet painted with red Christian cross

The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 122 based out of Beaufort, South Carolina used to be called the “Werewolves,” but they recently adopted a new nickname: they are now called the “Crusaders,” and the symbol painted on their jets is a red, Christian-style cross. The “Crusaders” was a historic nickname used by the squadron from 1958 to 2008, but as they prepared to deploy to Iraq in 2008, the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. William Lieblein, wisely changed the name because “The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn’t float.” The term “Crusader” is derived from the historic European military crusades that took the lives of millions in the middle east in the name of Christianity. Insurgents in the middle east pejoratively call American military personnel “Crusaders.” In March 2012, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to International Security Assistance Force troops stationed in Afghanistan as “Crusader Swine.” But the unit’s new commander, Lt. Colonel Wade Wiegel, doesn’t see any problem with changing the squadron’s name back to the “Crusaders.” Mikey Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), blasted the change.  Almost a hundred concerned U.S. Marines contacted Weinstein about the change, mostly moderate Protestants and Christians who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.

Group Reconstitutes Scrapped ALEC Task Force

Amy M. Ridenour, Chair of NCPPR (from Wikipedia)

Progressive groups rejoiced after the American Legislative Exchange Council  announced April 17 that it was dumping the task force through which the group advanced voter ID laws, “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and other controversial legislation, but progressives may have rejoiced too soon. On April 18, the right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) announced it is fighting back against left wing pressure by forming a task force to take over the work of ALEC’s disbanded “Public Safety and Elections Task Force.” NCPPR’s replacement group, the “Voter Identification Task Force,” will continue to push for voter restriction laws across the country, which NCPPR frames as working to advance “ballot integrity.” Amy Ridenour, chair of the NCPPR, said, combatively, “We’re putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we’ll kick it up a notch somewhere else. You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory.” NCPPR is known for sending “fright mail” to senior citizens, junk mail letters on varying letterhead written in a way that seems intended to scare recipients into donating to the group. Amy Ridenour formerly worked with disgraced right-wing lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served on the board of NCPPR until he was convicted of fraud and conspiracy.

Source: National Center for Public Policy Research press release, April 18, 2012

Countdown to the National Day of Reason, May 3, 2012

"Science for Bibles" event poster

Thursday, May 3 is this year’s National Day of Reason, held the same day as the National Day of Prayer — a controversial, Congressionally-mandated and federally-supported event.  The purpose of the National Day of Reason is to raise awareness of the threat government poses to religious liberty when it enters the private sphere of worship.  The American Humanists Association (AHA), which started the event in 2003, suggests people celebrate the day with events and activities, and activities are planned around the country. The Eastern Connecticut Atheist and Freethinker Fellowship based in Putnam, Connecticut, plans to hold a “Science for Bibles” exchange that day.  Anyone who attends the event and brings a Bible will get a free copy of either Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” or Richard Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality.” The Secular Coalition for Arizona will join the Secular Student Alliance in a walk as a group to Flagstaff City Hall, where they will hold a voter registration drive. The Atheist Humanist Society of Connecticut and Rhode Island is sponsoring a blood drive at the Groton, Connecticut Library. The American Humanists Association offers a sample proclamation declaring May 3, 2012 as the National Day of Reason that people can print out and ask their City Councils to sign. 

Federal Court Says Groups Can’t Keep Campaign Donors Secret

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson, Washington, D.C.

A District Court in Washington, D.C, ruled (pdf) earlier this month that it is illegal for groups to keep secret who funds their political attack ads.  At the heart of the case was a regulation promulgated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in December of 2007 that required disclosure of the names and addresses funders who donate $1,000 or more to organizations for electioneering communications. But the FEC, in interpreting the law, deferred to the argument that keeping track of such donations would inordinately burden corporations. In attempting to clarify the law, the FEC created a huge loophole by promulgating a follow-up rule that allowed groups to circumvent disclosure provisions required by campaign finance laws, like the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.  The disclosure provisions in Citizens United have largely been overlooked.  In Citizens United, justices wrote that “the public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election,” and “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”   U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Maryland) challenged FEC’s loophole in a lawsuit brought against the FEC in 2011.