Category: Corporations

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.

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.

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

Blue Cross Blue Shield and American Traffic Solutions Dump ALEC

The corporate exodus out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today as insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Arizona-based traffic services company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) both announced that they would not renew their membership in ALEC this year. ThinkProgress created an internet-based bulletin board listing the companies that have left ALEC so far.  In addition to Blue Cross and ATS, the bulletin board lists Reed-Elsevier, Mars, Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pepsi, Kraft, Intuit and Coca Cola. The bulletin board site has quickly gained hundreds of followers. ALEC is the controversial “Stand Your Ground” group that helps corporations gain direct contact with predominantly conservative Republican legislators for the purpose of spreading pro-corporate legislation around the country.

Main Source: Think Progress, April 17, 2012

ALEC, Embattled, Ditches its Public Safety Task Force

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws.  ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.

Main source: American Legislative Exchange Council press release, April 17, 2012

Philip Morris and Monsanto Sued over Birth Defects in Tobacco Farmers’ Children

Screen shot from Monsanto's website

Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.

Wendy’s and Reed-Elsevier Dump ALEC

Two more companies have dropped their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative nonprofit organization that drafts pro-corporate “model bills” which Republicans then introduce in state houses across the country as though the legislation was their own. One of the companies is Wendy’s, the country’s second largest fast-food chain. Wendy’s tweeted about ALEC on it’s official Twitter account, “We decided late 2011 and never renewed this year. It didn’t fit our business needs.” Wendy’s departure from ALEC is key, according to Mother Jones magazine, since the company has supported politically conservative causes in the past, including Rick Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom, an astroturf group that battles regulation of the food and beverage industries.  The second company to depart ALEC is Reed Elsevier, a large publisher of medical and scientific books and journals. Reed Elsevier resigned from its board seat at ALEC and ended it’s membership in the group. A spokesperson for Reed commented that, “We made the decision after considering the broad range of criticism being leveled at ALEC.” ALEC has been criticized for promoting laws that liberalize gun use, privatize schools, restrict people’s right to vote, crush unions, and more.

Corporations Flee ALEC — Will More Follow?

ALEC protest in Arizona in 2011

Kraft Foods, Coke, Pepsi, Intuit and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have all pulled their support of the controversial corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Now Common Cause, a nonprofit public interest advocacy organization, is circulating a petition urging McDonalds, State Farm Insurance and Johnson & Johnson to cut their ties to ALEC. ALEC has been revealed as a driving force behind so-called Shoot-First laws that led to the Trayvon Martin killing and increased citizen vigilantism, “Voter ID” bills that deny millions of U.S. citizens a right to vote and attacks on public schools that divert taxpayer money to charter and private schools. ALEC is a members-only group that exposes state legislators to corporate lobbyists several times throughout the year at conferences and gatherings at tony beach-front spa and golf resorts. Legislators pay a small fee to belong to ALEC, but corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to become members. Corporate members gain direct access to legislators at ALEC-sponsored events.  You can read more about ALEC at ALECExposed.org.

“Shoot First” Laws Coincide with Sharp Increase in Justifiable Homicide Incidents

Under the law, American citizens used to have to back away from threats, but since 2005 many American states have radically expanded self-defense rights to allow people to meet threats with force, not just in their own homes, but in public places as well.  Since 2005, over 30 states have passed so-called “Shoot first” or “Stand Your Ground” laws that make it harder to convict people of murder if they claim they killed in self-defense.  Since Florida’s shoot-first law was enacted in 2005, justifiable homicide cases have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  In the five years prior to the passage of Florida’s shoot-first law, 12 private citizens committed killings, but in the five years after the law’s passage, the average number of killings by private citizens in Florida jumped to 36.  The national group Associate of Prosecuting Attorneys says “Stand your Ground” laws present a barrier to the prosecution of genuine criminals.  Such laws have been spread in part through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed group in which corporations partner with legislators behind closed doors to promote conservative, pro-business bills.

Main source: OregonLive.com/Washington Post, April 7, 2012

Transnational Tobacco Companies Target Poor Countries

Thai child smoking (Photo from Thailand-th.net)

A new study reveals PR strategies transnational tobacco companies use behind the scenes to derail, delay and undermine public health policies in low- and middle-income countries. The authors uncovered six core strategies tobacco companies use in Thailand to interfere in tobacco control policymakin: (1) doing business with “two faces,” (2) working to influence people in high places, (3) “buying” advocates inside grassroots organizations, (4) putting up deceptive fronts, (5) using intimidation, and (6) undermining controls on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The companies often apply several of the strategies simultaneously. Public health advocates in poorer countries have successfully counteracted these strategies by remaining vigilant to spot them, excluding tobacco companies from policymaking, restricting cigarette sales, keeping up pressure on the companies and working to assure adequate resources are dedicated to enforcing tobacco control regulations. The entire text of the article is available free in PDF form here.

Source: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, March 27, 2012 (pdf)

 

Kraft Foods Dumps the American Legislative Exchange Council

Kraft Foods announced that it will not renew its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing corporate bill mill responsible for spreading the “stand your ground” gun laws that led to the high-profile killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Kraft is one of three large companies that have dropped their sponsorship of ALEC just this week as a result of a grassroots push by the group Color of Change to pressure sponsors to sever their relationships with the ALEC. Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola both announced this week that they plan to end their membership in ALEC. Reynolds American, manufacturer of Camel cigarettes, has said it will remain a member of the ALEC, as did Koch Industries. Color of Change plans to continue targeting additional companies to end their relationships with ALEC. ALEC declined to comment on the companies that have decided to leave the group.

Source: Politico, April 5, 2012

Philip Morris Exec: Public Health Authorities are “Muesli-Eating, Stool-Watching Joggers”

In a January, 1988 speech to Philip Morris’ (PM) Australian sales force titled “The Challenge of Change,” John Dollisson, then head of Philip Morris Corporate Affairs Australia, describes the company as “at war” with public health advocates.  On Page 13, he describes the sales force as one of “our most effective weapons” in that war.  Dollisson displays blatant contempt for public health authorities when he calls them “Meusli-eating, stool-watching joggers who know what is best for all of us.”[Page 2] Dollisson discloses the strategies PM has employed to defeat public health efforts in Australia: funding lawsuits against the government, supporting a “spontaneous” smokers’ rights group, finding ways around state advertising bans, running their own ad campaigns during national “quit smoking” campaigns, using strategic sports sponsorships to deliver audiences to favored politicians, forming a “business/liberty group” to “defend freedoms and question the legitimacy of anti-business groups,” giving away gold “Benson & Hedges” pens actually worth $10 that customers “perceive” as being worth $50-60, and much more.

CleanSlateNow.org Lists Courageous Candidates Who Turn Down All PAC Funding


A new website created in Colorado, CleanSlateNow.org, is the first and only site so far to publicly list candidates for office at all levels of government nationwide who have pledged to forgo all special interest money. The listed candidates do not accept any funding from political action committees, big banks, insurance companies, unions, big oil, pharmaceutical companies or any other corporate interests. As CleanSlateNow states, the only problem is that these candidates are little-known. The website aims to fix that. CleanSlateNow.org was founded in October, 2011 by former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, who was term-limited out of office in 2009. Gordon is famous for making a chilling 2007 “No Stuntman Used” campaign video in which he appears in person in scuba gear from inside a shark tank to demonstrate his independence from local political sharks. The goal of CleanSlateNow is to create an environment where people, and not money, will start determining the outcome of U.S. elections.

A Grassroots Effort to Track the Side Effects of Prescription Drugs

A new word has entered the lexicon: “Pharmageddon.” Wiktionary defines it as “a dystopian scenario wherein medicine and the pharmaceuticals industry have a net detrimental effect on human health and medical progress does more harm than good.” We are fast approaching pharmageddon, as drugs are increasingly fast-tracked to approval and only later found to do little or no good, or, even worse, to cause harm. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled the breast cancer drug Avastin off the market, after having fast-tracked its approval. Over $6 billion worth of Avastin was sold before two follow up studies showed that the survival rate of patients who took Avastin was no better than patients who took other drugs. Not only did huge numbers of women take this essentially worthless drug to treat their breast cancer, but the listed side effects of Avastin included conditions severe enough to merit  a descriptor of potentially fatal several times in the drug’s informational brochure. Another factor in prescription drug danger is the fact that drug companies are increasingly engaging in criminal behavior aimed at boosting sales at any cost. In 2009, the drug maker Pfizer paid a record $2.3 billion fine and pled guilty to a felony for illegally promoting its painkiller Bextra. Pfizer paid kickbacks to doctors and dished out perks, like massages and all-expense-paid trips to fancy resorts, to get doctors to prescribe Bextra for off-label, or unapproved, uses. Like Avastin, Bextra was ultimately pulled off the market due to safety concerns. This wasn’t the first or even the second time Pfizer had been caught marketing drugs illegally, either. It was the fourth time just  since 2002 that FDA had fined Pfizer or one of its subsidiaries fined for marketing its drugs in an illegal manner.

Taking prescription drugs is increasingly fraught with danger. Adverse side effects have risen over the years to where they are now a leading cause of death, disability, and illness.  It is estimated that only 1 to 10 percent of adverse drug events ever get reported to the FDA. Many people suffer side effects from prescription drugs that are considered “medically mild” but that are nonetheless disabling, like detrimental effects on memory, concentration, and judgment. Often people report adverse side effects to their doctors, only to be told there is little or no evidence linking their problem to the drug. This lack of information is not a mistake — it traceable to the fact that most of the data on prescription drugs is the property of  the pharmaceutical companies, since the companies run most of the clinical trials for the drug. Up to 60% of these trials are never publicly reported. For obvious reasons, companies have a vested interest in not fully disclosing the side effects of their products.

Recognizing the extent and severity of the problem of prescription drug side effects, Dr. David Healy, author of a just-published book titled “Pharmageddon,” along with group of people who, like Healy, have risked their careers to speak out about adverse drug events, are developing a free website where people can share information on the side effects they experience while taking prescription drugs.  RxRisk.org, in effect, aims to crowd-source real-time data about drug side effects, to create a fuller picture of exactly how these drugs  are really affecting people. The site accepts no advertising and is not linked in any way to big Pharma. Use of it is free and anonymous. The site also helps users research drugs they are taking. People who report information on the side effects they experience can get a free report they can take to their doctors, to encourage fuller and more informed discussion of their treatment. Doctors can also add information to their patients’ reports. RxRisk.org’s advisory board is comprised of people with relatives injured by adverse drug events, health care activists and independent scientists. The site is currently in beta development, but RxRisk.org is a much-needed grassroots effort to track the side effects of prescription drugs and build a record of them, so that it eventually it will become unreasonable to say the problem can’t be happening in at least some people. Visit the new, consumer-friendly drug-tracking website here.

DirecTV’s Disappearing-Channels Scam

Thinking of subscribing to DirecTV? Think again. DirecTV pulls a fast one on subscribers to push them into more expensive packages after they sign up. Here’s how it works: Like all cable and satellite TV providers, DirecTV offers different levels of programming that include specific channels. New subscribers select the package with the channels they want — or so they think. A few months after you subscribe to their service, DirecTV pulls some of the channels originally included in your package. All of a sudden when you try to watch those channels, you get a “Channel Not Purchased” message on your screen. When you call DirecTV to tell them about the suddenly-missing channels, they say they’ve taken them out of your package and you’ll need to upgrade to a pricier package to get them back. DirecTV makes little effort to notify subscribers in advance of this change. They don’t announce the changes, for example, in any of the regular emails they send customers announcing special deals and “free” weekends of premium channels. They don’t add any more channels to your package to make up for the ones they’ve removed, and they don’t compensate customers financially for the loss by adjusting your bill for the channels you no longer get. On their website, they explain the loss by saying they took the channels away to help “manage rising programming costs.” Their website also says, “At DIRECTV, we strive to bring you the best entertainment experience available.” All you have to do is subscribe, or peruse the comments at CustomerServiceScoreboard.com/DIRECTV to find out that DirecTV pulls this scam with relative frequency. DirecTV also charges you $10.00/month extra to get a high-definition receiver, where most other pay TV services provide HD to all customers as part of the deal.