Category: politics

Christian Groups Hyperventilate After CO Appeals Court Ruling

In the wake of the Colorado State Court of Appeals’ unanimous ruling (pdf) May 10 that a state-sanctioned “Day of Prayer” violates the state constitution, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force has started a petition asking Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to “prepare a vigorous defense” against the decision. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which brought the case and won, is fighting back by asking Colorado residents to support the ruling by contacting the governor and state attorney general and asking them not to appeal the Court’s decision. The Court was careful to preface its ruling by saying “Our decision does not affect anyone’s constitutionally protected right to pray, in public or in private, alone or in groups,” but pointed out that religious liberty is “abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Despite this clear statement that no one’s right to pray is in danger, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is spinning the ruling as a threat, saying it “undermines the heritage and tradition of the American people.” Similarly, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) — a Christian organization that tries to encourage prayer in local, state and federal government — portrays  efforts to end improper government endorsements of religion as “targeted attacks on religious freedom.” Like the NDP Task Force, the ADF similarly tries to stir up fear by claiming that “those who believe in God are increasingly threatened, punished and silenced.”

Colorado Legislator Who Killed Civil Unions Bill has Gay Son

Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose)

The lone Republican legislator responsible for killing Colorado’s civil unions bill voted against it even though his son and only child is gay. Rep. Don Coram of Montrose cast the deciding vote on a 5-4 party line vote May 14. Rep. Coram is the father of Dee Coram, who runs the Coffee Trader, a popular coffee bar in downtown Montrose. Dee Coram has served on a local economic development board, has been active in helping revitalize downtown Montrose and even got an award from the Governor for his work. Dee Coram says his father not only let him down, but also let down the entire gay community. Commenting on his father’s vote, Coram said, “I was told by my grandfather, there’s always a time to lead and there’s always a time to follow. He was given a time to lead, and he didn’t do it. He could have and should have been the deciding vote.” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper called the special session to address the civil unions bill after Republican maneuvering blocked it from coming to a vote in the entire House, where it had enough votes to pass. The bill had already received the approval of three separate House committees during the regular session and had enough bipartisan support to pass in the full House. To kill it, House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) assigned the bill to yet a fourth committee — the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee — where he knew it would not pass.

Compass Colorado Links Obama and U.S. Energy Policy to Iranian Dictator

CompassColorado.org's new billboard

The Republican front group Compass Colorado is running billboards across the state that link President Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The boards show a photo of President Obama alongside photos of Ahmadinejad and, varyingly, three lesser-known Colorado Democratic Congressional candidates: Representatives Joe Mikloski, Sal Pace and Congressman Ed Perlmutter. Above the photos, text says “Higher gas prices YES! U.S. Energy Independence NO!” The boards fail to mention that the U.S. does not buy any oil from Iran. By using their photos and names next to that of President Obama, Compass Colorado is unwittingly giving the three lesser-known candidates a free boost to their name recognition. Compass Colorado is run by Tyler Q. Houlton, who worked as communications director for former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo gained fame for his February 4, 2010 speech at the National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said Barack Obama became president because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” Tancredo then proposed making people take “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting. Houlton also worked for Rep. Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. McInnis’ campaign tanked after journalists revealed McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 to the organization that paid him. Compass Colorado does not reveal its funders.

Main source: Colorado Pols, May 12, 2012

Colorado Day of Prayer Ruled Unconstitutional

In a unanimous ruling issued on May 10, 2012 (pdf), three judges on the Colorado Court of Appeals declared  Colorado’s state-endorsed “Day of Prayer” unconstitutional. The court found that the Colorado Day of Prayer violates the Preference Clause of the Religious Freedom section of Colorado’s constitution which states, “…[n]or shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.” The Preference Clause is Colorado’s equivalent of the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution. In a 74-page ruling, the Court concluded Colorado’s Day of Prayer is religious in purpose and content, lacks any secular purpose and its only purpose is to advance religion and give “preferential treatment to religion in general.” The Day of Prayer, said the Court, “conveys or attempt to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.”  The First Amendment requires all levels of government to be completely neutral in matters of religion. “By requiring this neutrality,” the Court states, “the Preference Clause protects believers and nonbelievers from feeling as if they are ‘not fully accepted within our greater community.’ A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations [declaring state-sanctioned Days of Prayer] send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.” In April, 2010, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action.

Memo Exposes Huge PR Campaign to Attack Wind and Solar Industries

A group of energy industry-affiliated, right-wing groups is readying a massive PR plan to try and turn American public opinion against the renewable energy industries. The UK Guardian obtained a confidential draft memo written by Illinois anti-wind power attorney Rich Porter that outlines a massive PR campaign to change public opinion towards wind and solar power among “citizens at large.” The goals of the campaign, according to Porter’s memo, are to “A) Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action” based on anti-wind messaging, “B) Provide credible counter message to the (wind) industry, C) Disrupt [wind] industry message with countermeasures, D) Cause subversion in message of [wind] industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty.) Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on message.” The memo suggests teaming up with established  groups like Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Cato Institute and other climate change deniers. It also suggests developing derogatory names for wind energy, like calling it “puff power” and “breeze energy.”

ALEC: Big Tobacco’s “Third-Party” Ally

Tina A. Walls, former Philip Morris VP of State Government Affairs

Tobacco industry documents reveal that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has abetted the failure of state legislatures to take meaningful steps to rein in the devastation caused by tobacco use. In a previously-secret, 1993 internal Philip Morris (PM) presentation called Grasstops Government Relations, Tina A. Walls, then Vice President of State Government affairs at PM, describes the company’s strategies to influence legislators, and demonstrates how ALEC works with corporations to bolster that influence. As she shows Philip Morris employees a chart she calls “The Influence Wheel,” Walls describes how PM’s Government Affairs department analyzes every part of a legislator’s world and misses no opportunity to exert influence. Walls tells the audience how PM provides legislators with trips to “promotional and cultural events” in nice places, and as an example cites a trip ALEC facilitated in which a group of American legislators traveled to Brussels, Belgium. Walls wrote,

“We make sure legislators are aware of, and invited to, promotional and cultural events funded by Philip Morris. {CITE ALEC 1992 TRIP TO BRUSSELS AS AN EXAMPLE}”

Walls also discusses PM’s strategy to keep itself out of the media by using third parties to “carry its baggage,” and describes how PM uses third parties allies like ALEC to dodge issues:

“…we try to keep Philip Morris out of the media on issues like taxation, smoking bans and marketing restrictions. Instead, we try to provide the media with statements in support of our positions from third party sources, which carry more credibility than our company and have no apparent vested interest…”

Female, African-American Doctor Backs Tobacco Industry in New Ad

The tobacco industry’s front group, “Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending,” is spending millions to run a 30-second TV ad opposing Proposition 29, a ballot measure to increase in the state’s cigarette tax. The ad features an unlikely ally: a female, African-American doctor named LaDonna Porter, M.D. Prop. 29 would increase California’s 87-cent per pack cigarette tax by an additional $1.00 to fund cancer research, smoking reduction programs and enforcement of tobacco-related laws. In the ad, Porter, stands in an examination room wearing a white lab coat and says she’s against smoking, but she finds Proposition 29 flawed. “Not one penny” of the funds generated by the measure will go towards new funding for cancer treatment, Porter says, and she raises the specter that the money could be spent out of state. The ad is consistent with the tobacco industry’s longtime strategy of getting doctors to endorse their products and back their favored policies. Still, it has generated outrage. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council in Oakland, California sent a scathing open letter to Dr. Porter expressing shock and outrage that she is working for Big Tobacco. It’s not the first time Dr. Porter has worked for Big Tobacco. In 2006, as LaDonna White, she starred in a tobacco industry-backed ad opposing Proposition 86, yet another measure to increase taxes on cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Dr. Porter has also lent her credibility to the pharmaceutical industry to fight an initiative that would have put a dent in drug companies’ profits.

CO House Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg Works to Benefit Drilling Industry

CO Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R)

New Republican legislation has been introduced in Colorado that purely benefits the oil and gas industry. House Bill 1356, introduced by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would punish local governments by withholding their severance tax dollars if they do anything that stands in the way of oil or gas drilling. Citizens in Sonnenber’gs district who are concerned about the negative health and environmental effects of drilling oppose the measure. The city of Sterling, Colorado also opposes Sterling’s bill, which prompted Sonnenberg to call Sterling government officials “greedy.” After Sterling city officials came out against his bill, Sonnenberg posted a Tweet to his Twitter account that read, “City of Sterling just testified they should get oil and gas money even if the city stops the industry from producing. Can you say greed?” Sonnenberg told the Colorado Statesman that opposition from cities doesn’t matter because governments don’t vote.  “Maybe if governments voted, it would matter,” Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg says his bill is about defending property rights, limiting government spending and encouraging new oil and gas drilling throughout the state.  At a legislative hearing for the bill, no one testified support of the measure, but several people spoke out in opposition. It isn’t the first time Rep. Sonnenberg has worked to benefit the drilling industry at the expense of citizen and environmental health and safety. In 2008, Sonnenberg worked to block the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission from hiring 21 new employees to monitor the drilling industry’s compliance with new environmental rules. When contacted by email and asked if he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobby group that accepts funding from Exxon Mobil and  other energy industry interests, Sonnenberg dodged the question and ultimately refused to answer.

Main source: The Colorado Statesman, May 4, 2012

 

Citizens Battle Telecomm Lobby in DeKalb County, Georgia

A cell phone tower fire in Georgia in Dec. 2011 that required two homes and a daycare center to be evacuated. Photo credit: CBSAtlanta.com

After residents of DeKalb County, Georgia actively opposed plans by T-Mobile  and AT&T to build telecommunications towers on the grounds of eight local public schools, Georgia State Representative Karla Drenner stepped up to the plate to help out. Rep. Drenner introduced HB 1197,  “Cell Phone Towers in DeKalb County,” that would ban placing cellphone towers on public school grounds unless the cellular carrier can show that there is an absolute need for the tower, and that the location sought on school grounds is the only location that can adequately provide service to satisfy that need. Sixteen out of 18 DeKalb County representatives signed on to support the local bill. Support for the measure crossed political, racial and geographic lines. Citizens in favor of the bill also got support from all of their county commissioners and collected over 1,200 signatures on petitions supporting the measure — an admirable number considering Chuck Sims’ represents a county of only 380 people. A legislative committee heard three hours of testimony about the bill over three days at three separate state hearings, and not one person showed up to say they were in favor of plans to put the towers on school grounds. With support like that, the bill should have passed easily through the committee and moved to the House floor. But it didn’t. Why?

Congressman Officially Recognizes National Day of Reason

Congressman Pete Stark

Congressman Pete Stark of California gave a statement on the House floor April 27 officially recognizing the National Day of Reason held today, Thursday, May 3, 2012. Rep. Stark said, in part, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Thursday, May 3, 2012 as the 2012 National Day of Reason. The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of reason and the positive impact it has had on humanity. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm the Constitutional separation of religion and government.” Stark pointed out that our nation is home to a wide range of people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and “the only way we can solve our problems is through cultivating intelligent, moral and ethical interactions among all people.” Rep. Stark said the National Day of Reason is about helping others and improving communities, and mentioned efforts by secular people across the U.S. to conduct food drives, donate blood and help those in need on this day. Rep. Stark urged everyone to observe the day by focusing on the use of reason, critical thinking, the scientific method and free inquiry to improve the world and our country. May 3 is also the “National Day of Prayer,” and event that was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in Wisconsin. On April 15, 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling in which she concluded the National Day of Prayer violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, saying it “goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” President Obama is holding the National Day of Prayer despite the federal court ruling against it.

Activists Gain Against Limbaugh in Missoula

Rush Limbaugh

Anti-Rush Limbaugh activists racked up another successful week after six more businesses vowed to drop sponsorship of the Rush Limbaugh Show on KGVO Radio in Missoula, Montana. Their success brings the total to 13 businesses that have pulled their support of the show since April 13, 2012, when a grassroots effort to push Limbaugh off Missoula’s airwaves began. The current effort to kick Limbaugh off the air in Missoula started the day after citizens delivered a 1,600-signature petition KGVO Radio asking them to take Rush Limbaugh off the local air. The radio station refused to pull the show, and the next day, on April 13, activists unveiled a website, RushOutOfMissoula.com, that lists the show’s local and national sponsors, with each business’ contact information. Citizens began dialing the business owners to express their displeasure for the businesses’ support of Limbaugh and his persistent, hate-filled rhetoric. Dave Chrismon, organizer of the Missoula anti-Limbaugh effort, posted an upbeat email update in which he reported getting positive feedback from the community for the effort. “This is from an email,” Chrismon wrote, ” ‘I just wanted to inform you that as of today, we requested our ads not be run during the Rush Limbaugh Show. . . Thank you for letting us know that our ads were being run . . . The owner had no idea and was very upset when she found out.’ Shopping yesterday, I met someone who works at one of the past advertisers. She thanked me for the effort and told me, ‘We want to avoid controversy. After we pulled our ad, a longtime supporter called and thanked us on behalf of her daughter.'” Missoula activists aren’t letting up on their effort. Their current goal is to persuade a total of 20 advertisers to drop the show. They are also  thanking the businesses that have withdrawn their ads for “saying no to bullying.”

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.

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

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

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.

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