Category: politics

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

How Many Millionaires Pay a Higher Tax Rate than You?

The White House Buffett Rule calculator

The White House has posted a new online tool people can use to calculate how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than they do. Citizens enter their wages, salary and other income and how much income tax they have paid, click a button and see the estimated number of millionaires who paid a lower effective tax rate than they did in 2009. The calculations demonstrate how under the current U.S. tax system, many millionaires are paying a lower effective income tax rate than most middle class families. In 2009, fully 22,000 American households made over $1 million, but paid the lowest effective tax rate such top earners have paid in 50 years. Of those top-earners, 1,470 paid no federal income tax at all on their million-dollar-plus incomes, according to data supplied by the Internal Revenue Service.

Vermont Senate Votes to Overturn Citizens United

Graph by CleanSlateNow.org

The Vermont Senate voted to ask the U.S. Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in which the Court declared that corporations are the equivalent of people with First Amendment free speech rights. The Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for corporations and billionaires to start pouring huge sums of money into influencing elections at every level of government — and they have, largely anonymously. On December 8, 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “Saving American Democracy Amendment”, which would restore the ability of lawmakers to enact campaign spending limits like those that fell in the wake of Citizens United.  In early March of this year, 64 Vermont towns approved resolutions calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to counter the Citizens United ruling.  The national Move to Amend campaign is also mobilizing a grassroots campaign from coast to coast calling for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and that the First Amendment does not protect unlimited political spending as free speech.

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.

Billboard Campaign Promotes Marijuana Legalization in Colorado

A big new billboard has appeared right over a liquor store near Mile High Stadium in Denver that shows a mainstream, straight-laced looking woman smiling with her harms folded, saying, “For many reasons, I prefer…marijuana over alcohol. Does that make me a bad person? RegulateMarijuana.org.” The board is the first in an educational campaign by backers of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, a measure that will appear on the state’s November election. The group backing the measure seeks to educate people about the ways that marijuana is safer than alcohol, specifically that it is less addictive than alcohol and tends to cause fewer adverse health effects. Users also cannot overdose on marijuana. The measure would permit limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults, and would let state and local governments in Colorado regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana or ban marijuana sales completely within their jurisdictions. On its website, the pro-legalization campaign says, “We are not suggesting that marijuana is better than alcohol … We are simply asserting that there are many good reasons to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”

Republicans Circumvent Democracy in Michigan

A judge has ruled that Republicans in control Michigan’s House of Representatives have been violating their state’s constitution by failing to hold recorded votes on bills. Instead, the House Speaker has been asking members of the legislature stand to indicate their support for a new law taking immediate effect, and no official count was conducted.  Democrats had been asking for votes to be officially recorded, but Republicans refused and kept using so-called “standing votes.” The Democrats sued the Republicans in court, and a Circuit Court judge ruled that Republicans have been violating the state’s constitution by failing to acknowledge Democrats’ repeated requests for recorded votes. The judge issued a restraining order against House Republicans ordering them to hold recorded votes whenever a minimum of 22 Democrats request one. The state’s constitution requires a roll call be conducted whenever one fifth of the House members request one. On another front, the city of Detroit narrowly escaped coming under the state’s new emergency financial manager law enacted in 2011, known as Public Act 4, which allows the state to seize control of financially troubled cities, install an “emergency manager” of the governor’s choosing, terminate city contracts and block elected city officials from making any decisions. So far, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed emergency managers in four Michigan cities: Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint and Pontiac.

Main source: Detroit News, April 2, 2012

TV Ad Promotes Separation of Church and State


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is running a television ad promoting the separation of church and state, the first such ad of its kind to be shown on major television. The ad is running on NBC’s Sunday “Meet the Press” show and all this week on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9-10 p.m., Eastern Central. FFRF’s ad played twice on the Monday “Rachel Maddow Show.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation works to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state and educate the public about non-theism. The Foundation has over 17,000 members. Since 1978, the Foundation has acted on countless violations of the separation of state and church, and has won many significant victories, including lawsuits to end state/church entanglements.

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