Top Ohio newspapers failed to adequately highlight the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) influence on recent asbestos legislation in the state.
On December 4, the Ohio Senate passed an ALEC-inspired bill that curbs the ability of asbestos victims to file lawsuits for damages. From Legal Newsline:
A bill meant to stop the duplication of asbestos lawsuits has passed the Ohio state Senate.
The bill, which passed the Senate by a 19-14 vote, would require anyone to reveal all asbestos claims filed by them or for them. If they don't do so, the person could face perjury charges. The bill made it through Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It passed the House in January.
Critics, however, say the measure would slow legitimate claims. And they say the bill would make Ohio the first state with such claim restrictions even though Ohio is among the states with the biggest backlog of asbestos claims.
The Dayton Daily News and Cincinnati Enquirer both failed to link the harmful asbestos bill to ALEC in their original reporting, despite it being covered in other states and nationally. Only the Columbus Dispatch ran an original story that noted the piece of legislation was an ALEC model bill, while the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Dayton Daily News published AP versions of the story that briefly mentioned ALEC. None of the stories highlighted the several legislators who supported the bill who are also known members of ALEC.
Ohio has the 8th highest rate of death in the nation from mesothelioma and asbestosis with 1,328 total mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths from 1999 to 2008. Ohio is one of several states to pass an ALEC inspired bill attempting to limit the damages victims of asbestos exposure can seek. This year alone, legislation attempting to curtail victims' rights has been passed in Michigan, Arizona, Idaho, and Utah. The Minnesota legislature also passed an ALEC inspired bill, however it was vetoed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D).
In 2001, ALEC and manufacturing company Crown Holdings, Inc. jointly crafted model legislation which attempted to limit the amount in compensation victims of asbestos-related diseases received from companies who exposed their workers to asbestos. Coverage of the model bill in Minnesota from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune revealed that this "national effort" was being undertaken by the "$8 billion can manufacturer to shield itself from costly asbestos lawsuits." Even the general counsel to Crown Holdings, William Gallagher, announced in testimony before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee that the laws passed in other states were based on ALEC model legislation and urged Michigan to enact a similar law.
Unsurprisingly, several legislators involved in the crafting of the Ohio asbestos bill are or were members of ALEC. A Cincinnati Enquirer article -- while completely omitting any ALEC mentions -- cited several legislators who sponsored and voted for the bill including the bill's originator Rep. Louis Blessing Jr., Senate President Tom Niehaus, Sen. Bill Seitz and Sen. Bill Coley. All four have known ties to ALEC according to the Center for Media and Democracy's project, ALEC Exposed.
Despite the many news reports and facts linking this bill to ALEC, Ohio newspapers generally failed to produce original content which makes the link. The Cincinnati Enquirer published a piece of original content that made no mention of ALEC. The Dayton Daily News published one original news story which did not mention ALEC. In addition, the Daily News published two AP stories on the bill, but only one of which made the ALEC connection. The only paper to run an original story mentioning ALEC was the Columbus Dispatch which, buried at the bottom of a story on legislative action banning Internet cafes, wrote a short blurb on other lame-duck legislative action:
Following a spirited debate, the Senate approved House Bill 380, which is aimed at victims of on-the-job asbestos exposure who try to pursue two avenues for damages. It would require workers to disclose all asbestos claims they have filed. Critics say it would block legitimate claims. The bill is based on model legislation from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. The bill passed 19-14, with four Republicans, including Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, joining all Democrats in opposition.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News both ran an AP version of the story that referenced ALEC at the end of the story:
The bill stems from model legislation developed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which has drawn attention for the entree it's recently gained at statehouses through efforts including opulent, corporate-backed conferences not always subject to normal disclosure rules.
None of this coverage -- the original content as well as the AP article -- mentioned the direct and extensive links between the bill's sponsors and ALEC, even when mentioning those legislators in their reporting.
Ohio papers are not alone, however. When the ALEC asbestos bill was passed in Michigan neither of the state's two biggest newspapers covered the connection.
During today's meeting of a Florida taskforce that is investigating the "Kill At Will" law implicated in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, National Rifle Association representative Marion Hammer said that the NRA was "proud to have been a part of the process" in enacting the law in 2005.
We believe the law is doing what the legislature intended. It is protecting the rights of people who defend themselves against attackers and intruders. The NRA supported this law. We are proud to have been a part of the process. We are proud to say we worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to protect self-defense rights. And although there may be other bodies of law that do not go far enough to protect the innocent and the righteous, we don't see any basic need to change the premise of this law.
Hammer, who in closing stated that the NRA "see[s] the law as protecting freedom," served as president of the National Rifle Association between 1995 and 1998 and remains the organization's top lobbyist in Florida. She is hardly the first member of National Rifle Association leadership to express full-throated support for "Kill At Will." In April, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox told attendees of the NRA's annual meeting that despite "post-media hysteria" in the weeks following Trayvon Martin's death the gun rights organization "will defend those laws." At the same annual gathering, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed controversy surrounding the law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, on the national news media.
Hammer previously acknowledged in an interview with Media Matters that the NRA helped draft the law and "support[ed] it through the process." This account was confirmed by Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming who stated, "There is no doubt about it. Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist here, former president of the NRA wrote the legislation and she would tell you so."
SALT LAKE CITY -- You won't see signs for the country's sweetest travel-club deal in the window of your local travel store. To join the American Legislative Exchange Council, your peers must first elect you to statewide office. If you win as a Republican or conservative Democrat, your ALEC state chair will approach with terms of membership you'll find generous, if not impossible to resist. A token $100 buys the opportunity to attend all-inclusive events on ALEC's busy calendar of summits, conferences, and academies, where you and your family can enjoy some of the country's finest resorts and destination hotels. Joints like Utah's Grand America, site of ALEC's just concluded national conference and proud bearer of AAA's "Five Diamond" rating.
It was on the eve of this conference that I first glimpsed the privileges and perks of ALEC membership. I was sitting in the Grand America's Viennese style lobby café, pondering the primrose bush courtyard outside as a young harpist plucked out Fur Elise, when an ALEC staffer appeared and began placing laminated cards on the tables. She was followed by groups of women, the wives and daughters of ALEC state legislators and lobbyists, sitting down to enjoy a British Full Tea of sweets, scones and jams, laid out on an elaborate spread of fine china. I picked up one of the laminated cards and read: "Enjoy your 'ALEC-SNACKS'!" Beneath the text were the logos of Americans for Prosperity and the American Insurance Association, two ALEC sponsors. As ALEC snacks were served, the tables grew atwitter. "This is so nice," said the wide-eyed wife of a Virginia state representative.
Not long after, the china was taken away and the café grew busy with attendees getting down to business. A hundred or so legislators, corporate representatives, and think tank staff greeted each other and ordered cocktails, filling the room with an ambient babble of right-leaning schmooze and networking. I've had to deal with those same damn unions.... We've got a few big tort reform bills in the pipe.... I'd love for you to come visit the plant .... Are you with Goldwater or Heritage now?
Before ALEC grew into an influential national force over the last two decades, few state-level politicians ever knew corporate pampering at swank hotels thousands of miles from their home districts, the scope for which all but disappeared with the introduction of post-Watergate ethics rules. Unlike their federal counterparts, state reps have generally tracked closer to the old republican ideal of the citizen-politician -- middle-class, part-time public servants who keep their day jobs as teachers, accountants, lawyers, farmers. Some of them have always been targeted and feted by special interests, but it was ALEC that innovated a private sector mechanism for corralling state representatives en masse to posh locations like the Grand for long weekends of cozy corporate lobbying and blunt-force ideological indoctrination.
For much of its four decades, the corporations and rightwing foundations that provide all but a thin slice of ALEC's current $7 million budget have succeeded in exerting pressure on the direction of the people's business in 50 statehouses. Unlike the National Council of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments, to which it often compares itself, ALEC is driven to an extraordinary degree by its private sector sponsors. It also aggressively hides from the press and the public the proceedings of its closed-door task force meetings, where corporate representatives vote on equal footing with elected legislators on model bills, who rarely identify the origins of ALEC bills when they are later introduced to become law.
Most Americans live under at least one product of these meetings, as the group has been very effective in turning one state's notorious right-wing bills into model legislation that can be pushed across the country. Arizona's infamous "Show Me Your Papers" law (SB 1070) took this path, with similar model legislation subsequently passed by ALEC's criminal justice task force, which the for-profit prison behemoth Corrections Corporation of America once co-chaired and had long been a member. So did the National Rifle Association's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law; ALEC used legislation passed in Florida as a template for a model bill that was eventually passed in two-dozen other states. ALEC's role in pushing reportedly discriminatory voter ID bills has followed a similar pattern.
ALEC's various Task Forces have altogether produced thousands of pieces of model legislation that have little to do with organic movements inside the states and everything to do with top-down nationwide attacks on workers' rights, environmental and other industry regulations, as well as pushes to accelerate the privatization of public education, federal lands, and the criminal justice system. The group has proven to be an ingenious multi-purpose tool for expanding corporate power. Like any lobby shop, it is pay-to-play. Corporate memberships run between $7,000 and $25,000, which buys full voting rights on Task Forces that function as bill mills for national and multinational corporations, industrial trade associations, and right-wing think tanks. Just as $100 is a steal for legislators, $25,000 is a bargain on the private sector side. As early as 1995, an article sent to ALEC's private sector members boasted of the group's growing effectiveness. "With our success rate at more than 20 percent [of bills passed] I would say that ALEC is a good investment," then-executive director Samuel Brunelli told corporate backers. "Nowhere else can you get a return that high."
The ultimate return sought by ALEC is nothing less than the rollback of the state and the establishment of unfettered corporate rule over everything from vast tracts of American wilderness to K through 12 education.
According to an e-mail sent by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Mark O'Mara, the defense attorney for George Zimmerman, will speak at the SAF-sponsored Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC), which will begin September 28. The conference will be held, for the first time in its 27 year history, in Florida.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26. The conference will take place at an Orlando hotel less than 25 miles away from the site of the shooting.
According to a GRPC flyer, the event will provide attendees with the "once a year chance to network, get an insider's look and plan pro-gun rights strategies for the coming year." Whether O'Mara will divulge any new information about the ongoing criminal case remains to be seen. So far the Florida attorney has largely remained mum about the specifics of Zimmerman's self-defense claim, other than to indicate that that Florida's controversial "Kill At Will" self-defense law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, will likely play a significant role in his client's defense.
Although the guest list has not been finalized, it is likely that O'Mara will get the chance to rub elbows with some of the most ardent defenders of "Kill At Will." The invitees include Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb, discredited gun rights "researcher" John Lott and unnamed representatives from Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the National Rifle Association, and Gun Owners of America.
Fox News hyped a flawed report from the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) purporting to claim that voter ID laws protect the poor and minorities. But Fox host Steve Doocy failed to acknowledge the conservative group's self-proclaimed mission to continue the "excellent work" of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council.
On Fox & Friends, Doocy promoted a NCPPR piece, claiming that the report demonstrated that "blacks and the poor are the most common victims of voter fraud, and would be protected by voter ID laws." From the broadcast:
DOOCY: Meanwhile, despite an ongoing push by the Department of Justice to prevent states from requiring an ID to vote, a new study said requiring ID would actually help increase minority participation. According to a brand new study from the National Center for Public Policy Research, blacks and the poor are the most common victims of voter fraud and would be protected by voter ID laws. Horace Cooper, an adjunct fellow at the Center saying "the criminals, more often than not, are Democrats violating the rights of people who tend to be black or senior." Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department though, has sued to block voter id laws across the country claiming they are unfit to minority voters.
But Doocy failed to mention that the NCPPR is a "conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank" dedicated to "putting the left on notice" that it "will not win." A Talking Points Memo post noted that NCPPR's chairman Amy Ridenour attacked "the left's Trotskyite strategy" of making relentless demand over relentless demand in public. From the post:
The National Center for Public Policy Research announced this week it had formed a "Voter Identification Task Force" to continue ALEC's "excellent work" in "promoting measures to enhance integrity in voting." Describing itself as a "conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank," the group was established in 1982.
"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," Amy Ridenour, chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research, said in a statement. "You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory."
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have eliminated the task force responsible for doing the National Rifle Association's bidding, but that hasn't stopped the coordination between the right-wing groups. In the latest example of their friendly cooperation, the NRA plans to hold a trap shoot in conjunction with ALEC's annual meeting later this month.
In a missive to state legislators published by the Center on Media and Democracy, which researches ALEC, NRA director of state and local affairs Charles H. Cunningham invites state legislators to attend the "annual shoot," promising that it "will prove to be just as fun as in years past." According to CMD: "For the past several years, on the Saturday of ALEC's annual meeting, the NRA has regularly hosted an outing for ALEC legislators and lobbyists to go shooting together -- with complimentary guns and ammo plus plenty of food and drink (this time it is a barbeque)."
In April, as corporate sponsors fled their organization in the face of pressure from liberal activists angry with the group's support of "Kill at Will" self-defense laws and voter ID bills, ALEC announced that they were disbanding their Elections and Public Safety Task Force, which worked on those issues. At the time, that task force's chair told Media Matters that such issues were no longer a priority for ALEC.
The NRA was reportedly extremely unhappy with ALEC's reaction to public pressure regarding the "Kill at Will" laws, which spread to dozens of states after ALEC adopted a model bill based on the Florida statute that was cited as an influence in the case of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. An NRA representative reportedly criticized the group for dismantling the task force during a meeting of conservative leaders, warning other participants that ALEC could flee from their issues as well.
But the continuation of the NRA's annual shoot at ALEC's annual meeting suggests that the two conservative groups have patched up their differences and are again working together to promote right-wing legislation.
In April the NRA vowed to defend "Kill at Will" laws across the country.
As corporate sponsors fled from the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the media's scrutiny increased earlier this year, ALEC's allies at the right-wing Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity rushed to the organization's defense.
ALEC, which uses donations from major corporations to promote conservative model bills for use in state capitals across the country, came under fire in April from progressive groups. This followed the revelation of ALEC's involvement in voter ID legislation as well as legislation based on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law written by the National Rifle Association and linked to the death of Trayvon Martin. ALEC subsequently eliminated the task force that had approved those model bills, but corporations have continued to abandon the group, with five leaving this week.
Over a nine day period that month, the Franklin Center published vigorous defenses of ALEC from Franklin Center's president, vice president of journalism, and one of its board members, who acknowledged serving as public sector chair of an ALEC task force.
Yesterday Media Matters' Joe Strupp noted in a lengthy profile of the Franklin Center:
The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.
The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.
According to the Center on Media and Democracy, a progressive group that monitors ALEC, "The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a 'Vice-Chairman' level sponsor of 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $25,000. The Franklin Center was one of about 60 companies and institutions represented in the conference exhibition hall." In October 2011, CMD reported extensively on the Franklin Center's ALEC ties.
In a June 19 Detroit Free Press opinion piece, guest writer Gary Wolfram advocated for the privatization of Michigan's prison system. The Free Press editors provided a rather innocuous description of Wolfram's credentials: "Gary Wolfram is the William Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College." An honest description of Wolfram, however, would also note that he is an adjunct scholar at the right-wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the "largest conservative state-level policy think-tank in the nation." While the Free Press has in the past identified Mackinac connections to their contributors, Wolfram's affiliation appears to have been overlooked.
Accurately describing Wolfram's credentials is vital to a reader's ability to judge whether Wolfram's opinions are academically objective and trustworthy or tainted by an agenda and background that should temper expectations of accuracy. Here, the latter is certainly the case -- the Mackinac Center has been described as "tied at the hip with the Republican Party establishment," and its donors include the hyper-conservative Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Mackinac was integral to Michigan's controversial Public Act 4, which "lets the governor name appointees to take over financially troubled cities." (In fact, the Republican governor appointed a former Mackinac scholar to one of these "emergency manager" positions in Pontiac, MI.)
Mackinac Center research is often of low quality and because of this it should be treated with considerable skepticism by the public, policy makers and political leaders. Indeed, much of the work of the Mackinac Center may have cause more confusion than clarity in the public discussion of the issues that it has addressed by systematically ignoring evidence that does not agree with its proposed solutions.
On the issue of prison privatization specifically, the Mackinac Center has been pushing a privatization agenda for years, hand in hand with ALEC and the private incarceration industry. Mother Jones highlighted some of Mackinac's conflicts of interest (emphasis added):
A cause underlying much of the [Mackinac Center's] work is privatization. Its scholars have called for privatizing Amtrak, prisons, and even the state's flagship university, the University of Michigan. The center publishes the Michigan Privatization Report, and offers how-tos on privatizing school districts and suggests local contractors available for hire to replace existing public services.
The Mackinac Center is also connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the private organization that allows corporations and lobbyists to craft legislation for use at the state level. For instance, as NPR reported last fall, Arizona's draconian immigration bill was based on a "model bill" written by private industry, including the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's leading private prisons company that operates corrections facilities around the country.
In other words, Wolfram is part of an extensive network of right-wing ideologues pushing an agenda for the benefit of their private industry funders. But as far as the Free Press readers know, Wolfram is just a professor of economics and public policy at a small, local college.
The right-wing website Breitbart.com is promising to "shine a light" on the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) in the coming days, a campaign that comes as corporate sponsors and lawmakers flee the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Media should be cautioned that any efforts to compare the two organizations is without validity, given their contrasting missions, standards of transparency, degrees of corporate influence, and ideologies.
Just one day after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force that was responsible for model voter ID and "Kill At Will" self-defense legislation like that linked to Trayvon Martin's death, a new organization emerged to carry the torch for the implementation of voter ID laws nationwide.
In an April 18 press release, the innocuous-sounding National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) heralded "the formation of a 'Voter Identification Task Force,' intended to continue the excellent work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in promoting measures to enhance integrity in voting." According to NCPPR chair Amy Ridenour, "conservatives will kick up our support for voter integrity programs. 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's press release ominously concluded with a claim that NCPPR was prepared to pull a metaphoric gun on its political opponents: "Unlike [ALEC critic] the Center for American Progress, the National Center for Public Policy Research eschews the use of violent references such as 'War Room.' We are, however, inspired by a particular passage in the 1987 movie 'The Untouchables': 'They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.' Indeed." So much for eschewing violent references.
It was only fitting then that the National Rifle Association, the former private sector co-chair of ALEC's disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force, would give NCPPR free publicity. During the May 22 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company, NCPPR adjunct fellow Horace Cooper appeared to discuss his organization's voter fraud hysteria.
The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and employees of Fox News have repeatedly shielded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) from criticism without disclosing that parent company News Corp. is a member of that organization.
Since mid-April the Journal has defended ALEC, a shadowy conservative organization backed by corporate giants that tailors model bills for state legislatures, in two editorials and also published two op-eds attacking the group's critics. Fox News likewise highlighted the criticism of ALEC in at least five April segments, with Bill O'Reilly describing its opponents as "very, very vicious" and questioning whether they were engaging in "blackmail." The network even hosted ALEC's communications director to defend the group. In none of those segments or articles was News Corp.'s ALEC membership mentioned.
This morning the Center for Media and Democracy, which rigorously monitors ALEC, reported:
Documents obtained and released by Common Cause show that News Corp. was a member of ALEC's Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as of April 2010. Adam Peshek, who staffs ALEC's Education Task Force, told Education Week that News Corp. has been a member of both ALEC's Education Task Force and Communications and Technology Task Force since January 2012.
ALEC has come under fire in recent months for promoting model state legislation for restrictive voter ID laws and Kill at Will self-defense laws similar to the Florida statute cited in the Trayvon Marton killing. Progressives have responded by urging legislators, corporations, and organizations affiliated with ALEC to cut their ties. At least 19 corporate or non-profit members and 54 state legislators have left the group as a result of the campaign.
News Corp.'s conservative media entities have pushed back against this campaign, claiming that progressives are "playing the race card" as part of a "remarkable political assault," and lauded companies that have yet to disassociate themselves from ALEC. But they have not disclosed that their own parent company is one of those ALEC members.
In 2010 News Corp. drew criticism -- including from shareholders -- following the disclosure that the company had donated $2.25 million to GOP-linked groups including the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After that information was revealed, Fox News offered only intermittent disclosure of those donations during their reports on gubernatorial races and the chamber.
The company subsequently adopted "a new policy to publicly disclose corporate political contributions annually on News Corporation's corporate web site." Any ALEC membership fees paid by News Corp. are not indicated in their disclosure of corporate political contributions for 2011, which lists only contributions to candidates for office and political action and party committees.
On January 5, 2011, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, a group called State Legislators for Legal Immigration held a press event announcing their intention to change meaning of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, which has granted citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" ever since it was ratified in 1868. The group wants to force a reinterpretation of the amendment to prevent children of undocumented immigrants from obtaining citizenship, thus removing (in SLLI's view) an incentive for people to cross the border illegally.
Their primary weapon in this crusade is a model bill that says children must have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen (or resident alien) in order to be eligible for state citizenship. The bill, which runs contrary to over 100 years of legal precedent, was designed so that legislators could take it back to their states, work to get it passed, and then get sued with the hope that the case makes it all the way to a Supreme Court which would then overturn that precedent.
The strategy, the legal reasoning, and the model legislation were devised by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Specifically, they are the brainchildren of Kris Kobach, counsel for IRLI and the Kansas secretary of state.
IRLI is not the only conservative organization pushing model legislation on this issue. A similar model bill approved by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2008 provides for state legislatures to call on Congress to "enact legislation clarifying the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution as denying citizenship status to children of illegal aliens."
Although the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been in the spotlight in recent weeks for promoting legislation similar to the Florida "Kill at Will" law at issue in the Trayvon Martin case, for decades the organization has been quietly "ghostwriting the law" to the benefit of its big business funders and the detriment of consumers, investors and victims of corporate wrongdoing. Increased attention on the shadowy organization is revealing that ALEC's now-notorious and since-disbanded foray into gun rights and voter suppression was a tangent from a massive, concerted campaign to set aside laws that hold corporations accountable when they pollute the environment, sell dangerous products or defraud consumers. All the more effective for its stealthy nature, ALEC's war on corporate accountability has received only a fraction of the scrutiny the media has focused on the Kill at Will controversy.
ALEC's Civil Justice Task Force drives this agenda under a banner of "tort reform." A "tort" is a wrong that gives rise to a legal claim. Tort lawsuits seek to compensate victims for physical, economic and psychological harm and deter future negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Because most tort law is made at the state level and many cases are tried in state courts, ALEC's state-focused Civil Justice Task Force is a crucial element of a broader corporate-driven "tort reform" effort.
ALEC shapes state law by drafting and promoting "model legislation," and the Civil Justice Task Force actively engages in this effort, as illustrated by two documents. The first, recently brought to light by the public interest organization Common Cause, is a spreadsheet titled "ALEC State Tracking: Good Legal Reform Bills." The spreadsheet tracks 160 pieces of legislation relating to "tort reform" from 38 states in great detail. Among the categories of information collected in the spreadsheet are the sponsor of each bill, his or her political party; the title of the bill, the related ALEC model bill, any hearings held on the bill and its status. Thus, when the Civil Justice Task Force took this snapshot in 2011, 160 pieces of legislation, each of them inspired by an ALEC model bill, had been introduced in the state legislatures of 76 percent of the states. The "Good Legal Reform Bills" document is proof of the sweeping scope and sophisticated nature of ALEC's campaign to limit corporate accountability.
A second document gets at the equally ambitious substance of the campaign. Titled The State Legislator's Guide: Tort Reform Boot Camp, the 44-page document sets out 13 pieces of model legislation, along with "talking points" in support of each provision; tips on "gauging your opposition;" and "steps in the right direction" that a legislator might pursue if political or legal barriers prevent full adoption of the proposal. The document is "tort reform" in a box, equipping corporate-friendly legislators to introduce, promote and enact the Civil Justice Task Force's agenda. The effectiveness of ALEC's techniques, as represented by Tort Reform Boot Camp, is illustrated by the organization's claim that between 1999 and 2011 43 states "enacted legislation based on ALEC Civil Justice Task Force legislation."
Pennsylvania's five largest newspapers have generally failed to cover the mounting defections of lawmakers and corporations from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing advocacy group whose membership and model legislation have had significant influence on Pennsylvania government.
Model legislation supported by the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council that would make it illegal for private citizens to conduct stings exposing illegal gun sales is being criticized by veteran investigative reporters and media law experts who say it could negatively impact undercover journalists who report on such activities.
"This law appears to create a shield for illegal conduct. We would be very concerned as investigative reporters with any attempt to criminalize legitimate reporting. Reporters don't go out and somehow force gun dealers to make these sales," said Stephen Engelberg, managing editor at ProPublica.org, the Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporting site. "The illegal activity is the sale of the guns, not the failure to flash a press badge for the sale of the gun."
The so-called "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms" bill was presented in August 2011 by NRA lobbyist Tara Mica to ALEC's since-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The task force adopted it as model legislation.
The bill states, in part, that:
Any person who knowingly solicits, persuades, encourages or entices a licensed dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition to transfer a firearm or ammunition under circumstances which the person knows would violate the laws of this state or the United States is guilty of a felony.
The bill also makes it illegal to intentionally give a licensed firearm dealer or private seller "materially false information with intent to deceive the dealer or seller about the legality of a transfer of a firearm or ammunition." Violators are punished with up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
The NRA has explicitly stated that such legislation, which has been adopted in several states, is intended to target undercover stings by gun violence prevention activists seeking to shine a light on illegal private sellers.
Those efforts typically involve private dealers selling firearms to undercover activists after those individuals tell the buyer they don't think they could pass a federal background check. Such checks are not required for the transfer of firearms by private sellers, only federal firearms licensees, but it is illegal for anyone to sell a firearm if they have reason to believe the buyer can't legally own the weapon.
Critics contend the proposed law could block undercover reporters who seek to purchase weapons in this manner in an effort to expose the criminal practice.
Earlier this year NBC national investigative reporter Jeff Rossen engaged in such a sting and produced an extensive report for Today which the network said "exposes how simple it is for criminals and even terrorists to purchase deadly weapons in public places - with no questions asked."
"It's ill-guided, or misguided or worse," said Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, which advises media outlets on legal issues, when asked about the bill. "It might also provide some basis for a constitutional challenge to such a bill if it were enacted in that it is intended to single out the press and those with a particular perspective on illegal gun sales."
She later added, "The whole notion is that if we can make it unlawful to show and tell, then no one will ever know about it. It is an extraordinary effort and I believe it is a desperate one when you have to penalize those who would make public unlawful acts; it is a pretty desperate measure."