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."
Repeatedly burned by stings intended to demonstrate the ease with which individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms can buy guns from private sellers without passing a background check, the National Rifle Association appears to have found a solution: Make those stings illegal. As usual, their allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council are happy to help.
ALEC documents obtained by Common Cause indicate that in August 2011, NRA lobbyist Tara Mica presented an "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms" bill to ALEC's since-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which the task force adopted as model legislation. Mica has at times served as the task force's Private Sector Chair.
The bill states that "[a]ny person who provides to a licensed dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition what the persons knows to be materially false information with intent to deceive the dealer or seller about the legality of a transfer of a firearm or ammunition is guilty of a felony." Violators are punished with up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
According to the group's minutes, the state legislators on the task force voted unanimously to adopt the legislation; the motion to adopt the bill also passed among its private sector members.
The NRA has explicitly stated that such legislation is intended to target undercover stings by gun violence prevention activists intended to shine a light on some unscrupulous private sellers. Those efforts typically involve individuals telling private sellers that they don't think they could pass a federal background check, which are not required for the transfer of firearms by private sellers, and being permitted to purchase the weapon nonetheless.
Since it is illegal to sell firearms to individuals if you have reason to suspect they cannot legally possess them, the NRA-backed ALEC law effectively shields criminal activity.
The former chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council's recently disbanded Elections and Public Safety Task Force said most of the committee's work on voting and gun issues probably will not continue elsewhere within ALEC, but said some could be pursued if they have ties to economic issues.
"The criminal justice area has been one where we have had consensus in doing the kinds of things we're doing with justice re-investment and with the things like our smart on crime initiatives and those things I hope don't get damaged by these actions going on now to break up what we've been able to put together," said Republican Texas State Rep. Jerry Madden, former chair of the committee.
Madden made the comments following the announcement last week that ALEC would disband the committee after it drew complaints for its role in promoting NRA-backed gun laws and voter restrictions. ALEC says it will now refocus on economic legislation.
The Christian Post reported earlier this week that Madden said ALEC planned to pursue many of the same issues elsewhere within the organization:
Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas chairs the Public Safety Task Force and although he is disappointed the committee is disbanding, he said many of the issues will be transferred to other committees.
"ALEC's decision won't impact the important issues we've worked on," Madden told The Christian Post. "But I will say this, these groups are targeting ALEC because when conservatives get together, we influence state and federal policy in a major way and these groups are scared of us - and should be."
Contacted by Media Matters on Wednesday, Madden said most of the gun and voting issues previously targeted by his committee will likely not be pursued as ALEC continues. But he hinted that some might have ties to economic concerns that would make them valid subjects to target
On the morning of Saturday, April 14, 2012, things were going well for the National Rifle Association. The gun rights organization's annual meeting was in full swing. Bloggers crowed about record attendance at the St. Louis, Missouri event. Friday's "Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum" went off without a hitch--all 13 featured speakers were Republican men. Barack Obama was called a "post-American President," "incompetent," and the most "radically liberal" president since Jimmy Carter. But the most incendiary comments about the president had yet to come.
On Saturday afternoon, Ted Nugent, a member of the NRA's Board of Directors, addressed the NRA faithful. Nugent implored NRA members to support the Republican ticket in the fall, declaring, "Your goal should be to be able to get a couple of thousand people, per person who's here, to vote for Mitt Romney in November." After that rather innocuous endorsement, Nugent turned his sights on President Obama, and things quickly spiraled out of control.
"If that dead Marine isn't worth it to you to demand that the enemies in the White House are ousted, then you probably ought to just move to France," ranted Nugent. He continued, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack." Nugent then characterized the Obama administration as "vile," "evil," and "America-hating," before concluding his diatribe with a call for the audience to "ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November."
The fallout continues over the American Legislative Exchance Council's support of the National Rifle Association's "Kill at Will" self-defense laws. On his RedState.com site, CNN contributor Erick Erickson reported today that an "NRA representative took issue with ALEC getting rid of his public safety section" at last Wednesday's weekly conservative discussion hosted by NRA board member Grover Norquist.
Last Tuesday ALEC announced that they were eliminating their Public Safety and Elections task force, which drew fire for its role in promoting NRA-backed gun laws and voter restrictions, and refocusing solely on economic legislation. Over the previous week at least 10 companies had left the organization in the wake of Color of Change's campaign to encourage corporations to end their association with the group due to their promotion of those laws.
At Grover Norquist's Wednesday meeting a discussion about the ongoing assault against ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, came up. Multiple sources (there are hundreds in the room) tell me that the NRA representative took issue with ALEC getting rid of his public safety section. That section has drafted a model "stand your ground" law, which Florida passed.
The NRA representative claimed that if ALEC was going to run away from the fight on these public safety issues, ALEC might just run away from other issues too, e.g. immigration.
Erickson further reported that an ALEC representative present at the meeting complained that the NRA had refused to help his organization push back on attacks they were receiving.
From the April 19 edition of Current TV's The War Room With Jennifer Granholm:
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Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) approved a bill that curbs the ability of asbestos-exposure victims to recover losses from some companies that are legally responsible. The bill was pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Crown Holdings, Inc., a Fortune 500 corporation trying to legislate its way out of compensating cancer and mesothelioma victims who were exposed to asbestos by a company it purchased. According to a Media Matters analysis, Michigan's two largest newspapers, the Detroit Free Press and the Grand Rapids Press, have been utterly silent on the bill from introduction to its passage.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has announced that they are eliminating their Public Safety and Elections task force, which has drawn fire for its central role in promoting legislation similar to the Florida "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law that experts say may prevent the successful prosecution of Trayvon Martin's killer.
In a statement issued on behalf of the group's Legislative Board of Directors, ALEC national chairman David Frizzell said that in a meeting last week the legislative board unanimously agreed to "eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy."
Last month Media Matters was the first to report that shortly after Florida passed their 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law at the behest of the National Rifle Association, a nearly identical bill was adopted by ALEC as model legislation. NRA lobbyist and former NRA president Marion Hammer, who was the driving force behind Florida's bill, was the one who presented it before the Criminal Justice Task Force (which became the Public Safety and Elections task force).
Since ALEC adopted Florida's bill as model legislation, similar statutes have passed in dozens of states, with Public Safety and Elections resident fellow Michael Hough acknowledging in a 2008 interview with NRA News that ALEC and NRA were working together to get those bills passed. The NRA and ALEC have also teamed up to push bills allowing concealed carry permit holders to bring guns on college campuses and banning governors and local officials from seizing firearms during emergencies.
Following Media Matters' report, ALEC's ties to "Stand Your Ground" laws have drawn increasing scrutiny from the media and progressive organizations. In late March "a broad coalition of progressive groups -- including the NAACP, the Urban League, Color of Change, Common Cause, People for the American Way and MoveOn.org" held a protest of ALEC's ties to those laws outside the group's Washington, DC headquarters. At least 10 companies have left the organization in the wake of Color of Change's campaign to encourage corporations to end their association with ALEC due to its work on "Stand Your Ground" and voter ID legislation.
In response, ALEC has apparently decided to end its work on those issues, eliminating a key NRA ally.
The National Rifle Association has been silent on the killing of Trayvon Martin and the laws it has helped pass that may prevent the successful prosecution of the man who shot him. Until now.
During his speech this morning at the group's annual meeting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre finally addressed the controversy -- by attacking the media for covering the case, claiming they are "manufactur[ing] controversy for ratings."
LAPIERRE: But the media, they don't care. Everyday victims aren't celebrities. They don't draw ratings, don't draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does. In the aftermath of one of Florida's many daily tragedies, my phone has been ringing off the hook. Now, the National Rifle Association will not comment on any story without a full understanding and a thorough understanding of all the facts. But if I were to answer a call from Diane Sawyer or Chris Matthews or Brian Williams or Rachel Maddow, let me tell you right now what I'd ask them.
Where's your outrage? Where's your outrage about Willie Brewer III from Akron, Ohio? OrDerrick Linkhorn from Decatur, Georgia? Or Daryl Adams from New York City? Or what about Antonio Duff? Just this past Monday afternoon, about the same time I got here into town, he was killed and murdered. And he's not the only young man murdered in this city this past week. You reporters, you don't know their names. You don't care about those people. You manufacture controversy for ratings. You don't care about the truth, and the truth is the national news media in this country is a national disgrace, and you all know it. And so do Americans throughout the country, and it's getting worse every single day, and your dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.