Like Americans for Prosperity, the Beacon Hill Institute, and the State Policy Network before it, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) is the latest oil industry front group to run a deceptive op-ed campaign against the EPA's climate change plan, with NBCC president Harry C. Alford alleging in newspapers across the country that the Clean Power Plan will impose "economic hardship" on blacks and Hispanics. None of these newspapers disclosed that the NBCC has received $1 million from the ExxonMobil Foundation, and the op-eds themselves rely on climate science denial and thoroughly debunked industry-linked studies in an attempt to dismiss the financial and health benefits the Clean Power Plan will provide to black and Hispanic communities.
Conservative media were outraged after the Supreme Court ruled to uphold health insurance tax credits for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), just as Congress intended.
Following an investigation by Atlanta's 11Alive into the inner workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- the secretive organization that brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to draft model legislation businesses want to see passed - RedState editor-and-chief, Fox News contributor, and Atlanta-based radio host Erick Erickson gave an ALEC spokesman a platform to deflect questions raised by the report and used his own microphone to question the investigative reporter's character.
On May 21, Atlanta's 11Alive News Tonight aired a report by Brendan Keefe that exposed what went on at an ALEC conference at a hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Keefe's reporting laid bare the cozy relationships between lobbyists and legislators that ALEC facilitates and revealed ALEC's hostile attitude towards the press. Keefe and his crew were denied access to meetings between Georgia legislators and corporate representatives, even though they displayed official press credentials. ALEC's vice president of public affairs, Bill Meierling, even tried to get Keefe thrown out of the hotel, where Keefe was a registered guest, with the help of uniformed police officers hired by ALEC as private security.
ALEC responded to 11Alive's investigation by saying Keefe's questions had "caught [Meierling] off guard," but had no comment on the story's revelations.
But Meierling had plenty to say on the June 4 broadcast of The Erick Erickson Show. During the interview, Meierling attacked Keefe's reporting by claiming he "snuck into a conference room" under a fake name "not for the purpose of interviewing anyone or having a frank discussion but to shove three cameras in people's faces and have a 'gotcha' moment." Meierling said if Keefe applied for media credentials from ALEC, the group could "try to shape the things that he was interested in." Erickson also defended the group and attacked 11Alive's report by claiming that Keefe had attempted to portray ALEC as a "vast right wing conspiracy group fueled by money" and "wining and dining legislators and shaping evil policies," all of which Erickson posited is untrue.
Keefe responded to Erickson's interview in a June 11 article on 11Alive's website that contained screenshots of ALEC's website showing that the group had changed its media policy since 11Alive's investigation aired. He also noted that 11Alive had repeatedly requested an interview with someone from ALEC but received no response.
The sudden change in policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council was made after the 11Alive Investigators were kicked out of an ALEC legislative committee meeting inside a Savannah resort hotel. Chatham County Sheriff's deputies, directly hired and paid by ALEC, were used to remove us from the entire hotel even though we had paid for a room.
The ALEC media policy remains nearly identical to the one in place when we launched our investigation, but after our report the line barring media was quietly removed and replaced with, "plenary sessions and workshops are open to members of the media."
A screen grab obtained by The Investigators in May and a capture of the same web page from earlier this year on archive.org both show the original line prohibiting reporters and their cameras: "business meetings and networking events are not open to members of the media."
That media prohibition was quietly removed, and the new line was inserted at the same time ALEC complained to a political commentator that we had never contacted the organization before the event. It turns out we did reach out to ALEC media relations twice in the months leading up to the closed-door Savannah meeting, but we never received any response to our requests.
Keefe also addressed the charge that he had used a fake name, or tried to conceal his motives for seeking an interview, and corrected Meierling and Erickson's claim that it was a Georgia Democrat who criticized ALEC in 11Alive's report; it was, in fact, a Georgia Republican and former ALEC member who said the group was full of "angry white men...controlled by industry."
While Meierling still won't talk with us, he did speak to conservative talk show host Erick Erickson, insisting that we would have been welcome inside the meeting had we simply pre-registered for ALEC credentials. Erickson and Meierling insisted we had booked the hotel "under an assumed name." My whole family stayed at the hotel that week, and my wife and I booked the room under the name "Keefe" which I assumed 46 years ago at birth.
The radio interview also attributed a quote that ALEC was a group of "angry white men" to the wrong Georgia senator. Meierling and Erickson told listeners the quote came from Senator Nan Orrock, a democrat who was a member of a "left wing competitor of ALEC."
But Senator Orrock didn't say that. Republican senator and former ALEC member Renee Unterman told us ALEC was a group of "angry white men...controlled by industry."
Despite Meierling and Erickson claims that media have an easy time gaining access to ALEC meetings, attempts by journalists to investigate what really goes on inside ALEC meetings between legislators and lobbyists are often shut down by the group. And while Meierling tried to downplay the monetary influence these lobbyists have on legislators, saying "there's absolutely nothing nefarious about discussing limited government," lawmakers pay a very small proportion of ALEC's membership fees, while corporations pay up to $10,000 a year for access to legislators -- payments that add up to 98 percent of ALEC's revenues.
11Alive's investigation isn't the first to prove Erickson's claim that ALEC isn't "wining and dining" legislators wrong. In fact, ALEC's generosity towards lawmakers goes far beyond dinner, and includes "scholarship" programs that often involve paying legislators' way on trips to meet lobbyists at resorts and other vacation destinations, like the hotel in Savannah where Keefe tried to find out more about the group's activities. The same legislators who go on these junkets have supported such ALEC-promoted laws as "Stand Your Ground," which has been used to defend the reckless use of firearms; dangerous climate initiatives that promote corporate profits over public interests; and legislation to block increases in the minimum wage.
From the June 11 edition of iHeartRadio's The Michael Berry Show:
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Texas radio host Michael Berry has a long history of making sexist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-African-American comments on his radio show. He also has posted several racially-tinged videos to his show's YouTube channel that criticize African-Americans, and posted racially insensitive comments on social media like Facebook.
From the June 8 edition of iHeartRadio's Michael Berry Show:
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Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson, the state's self-appointed vetter of GOP presidential candidates, recently told members of the League of Women Voters that it should be harder for people to vote, suggesting it be limited to state property owners or people who pass a civics test -- both of which were used to disenfranchise black voters and others in colonial America and the Jim Crow era.
On the June 4 broadcast of Mickelson in the Morning, Mickelson hosted two representatives of the League of Women Voters. During the discussion, Mickelson declared that unlike his guests, whose group works to register more Americans to vote, he is in "the voter repression business" and doesn't want people to vote "unless they agree" with him. He also suggested that in order to vote, Americans should have to pass a "civics test" to prove they're smart enough.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has responded to an investigation by Atlanta's 11Alive News Tonight, which exposed millions of viewers to the influence of ALEC's corporate members over the Georgia Legislature.
ALEC, which has a history of blocking press access to its functions, refused to let a news reporter from the station cover a meeting between state legislators, corporate representatives, and lobbyists in late May at a Savannah resort. However, the reporter, 11Alive's Brendan Keefe, talked to former ALEC members to find out more and recorded a conversation with a legislator and lobbyist at a hotel bar who offered details of how the group gives state lawmakers free hotel stays and provides them with corporate-backed legislation suggestions.
ALEC responded to 11Alive's investigation by saying its reporter's questions "caught [the spokesperson] off-guard." The group said it has "welcomed journalists from prominent outlets" to its events in the past, but through its lawyers, denied permission to the station to broadcast video it took of the legislators meeting with members of ALEC representing corporations and lobbying interests.
In fact, ALEC has often hired private security or off-duty police officers to remove unwanted reporters, like Keefe in this instance, from its meetings with legislators. Security guards working at the 2011 ALEC annual meeting in New Orleans physically removed ThinkProgress reporters Lee Fang and Scott Keyes from the hotel in which the conference was being held. In 2013, uniformed Washington D.C. police turned away Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.
Reporters critical of ALEC are denied even the limited access granted to the handpicked journalists ALEC allows to attend portions of their conferences. As Toronto Star reporter Olivia Ward discovered in 2011, some journalists, along with protestors, are threatened with arrest while trying to cover ALEC conferences:
I'm talking to a fellow hotel guest, Beau Hodai, a journalist from the left-wing magazine, In These Times, who has written probing articles on ALEC. Unlike me, he hasn't enjoyed its co-operation and credentials. His calls have gone unanswered, and he has been turned back by the police and guards who firewall the meeting.
The noise level in the bar rises and so do I. As I say goodnight, Beau is summoned by hotel security and herded away toward the elevator by uniformed police. Why? In Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, I was evicted from my hotel by machine-gun-toting militias as the Kosovo war began. But in America. . . ?
ALEC and their corporate sponsors have a vested interest in keeping their conferences confidential. In secrecy, lobbyists and lawyers construct model right-wing legislation to be introduced in state houses across the country. These model laws include the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which has been used in high-profile cases to defend an individual's use of deadly force. In its investigation, 11Alive reported on legislation that "severely limits who can file asbestos claims against corporations," showing a side-by-side comparison of ALEC's template for the bill, and the nearly identical bill passed by the Georgia legislature in 2007. Minnesota passed a similar ALEC-authored asbestos bill in 2012.
As ALEC's profile has become more public and the unethical implications of its corporate-written legislation have become more obvious, some major companies have quit the group. Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft have all left the organization in the last two years. However, the departure of Google may be the most notable as its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, cited ALEC's climate change denial as Google's reason for leaving (emphasis added):
"The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts -- what a shock," said Schmidt. "And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people -- they're just, they're just literally lying."
As the Center for Media and Democracy's Brendan Fischer has reported, ALEC's 2015 agenda is no less controversial despite the loss of a few powerful members. According to Fischer, ALEC's focus this year will be on efforts to stifle the growing minimum wage movement among localities as well as supporting union busting right-to-work legislation.
Beyond continuing to create model legislation for state governments, ALEC has also launched a subsidiary to focus on more city and county legislation. Bloomberg noted that the newly formed American City County Exchange will work to increase privatization of municipal functions by "push[ing] policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group's state strategies."
From the May 27 edition of USA Radio Networks' Steve Deace Show:
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From the May 21 edition of WXIA-TV's 11 Alive News Tonight:
It has become increasingly clear that human-induced climate change is exacerbating California's historic drought and will continue to make droughts in the western U.S. more common and more extreme, as many studies and leading climate scientists have concluded. Yet a Media Matters analysis reveals that over a one-month period, the local television stations in California's two largest media markets addressed the role of climate change in less than two percent of their drought coverage, and when they did it was usually in segments that also included climate science denial.
Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson's regular interviews with White House hopefuls each presidential election season have turned him into something of a kingmaker, despite his record of pushing conservative misinformation, Islamophobia, and anti-gay views.
Major newspapers in Wisconsin have omitted key facts from their coverage of proposed state legislation to drug test people who receive certain government benefits -- including that such testing is extremely costly and that studies have found that people on assistance programs use drugs at lower rates than the general population.
Lawmakers in the Wisconsin State Assembly approved legislation on May 13 that would require drug screening for people who collect welfare checks and restrict what items food stamps can be spent on. The measures include three bills: one to drug tes tapplicants for unemployment benefits, another to drug test recipients of income support and food assistance, and a third to restrict Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) purchases to "healthy foods" -- determined by the government -- and ban users from buying "crab, lobster, shrimp or any other shellfish." According to the Huffington Post, the legislation is similar to a proposal Gov. Scott Walker included in his state budget.
In their coverage of the proposed legislation, The Wisconsin State Journal, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Green Bay Press Gazette all omitted key context about how similar drug testing requirements enacted in other states turned out to be expensive and were strongly opposed by experts in the scientific, medical, and substance abuse fields.
According to a February 26 report from ThinkProgress that analyzed seven states with similar programs, states that have implemented such measures "are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users." Although states have "collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort," the report found that the tests have turned up relatively littleevidence of substance abuse: "The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent."
And according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "science and medical experts overwhelming oppose the drug testing of welfare recipients." Pointing to a statement from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, the ACLU explained that laws requiring drug testing for welfare recipients only serve to reinforce the stigma around needing such benefits. The list of organizations opposed is long, and includes the following:
American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Black Women's Health Project, Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
The Associated Press and Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush spoke out against the proposal to bury nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, without mentioning Bush's ties to a nuclear industry group that actively supports the project.
Speaking in Nevada on May 13, Bush told a group of reporters that Yucca Mountain will not likely become the permanent storage location for the nation's nuclear waste. The Associated Press story quoted Bush saying the project "stalled out" and reported that he "said the waste dump shouldn't be 'forced down the throat' of anyone." And according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Bush also said "we need to move to a system where the communities and states want it."
What the AP and Review-Journal left out, however, is that Bush is currently listed as a member of a nuclear industry group called the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), which has long advocated for Yucca Mountain -- and continues to do so. As recently as February 24, CASEnergy published a blog post declaring Yucca Mountain a "scientifically safe and sound option" for storing nuclear waste permanently, and "a critical component" of the nation's shift to nuclear energy.
Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston first detailed Bush's ties to the pro-Yucca industry group in March, in a blog post in which he wrote that Bush "was once part of a front group for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the main lobbying entity behind siting a repository at Yucca Mountain." Ralston further noted that Bush "signed letters opposing interim waste sites," specifically pointing to a November 2006 letter that said Senate legislation backing interim storage sites would constitute "a step backward in the long-standing federal policy to establish a permanent disposal facility."