by John Feinblatt
Every four years, the national media looks to Iowa for stories about where American voters stand on pressing issues.
After what happened this spring here in Des Moines, it’s clear where Iowans stand on guns and public safety — and how Iowans made their voices heard is a story that deserves to be told.
It starts in the Statehouse, where the NRA’s lobbyists pushed Senate File 425. The bill set out to overturn a longstanding background check requirement on private handgun sales. In effect, the gun lobby wanted to get rid of a provision that helps ensure guns sold at places like gun shows and via the Internet are subject to the same rules as guns sold at federally licensed dealers.
In quickly advancing the bill to the floor, gun lobby-aligned lawmakers conveniently avoided talking about what the bill would actually do. They went so far as to say that that the bill was focused on “safety improvements.” They also touted the bill’s other provisions, including those that would streamline the law to ease some restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. The lobbyists never mentioned repealing background checks. That makes sense, since 88 percent of Iowans support the background check policy.
In the run-up to the final vote on the Senate floor, I reached out to Republican strategists in Iowa to see whether the NRA could be stopped.
“Not a chance,” longtime political observers told me. “They’re too powerful and once they’ve gotten something on the floor, there’s no way to beat them.”
We’ve heard that line for years. Too often, we’ve taken it for granted. The truth is, there’s only one way to find out if the conventional wisdom is actually accurate: show up and fight back.
And that’s what we did.
The Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, went to work. Iowa moms made nearly 5,000 phone calls to state senators, explaining what the bill really would do. They held an advocacy day and delivered petitions filled with signatures. They ran informational advertisements in newspapers across the state.
Most important, they talked face to face with their friends and neighbors.
In the end, the so-called experts were wrong. The Legislature never passed the bill, and the “unbeatable” gun lobby saw its top legislative priority in Iowa defeated.
The lesson we should take from Iowa is simple, and bears repeating.
When people know what’s in a bill —when legislators understand the consequences of what they’re voting on — they’ll do the right thing.
Using misleading language to mask a bill’s true purpose may have worked in the past, but it didn’t this time. Once we got away from the horse-trading lobbyists at the Capitol and into cities and towns throughout the state, we saw that the public wanted to keep the background check system in place. Iowans know that keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous felons is just common sense. Like the vast majority of Americans, they believe that Second Amendment rights go hand in hand with basic safety measures.
The defeat of SF 425 is more than just a political victory, though. Iowans will be safer as a result of its defeat. We know this because in nearby Missouri, legislators overturned a background check requirement in 2007 and the results were deadly. Research by the scholar Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found that after Missouri did the gun lobby’s bidding and gutted its background check system, the state’s gun homicide rate increased by nearly 25 percent. We know, too, that the gun suicide rate in Iowa is 27 percent lower than in states that lack comprehensive background check measures.
Ultimately, the win in Iowa serves as yet another reminder that when you try new approaches and get voters engaged on an issue, powerful interests can be defeated.
When the people go head to head against the gun lobby, the people —and public safety —can prevail.
John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is a letter to the editor from Don Paulson. Mr. Paulson is chair of the Muscatine Democratic Party
I get it now! Kim Reynolds was pulling an early April Fool’s Day joke with her 3/31/15 column urging passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Since work on the TPP is being done in secret she has no idea what specifics are in it.
A small section of this “NAFTA on steroids” plan has been leaked and that part is scary enough. There are 29 chapters in the draft, but only five deal with trade. According to a Public Citizen description, the rest of it sounds like “free market” garbage with 500 corporate “advisors” working on it.
On second thought, it sounds like “ALEC on steroids” and the joke would be on us.
The fiasco in Indiana exposes the Republican Tea Party for what it has become – a party totally devoid of any ideas on issues, totally indifferent to the citizens of this country and totally committed to only one goal – controlling the government so they can hand our tax money to their rich donors. Way to go, baggers. Your greed forced you to pass laws condoning what Americans hate most – unequal treatment sanctioned by law.
What used to be the normal process of government addressing problems has been totally distorted by a Tea Party that answers only to their donors, but still must get elected in order to put in the oligarchy they desire.
So instead of perceiving problems or having citizens ask for action on problems, today’s Tea Party kowtows to the whims of the rich by continually cutting their taxes and making them exempt from costs of damage they do to the commons, such as the environment and infrastructure. These whims are handed to Tea Party legislators through lobbying groups like ALEC with the legislation that the rich want passed to achieve their goals. Thus we see Iowa’s legislature unable to fund schools while at the same time talking about more big tax cuts with the wealthy getting the lion’s share of the cuts.
The other place the Tea Party gets its ideas for legislation is the religious far right. These are groups that don’t care if people have food to eat or a roof over their heads, but are all about saving their souls based on the gods they believe in. These folks can deliver tons of votes of people fearful of going to hell. Since these religious right wingers vote in every election and usually vote for the candidate furthest right socially, the Tea Party must cater to their whims with insane legislation that keeps these groups voting and voting for Tea baggers almost exclusively.
With gerrymandered districts and restriction on who can vote this strategy has led to the majority of state legislatures and governorships in the hands of the Tea Party. With those majorities we see “the laboratories of democracy” as states have been dubbed experimenting with cutting revenues far below that which a state needs in order to function (Kansas is the prime example), busting unions as fats as they can (see Wisconsin) and of course continually trying to impose their religious concepts as law. In that last one you surely recognize the attempts by Indiana and Arkansas (and Georgia and North Carolina also) to impose legalized discrimination based on sexual orientation.
But let us not forget the many attempts that have been made in various state capitals to impose religious training in public schools, to make creationism the equal of science in schools and many other attempts to make religious concepts part of public policy. Chief Justice Roy Moore in Alabama tries to impose his religious views on marriage in defiance of federal court decision. Just last week in Arizona, a legislator contemplated introducing a bill that would make church attendance on Sunday mandatory in her state.
Now, here in Iowa we have had the luxury of looking at these happenings as being something that happens somewhere else. Well, it would be happening here also were it not for the slim one vote Democratic majority in the Iowa senate. Terry Branstad is no longer a practical moderate. He finally sold what little was left of his soul for a return to Terrace Hill. He was always very right wing, but somewhat practical. He threw out that practical part for the money from the wealthy and the votes from the religious. He was a founding member of ALEC and still looks to make a mark for them. He is virulently anti-union and no longer even tries to cover it up. He never misses a chance to show his religiosity these days. Who can forget about a year ago when he flaunted his disdain for the separation of church and state with a big ceremony declaring a day of prayer in Iowa. He then made a big show of at one of the ceremonies later in the summer.
In the Iowa legislature, the Tea Party pretty much marches in lock-step. They would love to be passing some of those give aways to the wealthy and are successful in at least giving some of our treasury away. They would also love to join their tea Party brethren across the country in making discrimination legal and making their Christian dogma into law. Save for one seat in the senate we would easily be an Indiana or a Wisconsin with Terry Branstad happily signing away the rights of the minorities with a big smile. And if he should no longer be in office, you can bet Kim Reynolds would love to be a Tea Party hero.
So don’t be smug Iowans. We are only a heartbeat away from being just another state run by the rich, for the rich with a helping of region on the side.
So if Tea Party legislatures were actually governing and solving problems that actually exist in the lives of common citizens what problems would they be addressing? Here is a short list. Note that these ARE problems that Democrats try to confront at all levels, but are being shut out by the legislative process:
– feeding the family
– decent housing
– working a full time job for a living wage
– good education for their children in an increasingly competitive world
– the cost of higher education and usurious lending rates to students
– health care for all citizens
– access to a neutral internet
– fixing and updating our infrastructure
This is just a start. Overarching all of these is climate change. I have heard there is a movement among millennials to vote only for candidates who will address climate change. Good for them!
Pretty much every Saturday during the Iowa legislative session elected members of both houses convene at venues throughout the state and take comments and questions from the public. If you happen to have both Republican (Tea Party) and Democrats representing your area you can hear some pretty wide gulfs in opinion. Also if you listen closely enough you can hear the repetition of talking points and framing coming particularly from the Republican side of the aisle.
Last Saturday there was a legislative forum which featured 3 Democratic state senators and 3 Republican state representatives. There was a true contrast in how budgeting in general and for schools and road repair in particular are viewed. As can almost be expected I found most interesting the Tea Party representatives framing of issues. In particular the framing by Rep. Tom Sands was most telling. Sands heads up the Ways and Means committee thus making him a very powerful legislator since all spending must be approved by his committee.
For the most part there were questions abou the possibility of getting our roads and bridges fixed. They are bad, folks. Iowa ranks number 48 out of 50 for bridge integrity. We could wait until a bridge collapses and kills some folks before getting them fixed. Or we could do like we used to in the olden days – before Reagan – and have an ongoing maintenance program. The latter is not popular among the no tax crowd.
With bridges in such bad shape and roads obviously sorely in need of repair and an estimate of a $215 million shortfall this year for road repair, one would think that finding money to fix roads or upping the gas tax would be quite popular. Not true. Democratic legislators expressed support for raising the gas tax, provided such a tax is supported by a majority of Republicans. Republicans were much more hesitant. Rep. Sands went into a diatribe concerning taxes and the federal government ending with a really unsubstantiated charge of the economy being weak because of Obama. Sands was clearly against any new tax, citing the major tax cuts in previous years
School funding issues brought out the real anti-tax guns, though. Once again Rep. Sands led the anti-tax / state can’t afford it talking points. Sands noted that the state was not even liable for the mandated 1.25%. Democrat Chris Brace noted later that if a district falls short of the mandate they can assess local property owners. Democrats were solid in supporting a 4% allowable growth increase.
If Republicans have their way, Iowa will fall further down the list of per pupil spending from 35th to 42nd. This in a state that once set the standards for the country. Now we land in the middle and continue to head down. At public hearings held January 26th many potential problems of continued underfunding were pointed out. Larger class sizes and cutting of faculty were the top consequences. Many school will be looking at cutting electives which may put more pressure on Iowa students entering college.
Democrats work on a philosophy of determining public need and then developing means to achieve those needs. Republicans develop policies that favor their donors, develop legislation to implement those policies and then create the environment that could make such legislation applicable.
This is hardly a secret since it has been employed over and over again. This is where an organization like ALEC comes into play. ALEC is a a corporate funded entity. ALEC’s mission is to develop corporate friendly legislation. One often used strategy is to make governmental services seem incompetent, overpaid and costly to run. ALEC then has legislation to replace such government service with a private company alternative that is supposedly more responsive and nimble and reputedly cheaper. At the federal level we can see this at work in the way in which Republicans are going about a systematic dismantling of the U.S. Post Office. We can also see it at work in the attempted dismantling of Social Security and Medicare. We can see it at work in the attempt to defund the ACA.
So here on an Iowa level we see the Republican attempt to under fund our once proud school system. As the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and also a member of ALEC, Rep. Sands sits in a prime spot to see that schools continue to be underfunded. When schools are underfunded they cannot achieve the goals set for them as easily. When such goals are not achieved, politicians with an agenda to siphon off money to private schools will be lining up to publicly denounce the under-achieving school systems. This will then result in less funding.
Along with this strategy will be a campaign to undermine teachers and of course teachers unions. All this helps set the stage for the ALEC answer of privatized charter schools as a component of the public school system. This solution has already been put in in many states under the guise of “school choice.”
Whether charter schools are better or not often lies in the eyes of the beholder. Many studies find them to be less effective than public schools. That doesn’t stop supporters from pushing the propaganda by highlighting positives and ignoring negatives
However, in many cases charter schools have many different rules to play by versus their public school counterparts. In many states charter schools are not run by local school boards but by the parent company. Their funding is public and often less adversarial than funding for public schools has been. Teachers wages are usually lower and unions are usually absent. In many cases schools have some say in who makes up their student body. But most importantly, the focus is not on student achievement but on corporate profit. Let the buyer beware!
Let’s connect the dots then:
– Republicans have a solution. The legislators task is to help create the circumstances where their preferred solution seems doable.
– It really helps to create those circumstances if one of your members holds a crucial seat in the budgeting process.
– Underfund the entity or process that is the target
– Quickly use media to point out the failure of the targeted entity or process
– Repeat until the targeted entity cracks
– Offer ALEC created legislation with preferred solution
– Legislation creates very friendly situation which helps chances of success
– Funding for privatized entity much easier than for public entity.
– Move to next target, repeat process
BTW – the legislature is already late in meeting their obligation for producing school funding. This also throws extra stress on the public schools in planning. Republicans just have to throw our schools anchors instead of life preservers as they sink.
Viewing the results of elections versus what the polls tell us what Americans want, an observer has to wonder if voters are in some kind of a stupor when elections come around. While pollsters find time after time that Americans come down in favor of things like a much higher minimum pay, affordable and available health care for all, smoothing out income and wealth inequality, continued and enhanced Social Security and Medicare, addressing climate issues now just as examples – when elections come around enough elections are won by opponents of all those issues that any possibility of having them obstructed is huge. Now enough opponents have won that many programs in place may be in jeopardy.
How did we get to a place where folks vote over and over against their own best interest? Others have taken a crack at trying to make sense of it all, so why shouldn’t I?
Let’s journey back over eighty years when a group of right wing American industrialists, wealthy individuals, politicians and military leaders attempted a coup against President Franklin Roosevelt. When General Smedley Butler blew the whistle on the coup, Congress had a a hearing. For whatever reason and despite overwhelming evidence, the conspirators were not charged. No lesson was learned and a sort of war of attrition was set in place between the New Deal (and Democrats in general) and a right wing cabal with its basis among those who plotted against FDR.
Until the early 70s this group was fairly ineffective as the middle class grew, America had a generally shared prosperity and civil rights advanced for various groups. During the presidency of Richard Nixon, Lewis Powell wrote a memo to the head of the Chamber of Commerce, Ernest Syndor which outlined a strategy in which businesses could bring their economic power into greater play in the political sphere. The Powell Memo was the first outline of strategies that the right wing, embodied in the Republican Party, would begin to deploy and refine in their pursuit of changing our government to one that tilted the playing field to greatly favor those with money and power.
One of Powell’s main thrusts was to use the power of the media – mostly owned by the right wing – to push their views via news reports and editorials. The Reagan presidency ended the “Fairness Doctrine” thus setting the stage for one sided broadcasting from that point forward. Media ownership quickly dispensed with responses to partisan broadcasts. This was also the beginning of mergers and takeovers in media. Independent voices in media were quickly taken over and the number of originators of news and content shrunk from the thousands to the paltry few we have today. Controlling news sources is integral to spreading messages favorable to your side. As control of our major media of the time advanced, the range of news and opinion narrowed immensely.
Americans had come to trust the independence and confrontational style of their media. That reputation continues to this day even as media has become a tool of the rich. The one chink in the wall of media the rich have built is the one that grew after the takeover of traditional media was under control. That is of course the internet. Once the power of the internet became apparent, those with the power of money have spent considerable money and time trying to take over this sector of media. That is why internet neutrality is so important for America and why its destruction is so important for those who control all other news sources. Even if the FCC finally opts for internet neutrality, those who control the machinery of the internet will do what they can to assert control.
The previous long discussion of history and media was necessary as background to show how tactics have evolved. Without the power of media control, advancing ideas that were once considered very marginal at best would have been impossible. Using the media as an integral part of of their strategy, what was once a far right wing fringe group has been able to sell a quite manipulable public on issues that actually go against their best interests.
While the coup against FDR failed, none of the conspirators were even indicted, let alone tried or convicted. Thus they were able to continue their assault on what they viewed as – well I am not sure what they thought was wrong. As noted the 40s, 50s and even the 60s were a relatively quiet time for the rich on the margin. But there were some successes, such as McCarthyism, and the election of such right wingers as Richard Nixon. Barry Goldwater became the Republican nominee in 1964. But for the most part the movement (often referred to as “movement conservative”) was under the radar. While not significant at the time, Fred C. Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, founded the John Birch Society. This was a forerunner of many of today’s right wing organizations such as the Tea Party.
The Powell memo helped coalesce and focus the various disparate right wing groups. This focus helped lead to Reagan’s election. The Reagan presidency begat policies that help the rich literally get richer and smooth the path for media consolidation. Success built on success. Media ownership created a path for the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his 3 hour daily commercial for movement conservativism. The 3 hour daily dose of movement conservativism led to the election of more and more movement conservatives to national and state legislatures – so-called “think tanks” such as the previously mentioned AEI, Club For Growth, the Heritage Institute and many more.
With all that in place, movement conservativism has refined the process of making policy. Now the process goes something like this:
Think tanks formulate ideas, talking points and slogans to push such policies.
– Lawmakers get in line and repeat over and over the talking points and slogans, no matter what the question
– Media pushes the talking points and slogans. Any contrary positions are dismissed and talked down
– Ideas are made into legislation through groups such as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) or lobbyists in Washington
– If legislation is defeated, talking points developed that will be used to hammer opponents in elections and used by movement conservative candidates.
– Use majorities in state legislatures to consolidate power through new laws, gerrymandering and suppression of voting rights
– Build on laws with more right wing legislation.
Over the years we can see how this strategy has been used to turn the concept of progressive taxation upside down. One of the first targets was inheritance taxes. Using media and slogans about “death taxes” movement conservativism all but wiped out inheritance taxes. Thus multi billionaires can now pass fortunes over generations with little taxation. Next was to make major cuts in taxes for the rich. Creating slogans such as “trickle down” movement conservatives lowered taxes for the wealthy. Freed from having to invest in their businesses and employees to avoid taxes, we have seen an era of lowered wages and mega mergers instead of investment for growth. To push even more tax cuts for the rich, they became “job creators.” These empty slogans were pushed day and night by 95% of TV news, and thousands of corporate radio stations and a consolidated newspaper industry.
Thanks for bearing with me on this little journey through the history of movement conservativism. Paul Krugman has a much longer and more detailed study of how we got to the mess we have today in his book Conscience Of A Liberal.
So Americans seem to be in a drunken stupor. They continue to be fed drinks (lies) by the media and elect movement conservatives in a bar owned by the very wealthy 1%. Any attempt at sobering America up has been thwarted by making the tools of sobriety – the media – worthless. We still have one tool at our disposal – a neutral internet – but it is hanging by an unraveling thread. Were that to be handed over to the wealthy to run, we may have to set up the printing presses in our basements like they did in colonial days. Those presses drove an uprising against a ruling upper class in this country before.
Thanks to Matt Sinovic of Progress Iowa for his exemplary work monitoring ALEC’s activities in Iowa.
ALEC WATCH: New Report Details Corporate Influence in Iowa
To take action or ask questions about ongoing ALEC activity in Iowa, contact Progress Iowa ALEC WATCH Hotline: (515) 428-1556 | Via email: email@example.com
Progress Iowa Tuesday released ALEC WATCH, in an ongoing effort to expose the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and to empower Iowans to hold their elected leaders accountable.
Key findings in the report include:
In Iowa, Senator Ernst, Governor Branstad, and the state legislators serving in leadership positions in ALEC have received more than $563,000 in direct campaign donations from ALEC corporations. Due to the opaqueness of independent spending a complete total will never be known, but ALEC members spent more than $4.2 million in independent expenditures to elect Sen. Ernst.
– ALEC appears to be on the decline, but the organization continues to reinvent itself and adapt. Thanks to transparency efforts across the country, ALEC’s corporate membership may be on the decline. Leaked documents and public statements show that 100 corporate members have left ALEC, forcing a budget crisis for the organization. The corporate exodus has continued recently, with companies like Google, and eBay leaving. ALEC has responded by discussing moving to attract new corporate industries, and recently created an effort to influence local government officials en masse and advance ALEC’s agenda. The ALEC hotline and statewide educational effort will empower Iowans to play a more active role in their local government and stand up to the influence of ALEC.
– ALEC distorted its membership figures to the public. Internal ALEC documents reported on in December of 2013 show that the organization considers all 150 Iowa legislators to be members, despite the public denial of membership by every Democratic member of the Iowa legislature. ALEC’s response to questions regarding membership was lacking, and response from Iowa leadership was nearly nonexistent. Because of these discrepancies and, ALEC’s efforts to influence legislators in Iowa is more opaque than any other state.
– ALEC model bills continue to be introduced in the Iowa legislature. Progress Iowa identified at least nine bills with ALEC influence from the most recent legislative session. Bills to privatize education, weaken consumer standards, and the annual iterations of ALEC’s ‘stand your ground’ model were introduced.
ALEC continues to promulgate an aggressive agenda of deregulation and corporate cronyism. ALEC has shown indications that it will continue to advance its issues in Iowa and across the nation including the privatization of education, the erosion of consumer protections, rigging the courts, and attacking workers. Efforts like this report are the only means to track this influential organization.
ALEC WATCH was compiled by the staff of Progress Iowa, with assistance from a number of partner organizations and volunteers. The report relies on and would not be possible without research from ProgressNow, the Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause, People For the American Way, the Iowa Policy Project, as well as other sources of public information. As information about ALEC in Iowa becomes available to the public, supplemental reports may be issued to offer a more complete picture of ALEC’s influence on our democratic process in the state legislature and across Iowa. View the full report below.
For additional information and further reading about ALEC, we recommend the following sources:
ALEC Exposed, produced by Center for Media and Democracy: http://www.alecexposed.org
Blog for Iowa: All posts about ALEC: http://www.blogforiowa.com/tag/alec/
Internal ALEC documents reported on by the Guardian in 2013, published at the 40th annual ALEC meeting in 2013: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/841593-alec-docs.html
Progress Report, the blog of Progress Iowa: http://progressiowa.org/sections/progress-report
Common Cause’s posted ALEC documents: http://www.commoncause.org/issues/more-democracy-reforms/alec/
Download the full report here: ALEC Watch
Have you ever heard of ALEC? The Koch Brothers? If you answered yes, it’s probably because of the folks at the Center for Media and Democracy. Read their story then decide if you feel they are worth supporting.
by Lisa Graves
Our country is facing some huge battles with the Koch Party’s expanded power in Congress and the states.
The destruction of election corruption laws has aided–and been abetted by–the billionaire Koch Brothers and their network of billionaires and millionaires, with a cadre of servile politicians peddling the buzzwords masking their selfish agenda.
How can it be that We the People are not allowed to regulate the big money corrupting our democracy and buying the public airwaves but people who peacefully demonstrate for racial justice, for protecting our precious planet from climate change and the ravages of pollution, or for a fair chance at the American dream can be so easily corralled onto narrow public sidewalks, massively monitored, immorally arrested for dissent, or even subjected to brute force?
That’s part of the treachery of the Koch Party’s corruption of our First Amendment, equating money with speech and mutating our democracy into a “dollarocracy,” in the words of John Nichols and Bob McChesney.
What your gut tells you is akin to high-dollar bribery by corporations and CEOs is treated by some judges and Koch Party politicians as practically sacred and beyond regulation, while actual speech and dissent by ordinary people of good conscience is limited and repressed in a multitude of ways.
And it’s unacceptable.
But it’s not hopeless and it’s not unbeatable.
We need your help to push back and to use their strength against them.
The Japanese art of “jujitsu” uses the strength of adversaries to defeat them, to flip them.
We think there are at least three ways to do that in this context.
1. Fearlessly take on the powerful.
Unlike political organizations that set their sights, and your funding, on what a poll says may be winnable in a midterm election, for example, or that has so many focal points it simply cedes the territory where their opponents are strongest, CMD is not an electoral group.
We concentrate on the most powerful opponents of a real democracy, and we take on battles perceived to be unwinnable because they ultimately must be won for the sake of the people.
We scrutinize the real power behind the scenes–the CEOs, their corporations, and the front groups they fund to distort our laws.
We take on some of the most powerful special interests in the country that others say can’t be touched or pushed or shamed.
And, we expose them.
Our investigations make it harder for them to operate their schemes below the radar screen, and sometimes we are able to stop them in their tracks.
2. Relentlessly exposing them where they are most powerful.
We invest the time and effort in in-depth investigations, not bounded by election dates or the 24-hours news cycle that values the easy task of writing or quoting opinions over the hard work of real investigations into the political corruption that has become commonplace.
We know the strength of the powerful lies in the pay-to-play schemes that enrich them at the expense of the common good, and that is one of their greatest weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
We unmask that corruption and pour sunshine onto the players in these special interest games and how their agenda harms ordinary people and the future for our families.
And, we are relentless in these efforts.
3. Patiently pursue them and don’t ever give up.
We exercise strategic patience and are inspired by bold optimism.
We don’t play by the PR playbook or timetable of the subjects of our investigations.
We also know our democracy didn’t get into this mess overnight and it can’t be fixed overnight. Charles Koch invested for decades to reap the greedy and distorted policies in the headlines today. It will take time to undo the damage, but we believe the facts and the good will prevail. They have before and will again.
As the great investigative journalist Izzy Stone said, to win major progress “a lot of other people have got to be willing–for the sheer fun and joy of it–to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose” until progress is won.
I think of us at CMD as joyful warriors. When the oily frontmen of the greed agenda attack us, it only underscores how consequential the efforts of our small but might organization are.
I also think it’s important to dream big and challenge conventional wisdom–that’s how I helped block more than a dozen of President George W. Bush’s picks to become judges at the height of his popularity and how I helped stitch together an unprecedented filibuster of the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, among other breakthroughs before leading the Center for Media and Democracy.
One of my favorite quotes is Bobby Kennedy’s paraphrase of George Bernard Shaw, “There are those that look at things the way they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” I do both.
This three-step jujitsu is what CMD’s transformative investigations and projects do:
It was only CMD that had the courage to publish the nearly 1,000 bills secretly voted on by corporate lobbyists voting as equals with elected officials on American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) trips where lawmakers are schmoozed and boozed by special interests. CMD broke the story with The Nation, and CMD launched ALECexposed to drag the powerful corporations underwriting ALEC, like Koch Industries, and other players into the sunlight.
In response, ALEC’s PR operation targeted and attacked me and CMD as well as the legendary Bill Moyers and other journalists in secret messages CMD uncovered as part of our open records campaign.
Undaunted, CMD along with other groups have helped push100 major corporations out of ALEC–including Google, eBay, Yahoo, and Microsoft and those are just a few from the past few months.
CMD was also one of only a handful of organizations in the country to demand that the Constitution be amended to repeal the despicable Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 and related judicial edicts expanding the power of money, corporations, and CEOs.
Though many DC insiders scoffed at the audacity of our goal, a growing number of Americans have stood up to demand repeal. And just a few months ago a majority of U.S. Senators voted on the record in favor of amending the Constitution to begin the process of undoing those disgraceful rulings.
Meanwhile, a rightwing group with close ties to Koch operatives claimed CMD’s investigations into the Wisconsin recall elections spurred a state criminal investigation of confederates of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that the public first learned of late last year (“John Doe II”).
That criminal case is awaiting appeal but some of the evidence that has become public is devastating, with a longtime ally of the Kochs–one of the rightwing’s money men, Eric O’Keefe–in the middle of the controversy, which has implications for whether clean election laws will survive nationwide. His group even attacked me and CMD in federal court.
CMD’s hard-hitting investigations and analysis also provoked attacks against us by the PR kingpin Rick Berman, by the man who led CPAC and the American Conservative Union, David Keene, and by operatives with links to the notorious video splicer James O’Keefe–who spent election night celebrating in a limo with Alabama rightwinger Sean McCutcheon, who got the same five guys on the Supreme Court in Citizens United to strike down federal campaign contribution limits. (By the way, we won a retraction from the Washington Times for Keene’s attacks.)
CMD’s work also exposed the shills pushing unlimited fracking and highlighted the work of intrepid activists in New York–who just won the first statewide ban–and across the country. We’ve also helped debunk the lies–like the inflated jobs claims–of backers of the Keystone XL pipeline. We helped expose those trying to crush worker rights and thwart the movement for paid sick leave and increased minimum wage, along with the CEOs profiting big from privatization schemes that are undermining our public schools and our other public institutions and assets, like our water supply and infrastructure.
And, before it was vogue, CMD was one of the first outlets investigating the Koch Brothers, and we are still breaking big news. Earlier this year, for example, I documented Charles Koch’s role raising money for the John Birch Society at the height of its efforts to undermine the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of our ongoing work in these battles and on other important issues.
I know our impact is greater than many groups that have much larger budgets than ours.
That’s because we have very little bureaucracy and we invest our limited resources in strategic research and the power of jujitsu!
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Maybe you missed it because there was no birth announcement. The lack of a birth announcement is probably due to the fact that the parents, Charles and David Koch and their corporate concubines don’t want anyone to know. Just like ACCE’s bigger brother, ALEC, ACCE works best behind closed doors and under a rock. ACCE stands for “American City County Exchange.” This will allow the Koch to – shall we say – get involved in your local city councils and county government.
If the Kochs and their lackey congress critters can’t turn the government over to business at the national level, they will work to do so at the state level through their lackey legislatures. And now if they can’t turn government into their personal servant at the national or state level, they now have a new surreptitious organization to corrupt at the local level. If you feel that government is becoming responsive only to those with money, you are right. This is just what the Kochs want. After all they have the money and lots of friends with money.
ALEC and ACCE just completed a session meeting behind closed doors with corporate biggies rubbing elbows with legislators and now supervisors and councillors. Playing kind of a reverse Santa Claus where Santa sits on the knee of the legislators asking for presents. Later there will be campaign donations in a world where campaigns are conducted mostly on the expensive media.
While ALEC seldom announces their want list, we can make some informed guesses. However, the ALEC watchdog group at the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) PR Watch published what they believed to be on this year’s wish list. So from the the CMD, here is an educated forecast for what we may soon see popping up as “model legislation” for legislatures around the country:
Blocking Local Minimum Wage Increases
Citizens in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted overwhelmingly in favor of raising their state’s minimum wage on November 4, as did Republican and Democratic voters in states like Wisconsin, where twenty communities supported advisory referendums in favor of raising the wage.
With such a clear divide between the policies that voters support and those that ALEC corporate interests like the National Restaurant Association (which has been fighting for a $2.13 sub-minimum wage) want legislators to implement, the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force will feature a presentation on “Minimum Wage Preemption Policies.”
ALEC has long pushed bills like the “Living Wage Preemption Act” to block city, county, or local governments from enacting progressive economic initiatives like a higher minimum wage. In light of the renewed grassroots push for fair wage laws, this bill to crush a local government’s ability to increase wages in their community will likely be a top ALEC priority in 2015. (ALEC legislators have also been active in banning local paid sick day efforts, passing 10 laws after Wisconsin’s paid sick days preemption bill was shared at ALEC’s August 2011 meeting).
Local Right to Work
The ACCE meeting will also feature a presentation titled “Local Right to Work: Protect my Paycheck.” ALEC has long pushed anti-union “Right to Work” laws, which allow non-union members to free-ride on union representation, reaping the benefits of union negotiations for wages and benefits but without paying the costs. Michigan’s right to work law, for example, was a word-for-word copy of ALEC’s model legislation and sponsored by ALEC members.
With ACCE, ALEC is now trying to promote this anti-union legislation at the local level.
In September, the Washington Examiner reported that “Conservatives are starting to push the idea that city and county governments can pass union-restricting right-to-work laws, even though it may not be legal and has been tried only a handful of times in the last 70 years.” It is unclear whether local governments have the authority to pass right to work under the Taft-Hartley National Labor Relations Act, but in August the Heritage Foundation issued a report arguing that they do. Heritage hosted a panel discussion on local right to work in August featuring representatives of ACCE, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, and highlighted what they viewed as opportunities for local ordinances in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Those are the two top wishes, but of course business asks for a big package which will also include:
Depriving Low-Wage Workers of Health Insurance
Electronic cigarettes – stopping legislation on vaping nicotine
Protesting “Global Taxes” on Tobacco
Regulating Ride-Share Companies – exempting Uber and Lyft from common carrier laws
Industry-Friendly Dental Bills – moving dental services to less trained “practitioners”
Rigging the Game for Insurers – pretty self explanatory
Free Trade! – again self-explanatory
School Privatization – one of ALEC’s perennials, but once more carving out new areas for business to control. From the article: As one ALEC member told an ALEC education subcommittee earlier this year, “we need to stamp out local control.”
Please go to the link and read the sickening details of how the Kochs and their compadres plan to subvert our government for their business interests.
After all the food is eaten and the shopping has been started and after Americans return at least for a while to there workaday reality, corporations will wine and dine state legislators from across the land quietly in Washington DC. The ultimate objective for this meeting is for ALEC to hand pre-written legislation that greatly favors corporations. These bills will then be taken back to the 50 state legislatures – including Iowa’s – and introduced as legislation.
This is what has become of our so-called representative democracy. We as voters elect people whose philosophy we think we agree with. But then something happens. Those with money come in to hijack the process by using what is essentially a form of bribery to change the process to their favor. In the instance of ALEC, the process is almost exclusively Republican players.
ALEC is so repugnant to American ideals that no company really wants to be publicly associated with it. When stories of Walmart’s involvement in ALEC started circulating a couple of years ago, even they could not weather the stench of being associated with ALEC and withdrew from the organization. One would hardly look at Walmart as a bastion of good corporate behavior.
Yet, behind closed doors, with no press to report goings on, members of ALEC will hand their legislative wishes to compliant Republican legislators who will take them back to 50 state capitols where they will be pushed to become new laws that the citizens must obey. Many of these bills will also destroy publicly held commons such as parks, libraries, prisons, swimming pools and even cemeteries so some capitalist can make a buck on them.
If it sounds sleazy, that is because it is. Just ask Walmart or any of the other former members who decided that being associated with ALEC would hurt the bottom line.
Access to any government official should be in the open with only rare exception.
* The President takes as bold of an action as he possibly can and the Speaker of the House claims this ends any co-operation that was going to happen between congress and the President. Maybe Boehner missed it, but there was never any co-operation to begin with. When you make a threat, try to operate within reality, Boehner.
* We will sure miss this guy:
* While you are sitting back digesting the turkey and taters, the Koch brothers and their ilk will be busy preparing their demands for the state politicians they own. Did I say own? I meant own. They will whine and dine them (yep I meant whine about how tough it is to be a billionaire these days) and give them a list of must dos or they will buy new politicians. I expect a new demand will be to destroy the electoral college before the next election.
* The President asks for TV network air time for a momentous speech and the networks tell him to take a hike, “Big Bang Theory” is much more important than some silly speech. Just in case you wondered how the media views Obama or any Democrat for that matter.
* If you are shopping over the holiday weekend, remember that you do vote with your dollars. Money spent at most of the big box stores will come back to haunt you when the billionaires buy politicians with the profits. Shop local if you can. Otherwise try to pick merchants who espouse policies you do: decent pay, equal pay and decent working conditions.
* There will be many things to fight against in the next congress. One that really hasn’t been talked about much but has me worried is the fate of the Post Office. As the employer with the biggest (and I daresay most cohesive) union in the country, I believe we can expect an all out assault on the Post Office to the point of totally dismantling it. In covering this story, I expect the media will give us many stories on how bad the USPO is and how private industry could do the job better. Typical media crap.
* Have a good holiday. Take a few moments to think of those less fortunate. Then try to act in ways that could help them.