(Mint Press)– A complaint submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could invalidate charity status for the conservative advocacy group: American Legislative Elections Council (ALEC). The query, submitted by Common Cause, a self-described independent non-partisan organization, has brought significant public condemnation prompting major donors: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s and Kraft to suspend funding to the group. […]
(Mint Press)– A complaint submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could invalidate charity status for the conservative advocacy group: American Legislative Elections Council (ALEC). The query, submitted by Common Cause, a self-described independent non-partisan organization, has brought significant public condemnation prompting major donors: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s and Kraft to suspend funding to the group.
The duplicitous labeling, or mislabeling as the case may be, has led to a growing citizen led, grassroots movement for greater transparency and campaign finance reform in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. The controversial 5-4 verdict stated that corporations are in fact people, and as such are afforded first amendment rights to include: spending on political campaigns as a form of free speech.
Stand Your Ground and Voter ID
ALEC, working under the tax exempt 501-(c)3 charity status, has pushed for a range of free market legislation across the U.S.since its founding in 1973. However, key support for Voter ID and previous support for Stand your Ground laws has brought strong public condemnation of the group in recent months.
When asked about the work of ALEC, DeWayne Lucas, Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, tells MintPress that the group operates more as a think-tank than an actual lobby group. By hosting conferences for policy makers, scholars and conservative activists, ALEC members have built a dedicated community of supporters that often adopt model legislation drafted by the group.
The shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin drew national attention to Stand Your Ground legislation in Florida. The law affords individuals the right to kill assailants without first attempting to retreat. The law, critics say, gives too much power to citizens and has resulted in the murder of unarmed, innocent civilians.
After losing much of its corporate support, ALEC decided to end their support for Stand Your Ground laws and instead focus their energy on promoting business friendly, free market legislation.
Similarly condemned are Voter ID laws meant to curb election fraud. Election fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States, especially with electronic balloting replacing paper ballots in many districts. An estimated 11 percent of the voting-aged electorate ordinarily would be eligible to vote but lack the proper ID in states with this legislation. Racial minorities, recent immigrants, young Americans and the elderly are typically the ones disqualified by stringent voter id laws.
Despite the public outcry, ALEC remains a sponsor and continued supporter of voter id laws. However, popular pressure exerted by grassroots watchdog groups has caused key corporate sponsors: Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft to drop sponsorship in the group.
ALEC is by no means the only embattled lobby group facing scrutiny. Citizen complaints against The American Future Fund have prompted new legislation that requires lobby groups to disclose the sources of their funding.
The American Future Fund, a political action committee (PAC) is petitioning the Federal Exchange Commission (FEC) to clarify rules for disclosing donor funding. The March 30, 2012 Van Holland v. FEC ruling necessitated greater transparency for candidates receiving donations from private donors. The ruling stated that individuals, corporations and labor unions contributing more than $10,000 a year to “electioneering communications” or advertising and campaign finance, must make their contributions openly so voters can know the source of funding.
The thought is that voters who know the source of candidate funding will make well informed decisions about the allegiances of a candidate running for office. Transparency for a growing number of activists is but the first step toward purging our electoral process of corporate money that usurps democracy from the people.
We the People, not We the Corporations
On Thursday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that the Senate Constitution Subcommittee will hold a hearing on possible constitutional amendments to overturn the Citizens United ruling July 17. 100 members of Congress have endorsed measures to overturn the ruling and 200 towns and cities across America have passed legislation to that end.
Previously, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii passed legislation calling for Citizens United to be overturned, while 22 other states have proposed similar legislation.
Leahy’s Congressional colleague, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has been one of the most vocal critics of the 2010 ruling and has issued a petition calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the decision. Appealing to constituencies concerned about the state of America’s democracy, Sanders has said that the political system is threatened when special interests undermine the voice of citizens by contributing large sums of money to influence the outcomes of elections.
Sanders has described the decision as a disastrous step backward for American democracy. In 2010, shortly following the decision he commented:
“The ruling will, to a significant degree, give control of the political process in the United States to the wealthiest and most powerful institutions in the world and the candidates who support their agenda. Instead of democracy being about one-person one-vote, it will now be about the size of a company’s bank account.”
Sanders is not alone in Congress, as a growing number of his Congressional colleagues both Democrats and Republicans have expressed similar condemnation of the decision. Former Republican Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer describes the problem as neither a democratic nor a republican one, but rather a problem that is affecting all voting Americans.
Speaking about the issue further, Roemer elaborates, saying, “I want a woman or man who has the courage to lead, and is free to lead, and is not bought by the Wall Street banks or the insurance companies. It’s real simple.”
Roemer, who is running for President without accepting any contributions from corporations or special interests, has not received mainstream media attention for his campaign, nor was he invited to any of the televised GOP debates.
While the passage of a Constitutional Amendment is unlikely at this point, the issue of campaign finance reform could become a more localized, state’s rights issue going forward. The 2011 decision Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General of Montana was a clear, 5-2 decision in which state supreme court justices upheld the right of the state to regulate campaign contributions.