ALEC

The 2016 Election and the Economic War on Women

After President Obama’s decisive reelection in 2012, the Republican National Committee commissioned an “autopsy report” to examine how the party could perform better among demographic groups that had overwhelmingly rejected Republicans that year. One of the groups the RNC was concerned about was women, many of whom had become alienated by the GOP’s “war on women,” a steady crusade of regressive policies paired with mind-bogglingly insensitive and out-of-touch remarks.

That project hasn’t exactly been a success. GOP-led state legislatures have continued their assault on safe and legal abortion, enacting 288 abortion restrictions in the past five years, more than a quarter of all of those enacted since Roe v. Wade. And some have considered drastic anti-abortion measures like a bill passed in Oklahoma that would have made providing an abortion a felony and so-called “personhood” measures that would ban all abortion and even threaten legal birth control that were considered in several states this year.

Further cementing the GOP’s continued problem with women voters is the success of Donald Trump, who is now the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

Not only does Trump have a long history of making insulting and dehumanizing comments about women, he has suggested that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, conceding that if abortion is recriminalized, as he would like, some women will be forced into the back alleys to obtain the procedure.

But the GOP’s war on women goes far beyond Trump and beyond the contentious issue of abortion rights. The party has shown few signs of relenting on key policy proposals that affect women’s economic freedom.

Paid family and sick leave, fair wages, access to child care, and the ability of women to start families without facing discrimination in the workplace are matters that affect millions of women every day.

These are causes that should unite those who identify as “pro-life” and those who call themselves “pro-choice.”

The right to reproductive freedom includes the right to choose to have a child without risking your livelihood or your economic future. And, while women should be free to obtain a safe and legal abortion for any reason, a truly “pro-life” approach would alleviate the economic risks around childbearing rather than putting women at risk by criminalizing abortion. As a 2005 study by the Guttmacher Institute found, three-quarters of women who sought abortions cited economic concerns or the pressures of work, school and caring for dependents.

What’s more, these policies are broadly popular with the American public. A 2015 poll found that 81 percent of voters, including 65 percent of Republicans, agreed that “workplace rules to ensure equal pay, paid time off to care for family members and affordable child care ‘is good for our nation.’”

Candidates running in both parties for all levels of office — especially those who identify as “pro-life” — should be asked where they stand on efforts to give women a true choice in their futures.

 

Paid Family Leave & Sick Leave

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave for new mothers. In fact, when the International Labor Organization looked at maternity leave policies in 188 countries, just the U.S. and Papua New Guinea lacked such a policy.

This means that even as companies like Google and Facebook earn headlines as they attempt to woo highly educated, high-earning men and women with offers of more and more generous parental leave, millions of parents are left behind. According to the Department of Labor, just “12 percent of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.” Public sector employees don’t fare much better. According to 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 18 percent of state government employees and 15 percent of local government employees had access to paid family leave.

Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 requires many employers to offer new parents an option to take unpaid leave without risking their jobs, as the Labor Department notes, “Too many workers still cannot afford to take unpaid leave because of the loss of income it entails, or have to cut their leave short because of financial or workplace pressures.” A 2015 analysis of a 2012 Labor Department survey found that nearly one in four women returned to work within two weeks of giving birth; while 80 percent of women with college degrees were able to take at least six weeks of maternity leave, only 54 percent of those without college degrees did so.

Five states have enacted their own paid family leave laws, although two have yet to take effect, and five have paid sick leave requirements, one of which is set to take effect next year. One study of California’s family leave law, which was implemented in 2004, found that “87 percent of employers surveyed noted that family leave did not result in any cost increases, and about 9 percent of employers noted that the program had generated cost savings due to coordination of their own benefits with the family leave program and reduced employee turnover.”

Even as municipalities across the country work to enact their own paid parental and sick leave laws, a countertrend has emerged among states with conservative leadership, which have begun passing “preemption” laws blocking localities from guaranteeing paid leave.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, this strategy “first appeared in 2011 in Wisconsin, where the state legislature passed, and Governor Scott Walker signed, legislation to effectively void a Milwaukee paid sick days measure that passed in 2008 with the approval of nearly 70 percent of voters.” Behind that bill was the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive group that helps corporate interests feed policy to legislators. The National Restaurant Association and a local chapter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also lobbied for the bill. ALEC and the Restaurant Association then helped to push preemption laws to at 16 other states, with even more states considering similar legislation this year.

The American Prospect notes that “The National Federation of Independent [Business], a Washington-based group that has received large donations from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch brothers’ American Prosperity Foundation (yet calls itself the ‘voice of small business’), has waged campaigns against at least 21 paid-sick-leave bills, issuing local reports with high estimates of the cost to businesses.”

Efforts to strengthen federal family and sick leave protections have also met resistance.

The Healthy Families Act, a bill that would allow “workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year to be used to recover from their own illnesses, access preventive care, provide care to a sick family member, or attend school meetings related to a child’s health condition or disability,” has failed to become law in the more than a decade that it has been proposed. In 2015, a filibuster-proof majority of the Senate, including 14 Republicans, approved a largely symbolic budget amendment backing a similar plan, showing a possible path forward. Unfortunately, the already nonbinding language was watered down further before a final budget was passed by Congress.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has introduced a bill called the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) that would provide eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of their wages “for a personal or family member’s medical emergency, including those arising from service members’ deployment, or to care for a newborn or adopted baby.” The leave would be funded by a small payroll tax, split evenly between employees and employers, which the National Partnership calculates would come out to about $1.50 per worker per week.

Both candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination support expanding family leave; Sen. Bernie Sanders supports the Gillibrand bill while Hillary Clinton has proposed a similar plan with a different funding mechanism.

In 2015, President Obama ordered federal agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave to their employees to care for a new child and urged Congress to pass legislation granting federal employees an additional six weeks of paid administrative leave after a birth or adoption. Before the president took action, the federal government offered no specifically designated paid family leave, a situation that New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney has called “embarrassing.” Maloney’s Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act, which would grant six weeks of paid family leave to federal employees, passed the House in 2009 with the support of most Democrats and 24 Republicans but was not acted on in the Senate. The bill has gone nowhere since Republicans gained control of the House.

Trump has signaled his resistance to federal paid family leave protections, calling pregnancy an “inconvenience” to businesses and saying that “there are a lot of people discussing it” but “we have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it.” Trump’s closest competitor in the GOP presidential race, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said of paid family leave: “I think maternity leave and paternity leave are wonderful things. I support them personally. But I don’t think the federal government should be in the business of mandating them.” 

House Speaker Paul Ryan has taken a similar tone, speaking frequently about the importance of spending time with his family but saying that doesn’t translate into support for a paid family leave law: “I don’t think that sticking up for being a person with balance in your life, for wanting to spend your weekends in your home with your family… I don’t think that means signing up for some new unfunded mandate.”

One 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, did technically propose a paid family leave plan. However, his plan to offer tax credits to companies that provide leave rather than requiring it would have exacerbated the inequalities that already exist in family leave policies.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has said that expanding paid family leave will “reduce” Americans’ “freedoms.”

The National Federation of Independent Business, a Koch-funded group, has come out against expanded leave requirements. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the behemoth lobbying group that claims to represent American business interests as a whole but is instead largely funded by a handful of companies, lists as policy priorities opposing efforts to “make FMLA leave paid or to mandate paid sick leave.” This stance, however, runs against the priorities of many business executives, who, according to leaked documents from a conservative polling firm, overwhelmingly support increasing paid parental leave and requiring paid sick leave. Sixty-three percent of those polled were members of local, state or federal chambers of commerce.

 

Equal Pay

According to the latest data from the American Association of University Women, women who work full time, year round still earn just 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gap that is even worse for Latina and African American women. Gaps persist even among those with equal educational attainment and those working in the same industry.  Childbirth can exacerbate the gap: One 2014 study found that while men’s earnings increased when they had children, women saw their pay drop.

The National Partnership for Women and Families notes that “mothers are primary or sole breadwinners in more than 40 percent of families, and about 31 percent of female-headed households have incomes that fall below the poverty level.”

Trump has said that the solution to the pay gap is for women to “do as good a job” as men. One of Trump’s prominent supporters, anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly, has claimed that “the pay gap, really, is something that women like” because women “like to marry a man who makes more than she does.”

From 2011 to 2014, Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act four times. The act, which Clinton and Sanders both support, would eliminate loopholes in and add enforcement tools to the 1963 Equal Pay Act.

Threats to equal pay go beyond legislative inaction. In 2008, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter, a longtime employee of a Goodyear Tire plant who found out late in her career that she had been being paid less than her male colleagues for decades. After a jury awarded Ledbetter the back pay she had earned, Goodyear appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled that Ledbetter had run out the statute of limitations for filing suit before she had even known that she had been the victim of discrimination. The Ledbetter decision was remedied in 2009 when President Obama signed a bill, passed over Republican opposition, that clarified the statute of limitations for pay discrimination claims.

The case highlights the importance of the court system in ensuring economic justice for women. The opinion in the Ledbetter case was written by George W. Bush appointee Justice Samuel Alito, whose ultra-conservative ideology is similar to many of the judges whom Trump has said he would consider elevating to the Supreme Court and those he would be likely to nominate to lower federal courts.

As the courts continue to determine the limits of workplace protections for women including, recently, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is important to have courts that will give fair consideration to working people, including women.

 

Minimum wage

The National Women’s Law Center calculates that women make up “nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers and two-thirds of tipped workers.”  According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would result in a raise for 27 percent of working moms and 40 percent of single moms.

The National Women’s Law Center calculates, “A woman working full time at minimum wage earns just $14,500 annually, more than $4,500 below the poverty line for a mother with two children.”

What’s more, the Law Center has found that states with higher minimum wages also have lower gender pay gaps. An Economic Policy Institute study found that in states that increased their minimum wage in 2015 (either by legislation or a scheduled index increase), wages grew faster for low-wage workers as a whole.

The last time the federal minimum wage was increased was 2009, when it was bumped to $7.25 an hour; the tipped minimum wage has remained at $2.13 per hour since 1991. Periodic increases in the minimum wage have failed to keep up with inflation; in fact, adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968.

President Obama backs a plan in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Clinton also backs raising the federal minimum wage to $12  and has supported some state and local efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15; Sanders has called for a $15 federal minimum wage.

Both of these plans would phase out the tipped minimum wage so that all workers are entitled to the same minimum wage before tips. The National Women’s Law Center has found that eliminating the tipped minimum wage narrows the wage gap and lowers poverty rates for women working full time jobs. According to a study by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, “Women living off tips in states with a $2.13 an hour tipped minimum wage are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment than women in states that pay the full minimum wage to all workers.”

Donald Trump, meanwhile, said last year that not only would he not raise the minimum wage, but that American wages are “too high.” He later seemed to express openness to a minimum wage hike, only to clarify that he meant that the matter should be left to the states.

Many states and localities have indeed stepped in to fill the gap left by federal inaction on the minimum wage: 29 states and the District of Columbia now have minimum wages above the federal minimum and the National Employment Law Project counts dozens of municipalities with their own minimum wages, 18 of which have been passed in 2015 and 2016 alone. Still, this leaves 21 states, including a swath across the Deep South, that still rely on the baseline federal minimum wage.

A backlash against the recent wave of municipal minimum wage laws has come in the form of “preemption” bills similar to those used to stop sick leave protections, which prevent municipalities in a given state from enacting their own minimum wage protections. As of March, 19 states had enacted these laws, which have been promoted by ALEC and sometimes copied verbatim from ALEC model legislation. One such law recently enacted in Alabama was targeted at undoing a Birmingham ordinance that hiked the city’s minimum wage to $10.10.

At the federal level, resistance to minimum wage increases is led in part by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which says one of its policy priorities is to “oppose efforts to increase the minimum wage and to index the minimum wage to inflation or any other factor that will automatically increase labor costs.” Like with paid family and sick leave, the Chamber is out of step with many business leaders on the minimum wage issue: the leaked poll of executives found that 80 percent supported a minimum wage increase and just eight percent opposed it.

Another major player in the efforts to oppose minimum wage hikes, including a long-overdue increase in the tipped minimum wage, is the National Restaurant Association, a lobbying group for the restaurant and food service industry which, according to Pew, is “the single biggest employer of near-minimum-wage workers.” Women make up 52 percent of restaurant employees and 66 percent of tipped restaurant workers. According to a 2014 report by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, “The median wage for tipped workers hovers around $9 an hour including tips.”

The Restaurant Association has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing minimum wage increases at the state and federal level. The group spent $4.25 million lobbying at the federal level just last year. The Restaurant Association’s PAC has already contributed more than $400,000 to federal candidates this election cycle, the bulk of it to Republicans.

Corporate Accountability International notes that many candidates get additional contributions from major corporate members of the Restaurant Association. It’s these powerful transnational corporations like McDonald’s and Darden Restaurants — not small mom-and-pop businesses — that are “the driving force behind the [National Restaurant Association’s] policy agenda,” the watchdog group says.

 

Affordable Child Care

According to a 2015 report from the Economic Policy Institute, average child care costs exceed 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s income in every state. Child Care Aware has found that in 2014 in 28 states and the District of Columbia, the cost of center-based care for an infant was more than the in-state tuition at a public college. The group found that “In all regions of the United States, average child care fees for an infant in a child care center are more than the average amount that families spend on food.”

Clinton has proposed capping child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income using a combination of tax credits and subsidized care, while Sanders has called for greatly expanded investments in child care. Trump, meanwhile, has suggested leaving child care to the whims of employers, saying that it’s “not expensive” for businesses to provide on-site child care for employees — even though only seven percent of employers currently provide on-site or nearby child care. Trump responded to one question about child care affordability by saying “I love children,” before telling his female questioner, “It’s a big subject, darling.” Trump revealed his lack of personal experience in this area in 2005 when he said that he doesn’t “do anything to take care of” his children, adding that men who participate in child care are acting “like the wife.”

As the American Prospect noted last year, “American child care policy has faced two uphill battles: opposition by economic conservatives to increased public spending and opposition by social conservatives to government policies they see as disadvantaging families with stay-at-home mothers.”

However, in recent years there has been some bipartisan progress made toward expanding access to affordable child care. In 2014, the Senate passed 97-1 and the House passed by voice vote legislation reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which provides federal funding (matched by state contributions) to states to help low-income families afford child care and improve the quality of care. The reauthorization increases health and safety requirements for child care, encourages greater improvements to the quality of care, and aims to make it easier for families to get and keep child care assistance. (Unfortunately, Congress has not provided the significant new funding necessary to cover the increased costs entailed in meeting the law’s requirements.) When President Obama proposed expanding the child care tax credit in his State of the Union speech the next year, then-House Speaker John Boehner seemed receptive to the idea, saying that it was “certainly something we’d look at.”

Measures that give all women and families a true choice in shaping their futures should appeal to Republicans and Democrats, pro-choicers and pro-lifers. These are a few places to start.

 

Major players working to stop women’s economic freedom measures

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

As People For the American Way wrote in a report on ALEC, the organization “is a one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation introduced.” Corporations pay dues to the organization and earn the privilege to meet with state legislatures and present them with corporate-friendly model legislation.

ALEC bills that have spread across conservative state legislatures have included voter ID restrictions, tax cuts for the wealthy, attempts to undercut the Affordable Care Act, and so-called “right to work” laws that are meant to weaken labor unions.

ALEC has also been behind the push, discussed in this report, to pass state “preemption” laws preventing localities from enacting their own paid sick leave and minimum wage standards.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a behemoth lobbying group that, while claiming to represent the interests of American businesses as a whole, is sometimes at odds with its local chapters and its individual members.

The Chamber is one of the largest spenders in U.S. elections. In the 2014 election cycle, the group spent more than $35 million in independent expenditures, mostly on behalf of Republican candidates. Already in 2016, the Chamber has spent $13 million in independent expenditures — again, mostly on behalf of Republicans. The Chamber also spends an enormous amount of money lobbying Congress and federal agencies, $124 million in 2014 and $84 million in 2015.

While the Chamber says it represents members ranging “from mom-and-pop shops and local chambers to leading industry associations and large corporations,” in reality much of its funding comes from large corporate interests and political groups. An Open Secrets analysis has found multimillion dollar contributions to the Chamber from Freedom Partners, the main group through which the billionaire Koch brothers funnel their considerable political spending, and Crossroads GPS, a political group started by former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove. In fact, half of the money that the Chamber took in in 2012 came from just 64 large donors.

The Chamber is an ever-present force in efforts to stop paid family leave and sick leave and raising the minimum wage, all of which it lists as among its 2016 policy priorities. The group also opposes the Paycheck Fairness Act and it opposed the bill undoing the Ledbetter decision.

National Restaurant Association (NRA)

Known as “the other NRA,” the National Restaurant Association is a lobbying group funded by some of the largest U.S. restaurant chains that has worked to fight restaurant regulations including menu labeling requirements and guidelines on marketing junk food to kids. The Restaurant Association has been a leading opponent of minimum wage hikes across the country, along with opposing paid sick leave legislation and working to limit the scope of the Affordable Care Act. In one extreme example, the group spent $100,000 to defeat a paid sick leave ballot measure in Denver. The Restaurant Association has worked with ALEC to push for state “preemption” laws that prevent municipalities from enacting their own minimum wage and paid sick leave laws.

So far this year, the Restaurant Association has spent $1.5 million on federal lobbying and its PAC has contributed $400,000 to federal candidates, 87 percent of it to Republicans. This is on top of hefty contributions from some of the association’s largest members.

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)

While the NFIB describes itself as “the voice of small business,” it has received millions of dollars “in secret contributions from groups associated with Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers” according to the Huffington Post, and uses the vast majority of its political spending to back Republican candidates.

As Mother Jones noted in 2012, “few among the legions of small business owners that [NFIB] represents will benefit from its lobbying,” which has skewed toward the priorities of the ultra-rich, including opposing tax hikes on the wealthy. NFIB has fought to stop drinking water protections and climate change action and was the lead plaintiff in NFIB v. Sebelius, a major challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The NFIB has used its status as the supposed “voice of small business” to oppose paid family leave and sick leave policies and minimum wage increases.

Unintentional Heartland Humor At CPAC

The Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank, held back-to-back breakout sessions on the first day of CPAC, the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Heartland promotes “free-market” ideology, school vouchers, other right-wing policy ideas and model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council on a range of issues, but may be most well-known for its attacks on climate change “alarmism.”

Heartland’s first session was seemingly designed as a response to media focus on the Koch brothers’ political networks, which funnel billions of dollars into political groups and campaigns through organizations designed to obscure the source of funds and control. The title of the presentation, “Darker Money,” may have been inspired by journalist Jane Mayer’s recent book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.”

Heartland, which is funded by right-wing foundations and corporations, including organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers, used the opportunity to promote its website LeftExposed.org. Both the presentation and the website give you a sense of what constitutes “the Left” to Heartland. The organizations it covers are primarily those involved in environmental issues, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council. One presenter pointed to funding for the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank. Among the foundations discussed were the Gates Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation.

The second workshop promised to help participants never again lose an argument to a climate change “alarmist.” The Heartland Institute, which receives support from right-wing foundations and the energy industry, is a major source of material challenging the existence of a scientific consensus that human activity is leading to a climate crisis. In 2012, Heartland faced a flurry of public criticism when it launched a billboard campaign featuring a photo of “Unabomber” Ted Kacynski with the statement, “I still believe in global warming, do you?” Heartland justified the campaign, which was to include ads featuring Charles Manson and Fidel Castro, saying “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murders, tyrants and madmen” — but cancelled it in the face of widespread outrage.

Heartland president Joseph Bast moderated a CPAC panel two years ago at which climate change was denounced as a scam designed to let progressives gain control of people’s lives. This week Bast didn’t dispute that the earth is warming, or that human activity may be a contributing factor, but he argued  that global warming is a good thing. Bast said that the benefits from “modest warming” of the climate will outweigh costs for the next century or two. If it turns out there are problems, say, rising sea levels, they should be addressed by “adaptation” — like building more seawalls.

Heartland has a history of arguing about science; during the 1990s the group worked with the tobacco industry to question the risks of moderate smoking and secondhand smoke. As late as 2014 it argued, “The public health community’s campaign to demonize smokers and all forms of tobacco is based on junk science.”

Bast portrays Heartland as trying to tell the truth in the face of bad science from scientists who are being paid to promote a political agenda. He suggested at CPAC that Google and Wikipedia are part of the grand leftist conspiracy to hide the truth, and that Breitbart News is an example of the Right launching its own institutions when the Left “takes over” existing ones.

Which brings us to the Andrew Breitbart Center for Freedom at Heartland’s new headquarters in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Bast launched the creation of the Breitbart-honoring event space with a poster honoring the late “fearless defender of freedom and enemy of biased, lying mainstream media.”

The flowing script, sepia tone, and heroic photo of Breitbart on the poster seem oddly out of synch with the pugnacious, take-no-prisoners, truth-be-damned style of Breitbart and the media sites he created. But the Breitbart branding may be a good fit for Heartland’s own propaganda efforts. The news outlet hasn’t toned down since its founder’s passing. In fact, Glenn Beck, who is also in attendance at CPAC, recently accused the Trump campaign of “grooming Brownshirts” and likened Breitbart’s executive chairman Steve Bannon to Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Rating States' Commitment To Public Education

In the wake of National School Choice Week, the Brookings Institution released a report card on the largest school districts, which were ranked according to how open the districts are to school choice. That reflects a common assertion among education “reformers” that maximizing choice will always be best for students, a presumption also evident in scorecards from right-wing groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and corporate-minded reform groups like Students First.

But such an assumption is not true. We know that charter schools, for example, have a mixed record of success and failure. And a recent report from scholars at Berkeley, Duke, and MIT found that the test scores of Louisiana students who won a voucher to attend a private school “dropped precipitously in their first year of attending private school, compared to the performance of lottery losers.”

This week the Network for Public Education released a different kind of report card, one that grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia according to how well they support their public schools. “Valuing Public Education: A Fifty State Report Card” was released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where Network for Public Education co-founder and president, education historian Diane Ravitch, and NPE Executive Director Carol Burris spoke about the report.

Ravitch said the NPR report is based on factors that have proven to be important to the success of public schools. The report draws on the work of the University of Arizona’s Francesca Lopez and a team of researchers. They identified 29 measurable factors that could be used to evaluate states on six criteria: use of high-stakes testing; professionalization of teaching; resistance to privatization; school finance; spending taxpayer resources wisely; and “chance for success.” The latter category recognizes that factors outside schools that are influenced by policymaking decisions also have a big impact on schools and students, such as the percentage of children living in poverty even though someone in the household works full time, and the extent to which schools are segregated racially and ethnically.

Grading in the report is tough: while some states receive “A” grades in particular categories, no state earns higher than a C overall, and a majority were graded D or F. Ravitch said those scores reflect in part the impact of the “unprecedented assault” that is being waged against public education and the teaching profession, as well as the “unconscionable” number of American children now living in poverty.

Burris, a 2013 New York state high school principal of the year, said improving a school is hard work and happens incrementally over time – “there are no silver bullets.”

Regarding school finances, she said, the report considers not only funding levels but whether money is spent on things that are known to make a difference, such as class size in elementary schools.

Ravitch said that the current policy framework grounded in high-stakes testing has proven to be a failure, and that standardized tests in general reflect income levels more than anything else. Burris said that closing the opportunity gap is essential to closing the achievement gap, noting that schools with a high percentage of children in poverty need resources like social workers, guidance counselors, and nurses. But many poorer schools have been “stripped clean” of those resources, said Ravitch.

The report, “Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card” is available online, and as an interactive map.

PFAW

No to ALEC: California Fights Back

This post was written by Johnson Pham, a Young People For fellow.

Last Wednesday, I joined thousands of folks as we gathered together to rally against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during their annual meeting in San Diego. This was a massive protest to resist this right-wing organization, and they were met with many faces including workers, community organizers, faith-based leaders, and an assortment of other progressives.

ALEC is a national, corporate-funded organization that marries the interests of conservative legislators and corporate lobbyists. ALEC has been instrumental in drafting harmful legislation in many states, ranging from the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, to legislation  weakening environmental sustainability measures, to bills challenging women’s access reproductive health services. Notorious allies of ALEC include figures like Scott Walker and the Koch brothers.

ALEC pays for legislators to go on extravagant trips, where they collaboratively write legislation to be introduced word-for-word in their home states. ALEC’s event at the Hilton in San Diego was one of these opulent vacations afforded to legislators, and their presence in California was naturally met by resistance from progressive groups, who have clear stakes in resisting flagrant conservatism.

I went to this rally with the United Domestic Workers (UDW) Local 3930, a worker union that represents home-care providers in California. Homecare providers are one of the targets of ALEC, which has written bills targeting worker unions and pushing lower wages and benefits. We arrived at the Embarcadero Marina Park in San Diego close to noon and were met by hundreds of other progressives who greeted everyone with an embrace. It was truly a staggering experience to see such unconditional love and community expressed across the board.

The speak-out portion of the rally was studded with champions from the labor movement, including the legendary Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement and now sits on the board of PFAW. Dolores has been one of my heroes since I learned who she was, and I had the opportunity to meet her in living flesh at the rally. She spoke with conviction and presence and talked about our individual ability to bring others into the movement. She implored us to never give up this good fight, and communicated her love for this community and for the movement.

pham and dolores

The rally was a short walk from the park to the hotel, where folks continued to give their testimonies about why they are in this fight, and the challenges we face. This continued until 5PM, until hotel security brought in a squadron of police officers in response to rumors of a civil disobedience action occurring soon in the hotel lobby. I left the rally on my bus with the union, and we were unified in our sweat, laughter, and fulfillment from the day.

As a new YP4 fellow, I shared a lot about my love for the labor movement during our regional retreat, and this experience has only further cemented this deep-set appreciation. As someone who comes from a working-class background, there I’m deeply committed to making sure that families do not have to struggle to feed themselves or their children. Seeing for myself how resilient working families are in the face of billionaires and their lobbyists gives me incredible hope for this movement.

alec rally

Corporate-backed institutions like ALEC are antithetical to the values my parents passed to me when I grew up, like having respect and compassion for everyone, and supporting the people who need it the most. I learned from this action that this collective movement is larger than what I could have ever believed. That this movement consistsed of leaders who came before me, my elders, and will continue on past what I will be able to do in this line of work. It is indisputable that ALEC got the point that they are not welcome or liked in California, and even now, organizers behind the protest are getting ready for a follow-up action in the coming weeks.

The fight continues.

PFAW Foundation

Dolores Huerta and Activists Protest ALEC and Scott Walker

The call and response chant, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” “This is what democracy looks like!” rang true as activists rallied against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during its annual meeting in San Diego this week.

ALEC is a far-right organization that connects corporate executives to policy makers in order to craft and enact state-by-state legislation that raises corporate profits while stomping on the rights and economic prospects of working families. For instance, ALEC is behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law and the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida that helped George Zimmerman to walk free.

At the protest, more than a thousand participants from faith communities, labor unions, environmental groups, immigration groups, and more proclaimed that ALEC corrupts democracy by allowing corporations to – literally – buy a seat at the table with state legislators.  Common Cause President Miles Rapoport described the ALEC meeting as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists. They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest.”

Civil rights leader and People For the American Way board member Dolores Huerta revved up the crowd, telling activists, “The only way we can stop [ALEC] is to go back to our communities, we’ve got to organize. People do not know how perilous this organization is. Let’s say ‘abajo (that means down) con ALEC!’”

After Huerta’s speech, activists – including a Young Elected Official (YEO) with the YEO Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation – sought out Huerta to introduce themselves and share the work they're doing in their communities.

Activists then walked to the hotel where the ALEC meetings are being held to continue the protest. Huerta and others highlighted the message that Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker – who spoke this morning at the conference – and ALEC are unified in their support for corporations at the expense of working families.

In addition to participating in the rally, PFAW released Spanish- and English-language digital ads criticizing Walker for his alliance with ALEC. The Huffington Post also published an opinion piece yesterday by Huerta that details the anti-immigrant, anti-worker efforts of ALEC and how Walker has a long history of partnering with ALEC.
 

PFAW

PFAW Releases Ad Highlighting Walker's ALEC Allegiance

With Scott Walker set to address the annual meeting of the far-right, corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), People For the American Way (PFAW) has released Spanish-language and English-language digital ads highlighting Walker's choice to headline the corporate bill factory's national conference in San Diego. Civil rights icon and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta released the following statement:

“Voters need to know that this week, Scott Walker is choosing to headline the annual convention of ALEC, the corporate-run organization that brought us Arizona's anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and has long championed anti-worker, anti-environment legislation.

"Given Walker's decades-long alliance with ALEC, it's no surprise that he's standing with them now as he begins his presidential campaign. While Walker has turned his back on working families, he gladly stands up for corporate interests that hurt our community through his work with ALEC."

In addition to the ads released today, Huerta will speak at a rally this afternoon about the far-right corporate agenda of ALEC. She is available for interviews before and after the event.

The Spanish-language ad and the English-language version will be playing this week in Wisconsin, California, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and North Carolina.

Script - English:

This week, Republican Scott Walker is headlining the annual convention of ALEC, the group that brought us Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB1070.

Scott Walker is adamantly against comprehensive immigration reform and wants to deport DREAMers and break up immigrant families.

We can’t afford a Scott Walker presidency.

Script - Spanish:

Esta semana, El Republicano Scott Walker encabezará la conferencia anual de ALEC, el grupo que nos trajo la ley anti-inmigrante de Arizona SB1070.

Walker está firmemente en contra de una reforma migratoria y quiere deportar a DREAMers y a familias de inmigrantes.

Evitemos una presidencia de Scott Walker.

###

PFAW's New Spanish Language Ad Highlight's Scott Walker's Allegiance to Corporate Interests

With Scott Walker set to address the annual meeting of the far-right, corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), PFAW released Spanish-language and English-language digital ads highlighting Walker's choice to headline the corporate bill factory's national conference in San Diego. Civil rights icon and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta released the following statement:

Voters need to know that this week, Scott Walker is choosing to headline the annual convention of ALEC, the corporate-run organization that brought us Arizona's anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and has long championed anti-worker, anti-environment legislation.

"Given Walker's decades-long alliance with ALEC, it's no surprise that he's standing with them now as he begins his presidential campaign. While Walker has turned his back on working families, he gladly stands up for corporate interests that hurt our community through his work with ALEC."

Read more about PFAW's Scott Walker ads.

PFAW

GOP targets Latinos’ ability to vote

This piece by People For the American Way Political Coordinator Carlos A. Sanchez originally appeared in Fox News Latino.

Even as a diverse coalition of Americans unite around the principle that voting rights are an essential American principle that needs to be protected, the Republican Party remains firmly committed to doing the opposite. Their continued push for policies that make it more difficult for people to vote disproportionately affects minority and young voters.

Republicans – including leading Presidential candidates – have for years been pushing initiatives that make it harder to vote. Jeb Bush supports states’ efforts to enact voter ID laws, and as governor, he restricted early voting and infamously purged 12,000 eligible voters before the 2000 presidential election. Marco Rubio asked, “What’s the big deal?” with voter ID laws. Scott Walker enacted what has been described as “one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.”

Voter ID laws systematically target Latinos’ and other minorities’ ability to vote. In 2012, measures to restrict voting could have affected over 10 million Latino voters. A Brennan Center for Justice study reported, “In Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, the number of eligible Latino citizens that could be affected by these barriers exceeds the margin of victory in each of those states during the 2008 presidential election.”

And it’s no accident that these laws disproportionately affect Latinos. A separate study from last year found “a solid link between legislator support for voter ID laws and bias toward Latino voters, as measured in their responses to constituent e-mails.” And yet another study that was released earlier this year found that even in states without voter ID laws, Latinos were targeted: “Election officials themselves also appear to be biased against minority voters, and Latinos in particular. For example, poll workers are more likely to ask minority voters to show identification, including in states without voter identification laws.”

Some Republicans have explicitly made known their intentions of suppressing Latino and African-American voters in order to win elections. Over 30 years ago, ALEC-founder and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation Paul Weyrich spoke plainly:  “I don’t want everybody to vote…As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Republican after Republican has continued in his footsteps: An Ohio GOP County Chair stated he supports limits on early voting because, “I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai believed voter ID laws would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Former GOP Precinct Chair Don Yelton used the “n” word as he tried to deny that a voter ID law in North Carolina was racist (and he explained that “the law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt”). Conservative activist and notoriously anti-immigrant Phyllis Schlafly said, “The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game.” Schlafly’s Eagle Forum endorsed Marco Rubio in his run for Senate (here’s a lovely picture of the two of them) and applauded Scott Walker for his opposition to legal immigration.

The Republican response to the growing power of minority voters could not be clearer: shut them out of the election process. Under the guise of fighting voter fraud, despite a striking absence of evidence that fraud exists, Republican-led chambers across our nation have moved in concert to restrict access through the polls for political reasons. It’s that simple.

What’s even more upsetting is to hear a group who claims to represent the best interests of a community choose to ignore the facts in favor of their funder’s agenda.  Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Iniative, said he’s fine with voter ID laws and that he doesn’t think Republicans are trying to suppress the Latino vote. Libre is a Koch-funded GOP shadow group that time and again turns its back on the Latino community – for example, Libre supported Republican candidates who opposed immigration reform in 2014. Garza’s support for voter ID laws is yet another instance of him and Republicans supporting a policy that’s devastating to Latinos.

It’s time for the Republican Party to end their campaign against voting rights—and for people like Daniel Garza to stop giving them cover when they do it.

Carlos A. Sanchez is the Coordinator of Political Campaigns for People For the American Way.

PFAW

ALEC’s Secret Meetings Exposed in Georgia

Last week a local Atlanta television station went to an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Savannah GA to expose the secret relationship ALEC legislators have with corporate lobbyists. Watch the investigation unfold as ALEC’s staff scrambled to respond.

This investigation shows us firsthand how ALEC members are working in secret to develop policies that impact average Americans on behalf of corporate special interests without the public’s input. To learn more about ALEC, check out the PFAW Right Wing Watch report, “ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures.”

PFAW

Right Wing Round-Up - 9/22/14

PFAW Members & Staff Join Hundreds for Anti-ALEC Rally in Dallas

People For the American Way members joined hundreds of protestors in Dallas this week to speak out against the right-wing extremism and corruptive influence of the American Legislative Executive Council – better known as ALEC.

ALEC was in Dallas for its annual meeting, where the group held workshops and task force meetings on how to further unite corporate special interests and far-right legislators to push their anti-education, anti-voter, anti-environment, anti-worker agenda.

But several hundred PFAW members and other progressive activists turned out for a rally to call attention to ALEC’s role in writing some of the nation’s worst pro-corporate, right-wing legislation


Rev. Charles Stovall, a member of People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, was in attendance at the rally.

After the rally, over a hundred activists stayed for a panel discussion on how to fight back against ALEC’s corruptive influence, held at Dallas’s Community Brewery.

This isn’t the first time PFAW members have rallied against ALEC’s shady backroom dealings with far-right legislators. In May, PFAW members joined the protest outside of ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit in Kansas City, and last summer over 3,000 people – including many PFAW members – turned out in Chicago to protest ALEC’s annual meeting.

To date, nearly 150,000 PFAW activists have signed petitions and taken other actions to put pressure on consumer brand companies to cut ties with ALEC, and more than 87,000 have joined our petition to state legislators telling them to say no to ALEC. PFAW and our affiliate PFAW Foundation have long been committed to standing up to ALEC’s extreme agenda. Read PFAW Foundation’s report, “ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests” for more information on how ALEC sells out citizens’ best interests to the highest bidder.

PFAW

PFAW Members Join Protest Outside of ALEC's Task Force Summit in Kansas City

Last week, the American Legislative Exchange Council – better known as ALEC – held its 2014 Spring Task Force Summit in Kansas City. The annual Summit provides a venue for corporate lobbyists to woo state lawmakers and hatch the dangerous right-wing, pro-corporate sample legislation the group plans to vote on at its main conference (this year's will be held over the summer in Dallas).

On Friday, People For the American Way staff and members joined hundreds of protestors and ally organizations to rally outside the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, and speak out against ALEC's corruptive influence on state lawmakers.

ALEC Crowd

ALEC democracy

ALEC Diallo

ALEC handmade signs

ALEC rally

PFAW and our affiliate PFAW Foundation have long been committed to standing up to ALEC's extreme agenda. Read PFAW Foundation's report, "ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests," for more information on how ALEC sells out citizens' best interests to the highest bidder.

PFAW

Video: PFAW’s Diallo Brooks Discusses ALEC’s Role in Pushing Stand Your Ground Laws on The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann

On Wednesday, the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, PFAW’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks joined Thom Hartmann on The Big Picture to discuss how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has helped promote Stand Your Ground laws in states across the country. 

Brooks highlighted how the secretive organization fueled by wealthy right-wing donors and corporations pushes legislation that hurts real people:
 

PFAW

Public Turning Against the Private Prison Racket

PFAW’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” included a section titled, “The Pernicious Private Prison Industry.” We reported that across the country, private prisons were often violent, poorly run facilities that put prisoners, employees and communities at risk even while failing to deliver on promised savings to taxpayers. But state legislators, encouraged by ALEC and by private prison interests’ lobbying and campaign expenditures, continued to turn prisons over to private corporations, often with contract provisions that acted as incentives for mass incarceration.

A new story in Politico Magazine, “The Private Prison Racket” comes to the same conclusions. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” says author Matt Stroud. “So why do we keep giving them our business?”

The Politico story slams “bed mandates” – guarantees given by states to private companies to keep prisons full.  Contracts like that build in incentives for governments to lock people up – and punish states financially when they try to reduce prison populations.

Politicians are taking notice. Last month, In the Public Interest reported that reality has turned the tide against private prisons: “Coast-to-coast, governments are realizing that outsourcing corrections to for-profit corporations is a bad deal for taxpayers, and for public safety.” The dispatch cited problems with private prisons in states as diverse as Arizona, Vermont, Texas, Florida, and Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a “small government” conservative, announced last month that the state would take control of the Idaho Correctional Center back from private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America due to rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity, and contract fraud.

But the huge private prison industry is not going away anytime soon. As In the Public Interest notes:

All of this momentum does not suggest the imminent death of the for-profit prison industry. Some states, including California and West Virginia, are currently gearing up to send millions more to these companies. But the past year has been a watershed moment, and we are heading in the right direction. In light of these developments, these states would be wise to look to sentencing reform to reduce populations, rather than signing reckless outsourcing contracts.

The arguments against private prisons are myriad and compelling. Promised savings end up as increased costs. Lockup quotas force taxpayers to guarantee profits for prison companies through lock up quotas hidden in contracts. They incentivize mass incarceration while discouraging sentencing reform in an era when crime rates are plummeting.

But more than anything else, the reality of the disastrous private prison experiment has turned the public against the industry.

 

PFAW

Right Wing Round-Up - 2/5/14

PFAW and Allies Stand Up to ALEC

Last week ALEC held its annual meeting here in Washington, DC, once again bringing together state legislators and corporate representatives to advance legislation that hurts everyday Americans. But they weren’t alone.


Outside their meeting at the Grand Hyatt, PFAW and ally organizations led a protest to stand up to ALEC’s extreme agenda.  Holding signs like “ALEC shoots first… and hits real people” and “Stop the war on workers,” hundreds of advocates from diverse organizations and backgrounds marched, chanted, and made speeches about the real toll ALEC-supported policies have on Americans’ lives.


PFAW’s Diallo Brooks’ speech to the crowd was interrupted many times with cheers and applause.  He said:

It doesn’t matter where they meet—here in Washington or any other city. When ALEC comes to town, we need to let them know that it is not okay for them to have private meetings with our legislators and corporations and write legislation that impacts our lives every day. We’re here to let them know—loud and clear—that democracy is still alive. We’re paying attention, and we’re going to call them out wherever they go.

Following last week’s news that ALEC drafted an agreement for their state chairs calling on them to put the interests of ALEC first, Brooks and other protest leaders went into the meeting area and asked attendees to sign an alternative pledge – one asking ALEC legislators to honor the Constitution and their constituents rather than corporate interests. None of the attendees signed.

PFAW

Right Wing Round-Up - 12/10/13

ALEC and Koch-Funded SPN in the Spotlight

Last week The Guardian began to shine some light on the shadowy right-wing group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), exposing how the organization connecting corporations with conservative legislators to move a legislative agenda supporting special interests is declining in popularity. In the wake of tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s shooting, many former members are attempting to distance themselves from ALEC’s extreme agenda.

Close on the heels of that revelation, we now see that a Koch-funded network of state policy groups with ties to ALEC, the State Policy Network (SPN), plans to launch a coordinated assault on many of the issues and services most important to everyday working Americans. Newly-exposed funding proposal documents obtained by The Guardian outline what they call a “blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014.”

And what an agenda it is. According to the documents, the proposals take aim at public education, health services, worker’s compensation, environmental protections, and more. A new website (www.stinktanks.org) launched by allies ProgressNow and the Center for Media and Democracy helps to further expose the agenda behind these state policy groups and draw attention to some of SPN’s major funders.

SPN, a member of ALEC, should take heed of ALEC’s declining public image. The American people are tired of the coordinated attack on the services, rights, and protections vital to a thriving middle class.
 

PFAW

ALEC Experiences ‘Donor Exodus’ Following Trayvon Martin Tragedy

Apparently not all press is good press, after all.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) documents recently obtained by The Guardian show the popularity of ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to push special interest legislation, to be in sharp decline.  In the wake of the national outcry surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death, ALEC saw both its corporate and state legislative membership drop in numbers – experiencing what The Guardian describes as a “donor exodus.”   

That’s because among the many damaging pieces of legislation ALEC has pushed over the years are “Stand Your Ground” laws, which became a cornerstone of the national conversation about the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Drafted in part by the National Rifle Association, ALEC promoted these types of laws as “model legislation.”  But some legislators and corporations – including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and more – decided they didn’t want any part of it.

Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg report:

The Guardian has learned that by Alec's own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.

For forty years, ALEC has helped advance bills that hurt everyday Americans, and PFAW works with allies like the Center for Media and Democracy to expose their extreme agenda. 

If you’re in the DC area, you can join us this Thursday for a “DC Stands Up to ALEC” rally to make clear that it’s not only legislators and corporations who have had enough of ALEC – it’s the American people.
 

PFAW
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