War for the Ballot Box: Corporations Seek to Poison the Procss
September 1, 2012
Andrew S. Ross, The Bottom Line / San Francisco Chronicle
Just days before the opening of the Republican National Convention, the party's platform committee gave a ringing endorsement to a plethora of corporate-backed voter ID laws passed by state houses in the past few years. The motive behind the corporate spending became clear when Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai boasted to a partisan gathering: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."
Corporations' Ties to Voter ID Laws
(August 26, 2012) -- On Friday, just days before the opening of the Republican National Convention, the party's platform committee gave a ringing endorsement to a plethora of voter ID laws passed by state houses in the past few years. That must have pleased the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helped design many of those laws, seen by some as thwarting voter fraud and others as "voter suppression" -- especially of Democrats.
The Washington, D.C., nonprofit, which seeks "to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism," is funded primarily by US corporations, including several in the Bay Area.
But its efforts to influence legislation on the state level, especially relating to voting rights, has stirred considerable controversy, prompting a number of major US corporations, including Hewlett-Packard and Intuit, to quit the organization in April. But not others, like Visa, Chevron, eBay, and Yahoo.
Founded 39 years ago by "a small group of state legislators and conservative policy advocates," the council began working up "model legislation" for voter ID laws soon after President Obama took office in 2009, along with a Democratic-controlled Congress.
Since then, 35 states -- all Republican except for Rhode Island -- have passed, tightened or considered laws mandating that voters show a driver's license or other government-approved identification at the polling booth.
Many of them came right out of ALEC'S playbook. More than half of the 62 separate bills introduced in the 2011 and 2012 state legislative sessions were sponsored by members or conference attendees of ALEC, according to an analysis by News21, a student journalism consortium sponsored by the Carnegie Corp. and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Concerns raised earlier this year by good-government and civil rights groups, including Common Cause and the NAACP, led to a corporate exodus from ALEC in April. Fearing more defections, ALEC disbanded the task force that drew up the model legislation, whose corporate members included Koch Industries, whose owners Charles and David Koch have funded numerous right-wing organizations and pro-Republican super PACs. None of the corporate members were from the Bay Area.
But if the task force is history, the measure it pushed remains very alive. Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder likened the voter ID laws to the infamous "poll taxes," a fee levied on black would-be voters by some post-Civil War Southern states in the 19th century. A number of voter ID measures are tied up in the courts, although the Justice Department has waived through others.
Supporters say the laws are intended to thwart voter fraud, which they insist is widespread, despite evidence to the contrary. A 2007 study of voter fraud claims by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law found most of them to be "baseless." Of the rest, "most reveal election irregularities and other forms of election misconduct, rather than fraud by individual voters," said the center, whose analysis is backed up by more recent studies.
Noting that the burden of proof falls mainly on poorer, older, nonwhite and Democratic portions of the electorate, critics say they are designed for purely partisan purposes. That view appears to have support from unlikely quarters.
In 2011, New Hampshire's Republican House Speaker William O'Brien, speaking to a local Tea Party group in support of a bill ending same-day registration and placing restrictions on student voting, referred to "kids voting liberal. That's what kids do -- they don't have life experience, and they just vote their feelings." A less-restrictive photo ID requirement became law in New Hampshire last month.
In June, referring to a package of laws recently passed in Pennsylvania, Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai remarked at a Republican State Committee gathering, "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done." His statement was reported to have drawn "a loud round of applause from the audience."
We asked those Bay Area companies listed as members of ALEC about their ongoing association with the organization.
Chevron, listed as a $10,000 sponsor of ALEC's 2011 annual conference, and a member of its "Energy, Environment and Agriculture" task force, confirmed its affiliation. "We work with the organization on energy policies designed to support America's energy security. We have no position on many of the other issues the organization endorses," said spokesman Lloyd Avram.
EBay, a member of ALEC's "Communication and Technology" task force, also confirmed its affiliation but had no other comment. Yahoo did not respond to a request for comment.
Neither did Visa. The global credit card company is listed as a $50,000 contributor and a "chairman" level sponsor of ALEC's 2011 conference. It's also listed as sponsor of a conference speech by former Republican Congressman Dick Armey, who heads the conservative group FreedomWorks, and, as the New York Times reported in 2009, "helped turn out rowdy demonstrators at town-hall-style meetings with lawmakers around the country" who were opposed to Obama's health care reform plan.
It's no secret that many US corporate leaders are not especially fond of Obama and his fellow Democrats these days, which is their right. Whether they should associate themselves with organizations that have crossed the line in their opposition to the sitting president is another matter.
Andrew S. Ross is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blogging: www.sfgate.com/columns/bottomline Twitter: @andrewsross Facebook page: sfg.ly/doACKM
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