ALEC Politicians Won Big On Tuesday, But Corporations Are Still Leaving

Logo of the software group at the entrance to the headquarters in Walldorf

Joni Ersnt. Scott Walker. Thom Tillis. Many of Tuesday night’s Republican winners have strong ties to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together legislators and corporate lobbyists to write corporate-friendly legislation.

But while these current and former ALEC members got a boost from their connections and affiliation with the bill mill (in the case of Tillis, the boost came in the form of record spending from dark money groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity), ALEC itself is in dire straits.

The day after Tillis and others claimed victory, the German software company SAP formally cut ties with ALEC.

The [SAP] spokeswoman told Manager that the company abandoned ALEC because of its “merkwürdigen” (strange) positions—such as its support for Stand Your Ground laws, climate denial, and opposition to solar energy deployment.

SAP joins American counterparts like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Yelp in ending their affiliation with ALEC.

Ever since the secretive organization came onto the public’s radar in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing and the press around the “Stand Your Ground” laws they developed, an estimated 93 corporations and 19 no-profits have cut their ALEC ties.

Why is this a big deal? While a lot of information on ALEC is not public, we know that corporations pay at least $5,000 to become members and sit on the organization’s various task forces. When these companies leave–or decline to renew their membership–that means ALEC has fewer resources to recruit legislators, take them on lavish trips, or ply them with expensive steak dinners. It also means ALEC has less capacity to produce model legislation that weakens wages, attacks the rights of workers, stifles clean energy, and privatizes everything from schools to parking meters.

Tillis and his friends are in, but SAP is out. Who is next?

UPDATE. From Center for Media and Democracy’s Nick Surgey, writing in the Huffington Post:

SAP is a particularly big loss for ALEC, because its representative at ALEC, lobbyist Steve Searle, is the Chair of ALEC’s corporate board, and the former corporate chair of ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. As a leader within ALEC, Searle would have helped drive the ALEC agenda, and would have had inside knowledge of what ALEC has planned for 2015 to continue to stonewall action to tackle climate change.

Photo by Manager-Magazin.de

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Walker Says Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn’t believe the minimum wage “serves a purpose.” Yes, that’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board Tuesday. It should come as no surprise then that Walker also opposes raising the federal minimum wage from the $7.25-an-hour level where it’s been stuck since 2009.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn’t believe the minimum wage “serves a purpose.” Yes, that’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board Tuesday. It should come as no surprise then that Walker also opposes raising the federal minimum wage from the $7.25-an-hour level where it’s been stuck since 2009.

For the 700,000 Wisconsin workers who earn less than living wages and would like to be able to support their families, Walker has some sound and sage advice. He says those workers in fast food and retail and other low-wage jobs just have to get better jobs. He suggests welding. Hand me my helmet and spot welder. Then beam yourself up, Scotty. Obviously you’re from another planet. Here’s proof.

Earlier this month, a group of low-wage workers filed a complaint with the state that the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage actually violates a state law that says the minimum wage must be a living wage.

According to the Walker administration, $7.25 an hour is a living wage. Who knew? This is what the state’sDepartment of Workforce Development said in rejecting the workers’ claim of poverty wages:

The department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The group Wisconsin Jobs Now said after that decision that Walker’s “political stance against raising minimum wage is one thing.”

But for the governor to brazenly say to the working families of Wisconsin that $7.25 an hour is enough to sustain themselves is not only misguided, it is incredibly ignorant and willfully obtuse.

We agree. So does Mary Burke who is running to unseat Walker. Burke, who supports increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, said the wage law does indeed serve a purpose.

It’s important that people who are working full-time are able to support themselves without government assistance. That’s just sort of common sense.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Wisconsin from implementing the nation’s strictest voter photo ID law that could have denied more than 300,000 registered voters the right to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

The one-page order gives opponents of the law 90 days to file a formal petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. The court’s three most conservative justices, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, dissented.

It is estimated that some 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters—mostly African American, Hispanic, students and young voters (18–24) and those older than 65—do not currently have the types of IDs the law requires.

There have been a number of legal challenges to the photo ID law that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the Republican-majority state legislature passed in 2011. The most recent when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project filed an emergency request asking the Supreme Court to block the ruling.

Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair says:

As we showed in the federal District Court, approximately 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters, disproportionately voters of color, lack the forms of ID that would have been required under the state’s restrictive voter ID law. These voters have a fundamental right to vote, a right that should not be denied by politicians who manipulate the voting rules weeks before Election Day. In a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all Americans.

Also announced yesterday, a federal judge struck down Texas’ very strict voter ID law.

On Oct. 8, the key parts of North Carolina’s restrictive voting rights law go forward, and last week the court allowed new voting restrictions in Ohio that severely curtailed early voting opportunities to go forward.

The Fair Elections Legal Network says that over the past two years, more than 30 states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that would curb voters’ access to voting. Find out more here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Voter Registration, Just a Click Away

Today is National Voter Registration Day and while volunteers around the country will be on street corners, outside of groceries stores, at bus and subway stops and elsewhere to help people register, you can get started right now, right here with just one click.

If we’re going to beat back the attack on working families by the likes of Mitch McConnell, Scott Walker, the Koch brothers and other extremists, all of us—you and your family and friends—must be registered to vote.

The AFL-CIO has teamed up with TurboVote to make voting easy for you and for your friends and family. Not only can you register or update your registration, but TurboVote will help you with absentee ballots, vote-by-mail information, finding your polling place and even sending reminders by email and text so you won’t forget to vote.

In the past few years, 22 states have passed new laws restricting the right to vote and changing voter registration rules. So even if you’re already registered, you should double check that you and the people most important to you are prepared to vote this year. Have you moved since last Election Day? Make sure you’re registered to vote at your new address. Maybe your friends have moved recently and need to update their voting information.

It’s easy. Click here to get started.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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6 Reasons Why Scott Walker Is One of the Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections

It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is (surprise, surprise) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Here are six reasons why Walker has been bad for working people:

1. Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term, but with only a few months left the state is dead last in the Midwest in terms of job growth and he’s less than halfway toward reaching his jobs goal. [The Washington Post, 9/5/14]

2. And jobs aren’t just the one negative in Wisconsin’s economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia ranked the state 49th in economic outlook and Wisconsin was one of only five states projected to contract in the second half of 2013. On top of that, new estimates show the state will be facing a $1.8 billion shortfall in the next budget cycle. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/28/13; Media Matters, 1/27/14]

3. As governor, Walker made the largest education cut in the state’s history—more than $1 billion. [Politifact, 2/8/12]

4. Walker signed legislation that would pre-empt local government control, preventing them from requiring paid sick days for workers, regardless of how much the community might want them. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/5/11]

5. Despite the fact that wages are stagnant and the minimum wage continues to lose buying power, Walker opposed raising the minimum wage, calling such a proposal a “political grandstanding stunt.” [The Associated Press, 1/23/14]

6. And the kicker that we’re all too familiar with: Walker signed a bill to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, barred the traditional collection of union dues and forced workers to pay more for their health care and retirement benefits. [2011 Wisconsin Act 10; The New York Times, 2/22/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Scott Walker Strongly Opposes Raising The Minimum Wage, So He Can’t Be Pleased About This

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, infamous across the country for his anti-union policies, is also an opponent of raising the minimum wage.

Unfortunately for him, he will share the November ballot with a minimum wage referendum in four of Wisconsin’s largest counties: Dane (home of Madison), Eau Claire, Kenosha, and Milwaukee (where Walker was once County Executive).

Due to a 2005 law, individual municipal units like cities and counties in Wisconsin can’t enact their own wage laws. (Thanks to one of Walker’s first acts as governor, the same applies to paid sick days laws). But counties can still put non-binding “advisory” wage-related referenda on the ballot. Dane, Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Eau Claire counties will all ask voters if they recommend raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

Despite staunch opposition from Gov. Walker and his legislative allies, an incredible 76 percent of Wisconsinites support raising the minimum wage above the current $7.25. To survive a tough race against businesswoman Mary Burke, who supports raising the wage, Walker might have to shift his position. “We do think that ultimately Gov. Walker’s position is going to need to evolve or he’s going to be negatively impacted by his position because it’s out of step with the majority of voters,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Wisconsin activists aren’t done, though. They also submitted signatures to get minimum wage increases on the ballot in Neenah and Menasha.

Photo by @WisconsinJobsNow on Twitter

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Two Of Nation’s Most Restrictive ALEC-Backed Voting Laws Blocked On The Same Day

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On April 29, 2014, restrictive voting laws in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were dealt major blows.

In Wisconsin, the voter ID law passed in 2011 and backed by Gov. Scott Walker was struck down by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that the law placed unfair burdens on poor and minority voters, as well as the nearly 300,000 Wisconsinites who currently lack ID. The law has not been enforced since a state judge ruled it unconstitutional in March 2012.

While attending the Time 100 gala in New York City, Gov. Walker told reporters: “We ultimately think that just like many other issues in the last several years that it will ultimately be upheld.” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen Plans to appeal.

Over in Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley denied the request of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration to reconsider his ruling that overturned that state’s voter ID law. McGinley struck down the law in January, finding that it put an unreasonable burden on the nearly 750,000 Pennsylvanians who lack photo identification.

The judge “also entered a permanent injunction,” said Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, “which means the voter ID law cannot be enforced unless and until the [state] Supreme Court takes some kind of action.” The Corbett administration has not yet said whether they plan to appeal.

Those decisions come on the heels of a similar situation in Arkansas, where a judge declared that state’s voter ID law “void and unenforceable.”

These laws were part of a nationwide push for restrictive voting laws after the 2010 elections, backed by the power of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voter ID laws were both based on ALEC model legislation and pushed by ALEC-affiliated legislators. According to NBC News, lawmakers proposed 62 photo ID bills in 37 states in the 2011 and 2012 sessions alone, and that “more than half of the 62 bills were sponsored by members or conference attendees” of ALEC.

The Pennsylvania law was championed by prominent ALEC member Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who used taxpayer money to attend ALEC conferences.

So what’s next? Egregious voting restrictions are still on the books across the country, particularly in North Carolina. Working America members in NC have made it their primary focus to educate their communities about the law.

But as the New York Times editorial board put it, Wisconsin’s Judge Adelman has “paved the path” for similar laws across the country to be confronted by the court system.

Photo by vox_efx on Flickr

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Most Wisconsin Republican Senators Who Support Limiting Early Voting Rights Have Voted Early Themselves

In a stunning display of hypocrisy, 15 of the 17 Wisconsin state senators who voted to restrict early voting hours in Wisconsin have themselves voted early.  Senate Bill 324 would prohibit voters from casting their ballots early before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on weekdays or at any time on weekends. The total number of hours that early voting ballots, which are submitted as absentee ballots, can be accepted under the legislation cannot exceed 45 hours a week.

Scott Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, condemned the hypocrisy:

That these senators would vote to make it harder for their fellow citizens to cast an early ballot in elections, just as almost every single one of them has, is an almost unbelievable act of hypocrisy….Elections are the one time everyone—regardless of age, race or income—is equal. Our government ought to be making it as convenient as possible for legal voters to participate in our democracy. But apparently these Republican senators believe they deserve to be more equal than others.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Don’t Be Fooled: Insurance Companies, Stubborn Politicians Are Behind High Insurance Premiums

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The health insurance industry is reacting badly to President Obama’s announced health care “fix” — which would allow customers to keep health plans that may not meet minimum standards.

“This decision continues different rules for different policies and threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond,” said Jim Donelon, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

That response lead cartoonist Mark Fiore to ask: when doesn’t the health insurance industry react to an event by raising premiums?

Remember during the health insurance Wild West before health care reform, when premiums were skyrocketing, not to mention loads of people getting dropped from their plans? Remember leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when premiums rose? That suddenly seems like so long ago. Remember the insurance companies complaining about rising premiums before? Me neither.

Mark Fiore’s cartoon above, “A message from the Health Insurers of America,” is a good reminder that private insurance companies are responsible for high premiums, and that they will take the opportunity to pad their profits more often than not.

Since I am a self-employed cartoonist, I’ve been living in the health insurance wilderness for quite a while. My family’s plan was canceled, like all those other people you’ve heard about lately.

Fiore’s solution? Kicking his old insurance company to the curb and getting a better deal from his state’s new health exchange, California Covered — even more affordable with subsidies.

Since I’m not holding my breath that my insurance provider will “un-cancel” me, let alone offer my previous plan at the same price, off to California Covered I go! Once I’m there, thanks to generous subsidies, my premium will be lower than before. Ah, America!

Do insurance companies deserve all the blame? No sir. You can also lay the burden at the feet of Republican governors and legislators who have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 5 million Americans without access to affordable coverage. That means more people using the emergency room, which means higher overall health care costs, which means — you guessed it — higher premiums for everyone.

If you don’t believe the effect that stubborn governors can have on health care costs, just compare average premiums in Minnesota (Medicaid expanded) and Wisconsin (Gov. Scott Walker refuses Medicaid expansion). Due to the difference in Medicaid eligibility and a better review of rates in Minnesota, the average Wisconsinite is paying $1,800 more than the average Minnesotan.

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Here’s Why Governor Sean Parnell Is Wrong To Leave 40,000 Alaskans Without Affordable Coverage

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Alaska’s Republican Governor Sean Parnell announced Friday that he would be refusing federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others who have made a similar decision, Gov. Parnell described his decision in vague terms:

Parnell said the Affordable Care Act involved a combination of parts.

“Many of those pieces are failing,” Parnell said. “Can states trust the federal government to not cut and run on its share?”

He described Medicaid as already one of the state’s most costly programs.

That’s why the federal government is paying for 100 percent of Medicaid expansion until 2020, at which point they’ll pay for 90 percent. Gov. Parnell is refusing a policy that will come at no cost to his state for years.

As for the “pieces” of the Affordable Care Act that Gov. Parnell says are “failing,” it’s certain that Medicaid expansion is working quite well.

The number of people lacking health insurance in Oregon, for instance, was halved in just two weeks, with more than 60,000 people signing up.

Kentucky has one of the most successful health insurance exchanges in the country, with more than 5,000 enrollees in the first month. But even there, five times as many people have successfully joined the Medicaid rolls.

While the private insurance-based Health Insurance Marketplace has had an uneasy rollout, the public, single payer-esque Medicaid expansion has worked phenomenally. If Gov. Parnell was serious about implementing parts of the law with a proven record, he would accept Medicaid expansion in a heartbeat.

But like Govs. Walker, Perry, McCrory and others, Parnell is less interested in giving his constituents access to affordable health insurance than he is in making a political statement. And as a result, insurance premiums are higher for everyone, and thousands remain unable to access the care they need.

Photo by wonderlane on Flickr

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