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Statewide Tax on Income May Be Gaining Steam
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Statewide Tax on Income May Be Gaining Steam

BY W. Gardner Selby

AUSTIN - A dozen years ago today, then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock made the biggest public miscalculation of his career in declaring Texas ready for a state personal income tax. Bullock, surprising editorial writers and Gov. Ann Richards at an event in the Governor's Mansion, vowed to lead the charge for a 5 percent personal income tax and 8 percent corporate income tax to fund public schools while driving down local property taxes. Saying he personally disliked "any type of new taxes," Bullock continued: "But I also know deep down in my heart, deep down in my heart, that it's the right thing to do for Texas." Few heeded his call, and Bullock's idea died, although he recovered and even won re-election after proposing a constitutional amendment approved in 1993 that requires voter approval before an income tax becomes law. No statewide official has pushed an income tax since, but advocates - and one opponent - say it might be gaining momentum as lawmakers confront escalating property taxes and a projected state revenue shortfall exceeding $10 billion. "No question, there is a growing movement to consider a state income tax," said Peggy Venable, the Texas director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which favors cutting taxes and spending. "We have more people moving in from outside the state, of people accustomed to paying a state income tax," Venable said. "There is certainly a property tax revolt rumbling. It's the anything but a property tax" crowd. But, she said, "it would be the wrong move." Republican leaders agree, led by Gov. Rick Perry, who said Wednesday: "The vast, vast majority of the people of the state of Texas think like I do. The smartest thing we have never done in this state is pass a state income tax." "The state income tax is dead," agreed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. "There's no support for it in the Legislature and throughout the state." Yet Dewhurst has been studying alternative education funding methods to whittle dependence on local property taxes. "I'm working on it daily," Dewhurst said. "It's got to work numerically and then we've got to work the politics. It will require a lot of explaining all around the state." Among 31 senators and 150 House members, two Democrats are urging colleagues to seek voter approval of a personal income tax as the best alternative to the state's reliance on sales taxes, corporate franchise and other taxes, which yield about $26 billion a year. Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, estimates the state could raise $15 billion more for education by levying a personal income tax of 4.8 percent, while driving down school property taxes 90 percent. "If voters get to see the facts, their minds change," Shapleigh said. "We can't improve the system by increasing taxes on property. More and more people need to see the facts." First-year Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, plans legislation to progressively tax income at a rate of up to 6 percent, while eliminating local maintenance and operation school property taxes and the corporate franchise tax. "There's no political will to do it," Rodriguez conceded. "We have to create that will." Dallas businessman Albert D. Huddleston has circulated a proposal to fund school facilities and teacher salaries, at an average of $52,000 a year, by replacing local property taxes with either an expanded or increased sales tax, a flat-rate income tax or statewide property tax - or some mix of the three. Huddleston's "Texas Great Teacher Plan," which envisions giving experienced teachers a property tax exemption, would require nearly $19 billion a year, drawing from $11.2 billion in existing state education spending and $7.5 billion generated by the new tax. Few legislators look like they're ready to follow in Bullock's footsteps. Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, first elected to the House in 1966, cited voters confronting higher property taxes and said: "There's going to be a personal income tax or there's going to be a revolution." More typically, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, whose district includes Bullock's boyhood home in Hillsboro, shook his head no. "People wouldn't send me back to Austin if I voted for a state income tax," Pitts said.

03/06/2003
Med-Mal Bill Yields Results
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Press Release

Med-Mal Bill Yields Results

From the Charleston Gazette March 5, 2003, Wednesday Copyright 2003 Charleston Newspapers Bob Gray still remembers the magazine cover - a doctor getting into his car with a West Virginia license plate reading "GOODBYE." That cover of Medical Economics magazine symbolizes the view out-of-state doctors had of West Virginia as "tort hell," said Gray, vice president of Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston. But that image already may be changing, he said, even though the Legislature still hasn't passed a medical malpractice bill.

03/05/2003
Convention Hotel Subsidies Hurt Private Businesses
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Press Release

Convention Hotel Subsidies Hurt Private Businesses

Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy released a comprehensive study today that found the primary impact of tax subsidies for convention center hotels is to hurt existing, privately-financed hotels rather than to attract new conventions. GET THE FULL STUDY (large .pdf download) CSE commissioned the study as several Texas cities have proceeded with expanding convention center space and are considering various public subsidies for adjoining Convention Center hotels. One portion of the study examines Dallas' proposed convention center hotel in depth and finds that it is not financially viable. CSE is philosophically opposed to public funding of enterprises which compete with private business. Specifically, this new study examines the impact public subsidies would have on existing hotels, whose owners must pay taxes and risk their own capital in these private enterprises. The three-part study was performed by Source Strategies, Inc. of San Antonio, a company that also provides detailed analysis of hotel occupancy rates and taxes for the Texas Department of Commerce.

03/05/2003
Stimulate Now
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Press Release

Stimulate Now

Today's economic outlook is far from rosy. Consumer confidence is at a 10-year low, retail sales are declining, share prices continue to fall, and oil prices are spiking. A substantial tax cut now would reduce the risk of slow growth and possible decline in the months ahead. While such a fiscal stimulus will increase the budget deficit, there is ample time to reduce unnecessary spending and wasteful tax features to achieve budget balance in the years ahead.

03/04/2003
Reader's Forum
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Reader's Forum

Preferred drug list is not acceptable Editor: The Canadian-style health-care and medication program is a prescription for disaster. West Virginia's elderly and poor could be forced to ultimately pay the price through drastic reduction of services and lack of availability of life-saving medications. West Virginia Citizens for a Sound Economy believes this could be one more blow to West Virginia's ailing health-care system. And patients will suffer as a result. This is why the Canadian health-care bureaucracy is wrong. The government sets the prices for prescription drugs and the drug makers are forced to accept those reduced prices or simply not market those drugs to its citizens. Under the governor's proposal, the West Virginia Preferred Drug List system will regulate the medications allowed. The PDL system is flawed. Physicians and patients should have complete access to whatever medications are medically appropriate. Do you want the politicians or your doctor prescribing the medicine you need for cancer and heart attacks? The governor should not stop patients from getting the drugs that they desperately need to prevent a stroke. Much of the Medicaid budget is squandered through political funding contests and the inefficient allocation of resources. Millions are lost each year on unnecessary treatments and emergency room visits. Let's fix this problem first - not ration medications for sick West Virginians. Alice Click Point Pleasant Nursing home law already exists Editor: As CEO of the West Virginia Health Care Association, I am compelled to respond to the recent Gazette editorial on the proposed legislation requiring nursing homes to form family councils and post detailed staff lists for each shift. This legislation is redundant of the current federal regulations, which our state's nursing homes are required to adhere. New federal regulations, effective Jan. 1, 2003, now require staffing information to be posted in each facility and closely mirror the proposed legislation. Resident councils are already required, while family councils are encouraged. Contrary to the statement in the Gazette editorial, we are not "fighting" this proposed regulation. We do not see the need for additional legislative attention be placed on a law that already exists for nursing homes. Other issues, of much greater consequence, are facing our state's frail and elderly. Primarily, will the Legislature find the funding necessary to fill the $ 300 million Medicaid budget shortfall so access and care for the frail and elderly through the program can continue? Our members are very aware of regulations imposed by state and federal governments. These regulations are followed in our facilities. Our profession understands the need to provide quality service and care to our residents and their families. Imposing a law with existing penalties in addition to existing regulation is just not necessary. John Alfano CEO West Virginia Health Care Association Charleston America needs a black president Editor: It's time that African-Americans elected a leader for our people. Currently, no individual can legitimately claim this title. We are disunited as a people and don't have a central source of power to tap into. None of the existing organizations are sufficient. It is therefore proposed that we elect a "President of Black Affairs." Along with managing social and societal problems, a central source of power would also let the world know where we generally stand as a people regarding important issues - and what goals we'll put our muscle behind in order to progress. Granted, there are philosophical differences within the black community. But that's true of America in general. Yet, somehow, presidents still manage to get elected. Our president would be surrounded by officers representing the various issues. The officers would work PRO-actively as well as RE-actively in our favor. The basic funding for general operations would come from our people themselves. We'd consider it another "tax" we must pay. All interested African-Americans can contact me at kba917a@yahoo.com. The ballot can be sent by mail or by e-mail attachment. The ballots will be submitted to various black publications and organizations in hopes of gaining their support for this endeavor. Keith Anderson Bluefield ATV safety begins at home Editor: It is very unfortunate about the ATV deaths throughout West Virginia. However, the cause is not due to the ATV but rather the ignorance and recklessness of the user and/or legal guardian. The vast majority of ATV deaths involve violating manufacturer's riding instructions and warnings. All ATVs are supplied with emblems that clearly state no passengers, set minimum age requirements, and set maximum speed limits. Nearly all ATV accidents involve violating at least one of these rules. I ask, "Where was the parent?" The parent allowing the child to be put in harm's way should be held legally accountable. Regardless of whether the harm is in the form of a vicious dog, a train track, an ATV or a rattlesnake. Who bought the ATV anyway? Few children can afford such toys. Parenting, common sense and taking time to supervise your child start in the home - not at the Capitol. If we try to legislate ignorance, where does it stop? How does a child know not to put his hand into a lawn mower or touch a hot stove? You guessed it - supervision! Greg Combs Point Pleasant Church, state rules inconsistent Editor: Well, here we go again. Am I the only one upset? Am I the only one who sees the inconsistency? Am I the only one who will speak up? I hope not. It started when the Columbia exploded on re-entry and seven valiant astronauts lost their lives. We were told to pray for the victims and their families. Go to your church or synagogue or mosque and offer prayers and comfort. A memorial service was held at NASA in Houston where the comfort of God was requested. A local religious service was held here in Charleston with all the local politicians, including the governor. The seven were honored and the grace of God requested on all us who endured this tragedy. Remember Sept. 11? The same tenor and fervor covered our entire nation. Pray for the victims and their families. But in between those two events, we were told prayer and God and church and spirituality and after-life and divinity were not supposed to be discussed in the public forum. There was even an attempt to remove "one nation under God" from our national pledge of allegiance. In other words, when all is well, please shut up about God and His Son. But when tragedy strikes, then it's politically correct to request his help. Consistent? Not hardly. Steve Fox Charleston War will not solve anything Editor: While watching the president's State of the Union speech, I didn't hear what I thought should have been the main topic. I never heard the name of God mentioned. That should have been the first word mentioned by Mr. Bush, and he should have used that word many times because God has the whole world in his hands. We are a sinful nation. Just stop for a moment and think why we are having fires burning out of control, floods, storms that destroy whole cities, children killing children/parents, their own best friends. And then there is the issue of fairness. We open the doors to people from Europe, Asia, Far East and then what happens: Sept. 11. We round up all immigrants, line them up and question them for hours or days. Then there is a small boat loaded with black people from Haiti seeking a better life in the Great U.S. of A. and what happens? They are forced to jump boat, rounded up and sent back home. Is this great nation a haven for all people that are oppressed? I don't think so. War with Iraq will not solve anything, Mr. Bush. It will cause death to many thousands of innocent people. Be not deceived, for God is not mocked. Whatsoever man soweth so shall he reap. Ferguson B. Meadows Institute We have heroes at home too Editor: At 4:15 a.m. on Feb. 17, ice on the trees pulled limbs down onto the high voltage power lines. At first I thought we were being bombed, with the fire in the sky. Then within seconds, not minutes, the South Hills fire department was here. It was only minutes till AEP was on the scene and cut the high voltage off. Yes, you're right. We didn't have power but we were safe. I called AEP customer service and they said they were trying to do everything they could, and they were a pleasure to talk to. At 11 a.m. it looked like the Army landed with AEP and Asplundph tree service. By 2 p.m. all trees were trimmed and the power was restored. I watched men go up in the air around high voltage lines that I can tell you, with all the ice, I would not have been there without feathers. I know we have troops abroad and I thank God every day for that, but we also have heroes at home. Oh, you say it's their job. Well, try it. I have worked in different countries and our utility bills are cheaper by far. May God bless all our troops abroad and bring them home safely and bless the people that are taking care of us at home. Tommy J. Ritchey Charleston

03/04/2003
Publicly-Subsidized Convention Center Hotels Risky Business
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Publicly-Subsidized Convention Center Hotels Risky Business

What? Citizens for a Sound Economy, the national conservative think tank and grassroots organization is set to announce the findings of The Source Strategies study showing that Dallas' proposed convention center hotel is not financially viable and will not increase local demand. The Dallas Taxpayers' Rights Coalition is a non-partisan coalition of citizens and local businesses opposed to the City's proposal to build a tax-subsidized, 1,200 room hotel adjacent to the Dallas Convention Center. The Coalition contributed to Citizens for a Sound Economy's commissioned feasibility study for the hotel. When? 10 a.m., Wednesday, March 5th, 2003 Where? The Adam's Mark 400 North Olive Street Room: Lone Star A4 Who? Peggy Venable, Director, Citizens for a Sound Economy-Texas Bruce Walker, President, Source Strategies Tara Ross, Spokesperson, Dallas Taxpayers' Rights Coalition Steve Hollern, Chairman, Citizens for Taxpayers' Rights-Fort Worth CONTACT: Sarah Wright, +1-214-871-8888, for Citizens for a Sound Economy. SOURCE Citizens for a Sound Economy

03/04/2003
Wise drug plan is the wrong prescription
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Press Release

Wise drug plan is the wrong prescription

This opinion editorial originially appeared in the The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington on Sunday, March 2, 2003 Would you rather have the government or your doctor prescribing the drugs you need for heart disease and cancer? West Virginia will be forced to use cheaper drugs that are often not as effective as original drugs if Gov. Bob Wise gets the pharmaceutical plan he wants. When the government buys drugs, it must ration them. The Wise plan could be costly, and a deadly mistake.

03/02/2003
Wise Drug Plan is the Wrong Prescription
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Wise Drug Plan is the Wrong Prescription

BY Alice Click

Would you rather have the government or your doctor prescribing the drugs you need for heart disease and cancer? West Virginia will be forced to use cheaper drugs that are often not as effective as original drugs if Gov. Bob Wise gets the pharmaceutical plan he wants. When the government buys drugs, it must ration them. The Wise plan could be costly, and a deadly mistake. A Canadian-style system to control pharmaceutical prices is what the governor has proposed. But if he gets his way, West Virginians will have fewer drug choices and longer, more costly illnesses. Faced with a state budget crisis, deepened by rising Medicaid costs, Wise blames higher drug prices for the state's fiscal woes and wants drug makers to charge the same prices set by the Canadian government, not by the market place. Sounds good? Citizens for a Sound Economy states otherwise. As a result of Canadian price fixing, more of the newer and more effective pharmaceuticals for cancer and hypertension are unavailable there. Because prescription drugs are more often used for preventive care, they stave off more debilitating, more costly medical conditions requiring expensive and lengthy hospitalization. With a $600 annual prescription for two leading cholesterol-reducing drugs may seem expensive, it is the long-term effect of those drugs that helps avert an emergency bypass operation and lengthy hospital stay. Socialized medicine is touted as a cure-all for expensive medical care. Yet, how many of us would wish to be put on a waiting list for gall-bladder surgery or a heart-bypass surgery? With Wise's plan, West Virginians may see a drastic reduction of services and lack of availability of life-saving drugs. Already U.S. generic drugs are less expensive than those under the price-controlled Canadian system. Is there more in Wise's initiative than meets the eye? Could it be the governor has a long affiliation with the fat-cat lobbying groups who may reap billions of dollars in windfalls if more patients are forced to switch to generic drugs. With no private sector alternatives, patients have no choice but to accept what the government - not their doctor - decides is best. It has been suggested a market-oriented plan can be devised to help poor and low-income people get the medicine they need. This could be part of a competitive prescription drug benefit system that lets consumers shop around - choosing the health-care coverage that suits their needs and their pocketbooks. Competition in the pharmaceutical industry and wider choices are needed among public and private benefit plans - not a price-controlled Canadian system. It comes down to this: Will it be the doctor or government prescribing our drugs?

03/02/2003
Corporate Astroturf and Civil Justice
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Corporate Astroturf and Civil Justice

BY Carl Deal, Joanne Doroshow

FOR TEE LAST TWO DECADES, INSURANCE COMPANIES, manufacturers of dangerous products and chemicals, the tobacco industry and other major industries have been engaged in an effort to roll back the U.S. civil justice system. In nearly every state and in Congress, corporations and their insurers have waged a relentless campaign to change the laws that give sick and injured consumers the ability to hold their offenders responsible for the injuries they cause. While most of their legislative initiatives have been stymied at the federal level -- where corporations have sought national laws to override the rights that states grant to injured parties -- the corporate coalition has had enormous success in the states themselves. Going state by state, they have succeeded in obtaining liability caps, elimination of various causes of action, and procedural rules making it much harder to sue wrongdoers. The business-led effort to take away consumers' legal rights (called "tort reform" by its corporate proponents; "tort deform" by its pro-consumer opponents) has had at its helm the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) located in Washington, D.C. In turn, ATRA has contracted with APCO & Associates, one of the nation's leading "grassroots" lobbying/PR firms. Because large corporations have found their message more effective when delivered by what appear to be citizen groups than when conveyed by business associations openly advancing their pecuniary interests, they have come to rely on a network of front groups, corporate-funded think tanks and industry-funded academics to articulate their message. Among the national groups representing the corporate interests are organizations like Citizens for a Sound Economy, the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Job Security, the Center for Individual Rights, the Federalist Society, the Manhattan Institute, the Competitiveness Enterprise Institute and the Washington Legal Foundation. At the state level, more important has been a network of supposed grassroots organizations spontaneously formed to confront "lawsuit abuse." This network of local organizations was created by APCO. The groups euphemistically call themselves any number of names, typically: Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), Lawsuit Abuse Watch, Stop Lawsuit Abuse, or People for a FAIR Legal System (collectively referred to here as "CALAs.") Since 1991, "tort reform" advocates have set up dozens of tax-exempt groups in at least 18 states to plant their "lawsuit abuse" message in the media and the public consciousness, and to influence legislation, the judiciary and jurors. These groups claim to speak for average people and represent themselves as grassroots citizens groups determined to protect consumer interests. But their tax filings and funding sources indicate that they actually represent major corporations and industries seeking to escape liability for the harm they cause consumers -- whether it be from defective products, medical malpractice, securities scams, insurance fraud, employment discrimination or environmental pollution. The money trail from many of these groups leads directly to large corporate donors, including tobacco, insurance, oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, medical associations and auto manufacturers. They are also funded by ATRA, as well as professional associations, local businesses and industries that also wish to be shielded from consumer lawsuits. The tobacco industry has been perhaps the leading supporter of the CALAs. The huge cache of documents made public during the state attorneys general litigation against the tobacco industry in the late 1990s reveals that Big Tobacco spent millions of dollars a year (and in at least one year $ 15 million) supporting ATRA, state CALAs and other activities to weaken tort laws in many states. For instance, in 1995, Big Tobacco allocated $ 5.5 million for ATRA, more than half of ATRA's budget. In some cases, CALAs, such as the one in Louisiana, were virtually created by the tobacco industry. Tobacco money has gone directly to ATRA, APCO and state organizations. "DAVID" AND THE VICE PRESIDENT In November 1990, the Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce in Weslaco, Texas hired a political/marketing consultant named Jon Opelt to develop a program to counter a judicial climate it felt was too pro-consumer. The catalyst for the program was a $ 2.5 million jury award in September 1990 to two Mexican-American men who were illegally fired from a local sugar mill. The verdict, the Chamber said, could have shut down the mill and put hundreds of people out of work. It didn't. The mill settled the case, but the Chamber labeled it "lawsuit abuse" anyway and used the case to rally popular support for its agenda to limit people's rights to sue. Initial financing for the effort, which became the first Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse group (Weslaco CALA), was provided by the Chamber, corporations doing business in the valley, and the local medical association seeking to stop medical malpractice lawsuits. Its chair, Gonzalo Sandoval, was an executive with Central Power and Light. The Weslaco CALA launched its first campaign in January 1991, leasing five billboards along the busiest roads in the Rio Grande Valley with such messages as, "Lawsuit Abuse: Guess Who Picks Up the Tab? You Do." "Lawsuit abuse" became the poll-tested solution to the dilemma faced by advocates of "tort reform" -- how to convey their agenda in terms average people could understand. The first "lawsuit abuse" television ad ran in 1991 as part of the Weslaco CALA's $ 20,000-a-month publicity program. The ad portrayed a gloomy business environment in south Texas, citing the "near closure" of the sugar mill that had wrongfully dismissed two workers. The Weslaco CALA also aggressively took on trial lawyers by posting ads that read: "Fairness Yes -- Greed No." "It was kind of like David versus Goliath," Opelt says. "We were David and the trial lawyers were Goliath." It turns out, however, that David had the vice president of the United States and an alliance of Fortune 500 companies on his side. The same year that Weslaco CALA ran its first ads, the White House Council on Competitiveness, headed by then Vice President Dan Quayle, embraced "tort reform" as a priority issue and assigned then-Solicitor General Ken Starr the task of developing a plan to overhaul the country's civil liability laws. Starr has represented tobacco companies and General Motors, among other clients, in products liability litigation. A "Starr report," not destined to receive as much attention as the subsequent Starr report on President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, was ready in August 1991, and presented 50 recommendations for "tort reform" which it said were necessary to "maintain America's competitiveness." President George Bush embraced the recommendations at an October White House ceremony in which he signed an Executive Order on Civil Justice Reform. In 1992, Quayle visited South Texas, where he met with Weslaco CAlA President Bill Summers. Quayle encouraged Summers to take the "lawsuit abuse" campaign statewide. Following the meeting between Quayle and Summers, similar campaigns were launched in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Beaumont. The right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Chamber of Commerce were instrumental in helping to develop this statewide CALA network. Following that, CALAs started springing-up around the country. The Weslaco CALA had become the CALA blueprint, growing from a regional campaign in the South Texas oilfields into a nationwide crusade. THE ATRA/APCO CONNECTION The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) was formed in 1986 to represent hundreds of U.S. and foreign corporations in their bid to overhaul civil liability laws at the state and national levels. By 1992, ATRA had hired a public relations firm to help it reach its "tort reform" goals by creating local "grassroots" front groups. The contract was with a subsidiary of public relations titan Grey Advertising called APCO & Associates, a company that had specialized in "tort reform" lobbying since the 1980s and had worked both for insurance companies, like State Farm, and the tobacco industry. APCO knew the issue well. Founded in 1984 by the beltway law firm, Arnold & Porter, and first known as the Arnold & Porter Consulting Group, APCO was later sold to Grey Advertising after having consulted for Philip Morris and other tobacco companies on civil justice issues for years. Indeed, an internal Philip Morris document indicates that APCO and Neal Cohen, its "principal account executive on the PM [Philip Morris] Family Tort Project" had been, since 1988, "assisting the PM Family [on] national and state tort coalitions and other tort reform advocates with political, communications and grassroots strategies and related programs." This concept of corporate "grassroots lobbying" in which APCO specializes is a relatively new public relations strategy, which the New York Times described as "a technique often used to camouflage an unpopular or unsympathetic client." One of the faster growing areas of corporate public relations, grassroots lobbying, which supplements legislative lobbying, involves forming a coalition on behalf of wealthy companies and trade associations and generating sympathy for legislation sought by the unsympathetic client. A memo from the now-closed Tobacco Institute highlights the importance of these "astroturf" efforts appearing to be independent "grassroots" initiatives. Describing the grassroots lobbying strategy long used by tobacco companies, the 1986 memo says, "The primary purpose of [grassroots lobbying] is to substantiate and support [the] Tobacco Institute position presented [to] Congress, state legislatures or local councils by our lobbyists. In order to be totally effective, the grassroots effort must appear to be spontaneous rather than a coordinated effort. The goals of the Committee should be set by the Tobacco Institute. Invite suggestions and discussion, however, steer the discussion so that it ends up at our predetermined objective. A 1996 campaign by the Louisiana GALA, which was created with the help of tobacco companies, illustrates how astroturf lobbying works. According to Louisiana CALA Executive Director Ron Gomez, a former state representative, the Louisiana CALA generated some 4,000 constituent calls, faxes or letters urging key legislators to vote for three "tort reform" bills pending in the state Senate that year. Drawing from a list of 18,000 names compiled from calls to toll-free numbers advertised on the GALA television, radio and billboard ads produced by APCO, the Louisiana GALA set up phone banks to coordinate calls and letters to legislators. "That's effective," he says. "I can tell you as a former legislator." In 1994, APCO's Cohen explained the GALA "grassroots" strategy in a speech before a gathering of corporate public affairs executives sponsored by the Public Affairs Council, an organization of some 500 corporations and trade associations. "Rule No. 1 for me is stay away from substance," Cohen said. "Don't talk about the details of legislation. ... Talk about ... frivolous lawsuits, lawsuit abuse, trial lawyer greed." He explained the need for front groups. "In a tort reform battle," he said, "if State Farm -- I think they're here, Nationwide -- is the leader of the coalition, you're not going to pass the bill. It's not credible, O.K., because it's so self-serving. Everybody knows the insurance companies would be one beneficiary of this." The APCO/CALAs grassroots campaign has been effective. At the 1994 seminar, Cohen showcased his CALA work with Mississippi for a Fair Legal System (M-FAIR), a GALA he had set up in Mississippi in 1993. APGO orchestrated a blitzkrieg public attack on trial lawyers, which included an 800-number on billboards, and TV ads. The idea was to use every campaign tactic we had in order to bring in as many people, and we made sure that it was typical people mixed in with large employers and political contributors." The coalition soon had over a thousand people who had responded to the "greedy trial lawyer" message. According to Cohen, "we have 1,500 Mississippians mixed in with who our clients were" and since Mississippi had "no reporting requirements, they [the trial lawyers] didn't really know who was at the heart of everything." In the end, they "caved in completely." The group was "instrumental" in the passage of H.B. 1270, Mississippi's 1993 "tort reform" legislation, according to ATRA. The Tobacco Institute was involved in the Mississippi effort as well, and several APGO documents documenting the M-FAIR strategy were uncovered in the Tobacco Institute's files. Other state lawmakers have undoubtedly been influenced by APCO/GALA grassroots lobbying efforts. In 1994, Liability Week reported that in addition to Mississippi, Neal Gohen and APCO had a "key role" in developing the system which resulted in substantial tort overhauls in Texas, North Dakota, Arizona and Michigan in 1993. Cohen also boasted in a 1995 interview published by the PR industry magazine, Reputation Management, that CALAs have helped pass significant "tort reform" bills at the state level in California, New Jersey, Texas, Mississippi and Michigan. In 1995, the Illinois Civil Justice League, which was the principal author and proponent of the state's Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995, organized an Illinois CALA. It used direct mail to collect contributions and build a list of names supporting "tort reform." This CALA was short-lived as the bill was signed into law in March of that year (though the law was declared unconstitutional two years later). As another example, weeks before the Ohio House considered a massive "tort reform" bill in 1996, Ohio Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (OCALA) appeared on the scene. The bill passed but it was later declared unconstitutional. As the Alabama state legislature was debating proposals in May 1999 to, among other things, cap punitive damages, Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse (AVALA) organized pro-business demonstrations outside the capitol in Montgomery, and sent out letters to its mailing list asking people to urge their legislator to vote for the package of tort restrictions. The legislation passed. 1-800-START-A-CALA At its first press conference in 1994, Los Angeles CALA's President, Bill Bloomfield, owner of a Redondo Beach company that loans washers and dryers to apartment buildings, unveiled television commercials and its first billboard with the message: "Help Stop Lawsuit Abuse. We All Lose. 1-800-293-CALA." Bloomfield said, "We are a group of citizens who have had enough of a system that makes us all victims." Similarly, when Ohio Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (OCALA) appeared on the scene in 1996, OCALA's chairman Jackie Fox, the chief financial officer and general manager of a company that runs beauty salons, stressed the group's local "grassroots" origins, saying OCALA "is relying on small business, grassroots donations to get started." Neither organization gave much hint of their extensive connection to the nationwide ATRA/APCO network (although OCALA did admit that three television commercials it previewed were prepared with ATRA.) In a 1996 memo originally obtained by the publications Counterpunch and PR Watch, Neal Cohen highlighted APGO's involvement in the formation of CALA groups. With regard to 0 CALA, for example, Cohen wrote, "In Ohio, we are working with the local business community to form a new citizens group focusing on lawsuit abuse." In Michigan, he said, "we are working with the local business community to form a new citizens group focusing on lawsuit abuse." He also said, "In California, we work with both a statewide group ... as well as six local CALA groups." And in Alabama, Cohen said, "we work with an extremely active statewide citizens coalition, Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse." In addition to these states, Cohen's memo mentioned a number of other states in which APCO was involved, including Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas and West Virginia. While ATRA/APCO have not advertised their role in creating the CALA movement, they do admit to supplying the groups with limited guidance. Likewise, in its own materials, ATRA admits to working with local groups to "set their legislative agenda and strategies," as well as provide them with "briefing materials, model bills, witnesses and speakers," and a "communications 'tool kit'" including "hard-hitting television ads and radio spots as well as billboard and information handouts." In 1997, ATRA spun off a foundation to provide funds of approximately $ 1 million annually to local groups for purposes of conducting public education programs and other consulting services that are pursuing the ATRA agenda. According to ATRA's newsletter and web site, one of the Foundation's top jobs will be "enhancing the communications tool kit that ATRA currently makes available to grassroots organizations across the country. This program, which includes award-winning television and radio commercials and other communications materials, helps to communicate the 'Stop Lawsuit Abuse' message in a way that avoids legalese and is understandable to the public." Indeed, widespread national coordination of message and strategy, focused on developing public scorn for the civil justice system, is evident in virtually every aspect of local CALAs' activities: * Starter grants and kits: ATRA provides funding to individuals or groups interested in starting a CALA, as well as starter kits. The initial filings with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by Western Maryland CALA, for example, included as an attachment what appears to be a portion of a generic starter kit consisting of detailed job descriptions, a fundraising manual and a media primer. Specifically, attached to the IRS filing was a job description for an "Executive Director," which was described in generic terms as being "responsible for executing and implementing policies adopted by the CALA steering committee on a day-to-day basis." The executive director, according to the document, is supposed to help draft op-ed articles and letters to the editor for placement, to "devote time to cultivating reporters, 'jumping on a story' that the stop lawsuit abuse theme can piggy-back onto, etc. (See CALA media primer)." Also, 40 percent of the executive director's time is to be spent on fundraising, and preparing an annual fundraising plan that reports potential contributors. The job description continued, "examples: physicians for $ 50K, auto dealers for $ 25K, etc. See CALA fundraising manual for more specifics." Finally, the memo directs the executive director to spend 25 percent of his or her time on administrative/management tasks. * "Public education" materials and activities: The slogans, brochures, websites, activities, billboards and other advertising used by CALAs nationwide are evidence of widespread national coordination. For example, the "Stop Lawsuit Abuse" stop sign logo is ubiquitous throughout the CALA network, used by, among others: Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse (AVALA); Bay Area CALA (Texas); Central California CALA; Central Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse; Los Angeles CALA; Louisiana CALA; Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch; San Diego Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse; Silicon Valley CALA; Southern West Virginia CALA; Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse; and Weslaco (Texas) CALA. The slogan "Lawsuit Abuse: We All Pay, We All Lose" has been used by numerous CALAs, as has the slogan "Fairness, yes -- Greed, no." Since 1996, several active CALAs, including those in Texas, California, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, have designated the third week of September as "Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week." This week is sometimes accompanied by a so-called "wacky warning label contest" ostensibly to show how lawsuits lead to silly resuLts. At the same time each year, these CALAs obtain endorsements from sympathetic political officials, ranging from conservative Republican governors, to local mayors and legislative bodies, to members of Congress. * Paid advertising: Since 1991, when the first Texas CALA became the testing ground for ATRA's ad campaign, CALA groups have heavily relied on APCO to develop, or assist them in developing, television, radio, print and billboard advertising, as well as messages, signs and slogans and PR materials. By 1996, APCO had said that the ad campaigns it developed had "changed the nature of the debate from a technical intangible concept to a concept more easily understood by the general public." * Influencing juries: Consumer advocates and trial lawyers say the CALAs' massive publicity campaigns are not targeted only at legislators -- they aim to influence juries as well. Lawyers point to CALA billboards near courthouses, and TV and radio ads that spike during particularly high-profile cases. The purpose, they believe, is to make jurors more suspicious of victims and the civil justice system. SHOW ME THE MONEY CALAs are incorporated locally as non-profit, tax-exempt organizations. As with other non-profit groups, a CALA is not required to disclose its funders. And they choose not to. CALAs work to maintain the appearance of local citizen groups -- a spontaneous, folksy backlash by ordinary citizens against a legal system that is "out of control." A typical story is the one Bill Bloomfield told the Sacramento Bee, about the founding of the Los Angeles CALA. Bloomfield said the group came into being after "organizing some friends including two attorneys, a teacher and a sheriff's detective" and then "passing the hat to raise funds." However, for CALAs for which financial information is publicly available, the evidence shows they are sustained by local industries, large corporations or trade associations, which are generally represented on their boards, and/or support them with financial or in-kind contributions. CALAs are also often backed by the tobacco and insurance industries. For example: * Founded in 1992 primarily with the help of the tobacco industry, the Louisiana CALA has also received financial support from Louisiana Power & Light, Freeport-McMoran, Pfizer, Abbott Laboratories, Union Pacific, Georgia Pacific, Texaco and local businesses. * Minnesota Lawsuit Abuse Watch was incorporated in 1996. Its initial supporters, donating more than $ 100,000 in its first six months, included the Independent Business Association of Minnesota, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Minnesota, the Minnesota Civil Justice Coalition and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. * In 1995, Oklahoma CALA, formed a year earlier, ran a statewide initiative campaign to put tort restrictions on the ballot. By March, it had raised $ 2 million, but not from average Oklahoma citizens. Oklahoma CALA's supporters who contributed or pledged at least $ 50,000 each to this effort were: CITGO Petroleum Corporation of Tulsa, Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville, the Oklahoma Publishing Company, publisher of The Oklahoman, Southwestern Bell Telephone, Boatmen's First National Bank of Oklahoma, American Fidelity Group, Kerr-McGee Corporation and State Bank & Trust Company. In addition to the financial and public relations support they receive from corporate-backed ATRA and APCO, CALAs are often run not by citizen activists, but by hired public relations or marketing consultants. Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA), which is operated by ROSS Communications, a company with which APCO is formally partnered, is one such example. But they are not alone. In papers filed with the IRS, Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse says, "AVALA's activities ... will be conducted in the state of Alabama by independent consultants and professional research and polling firms retained and paid by AVALA." In addition, several CALAs have been run by individuals who are in and out of the PR world. CALAS: CARVED IN THE LANDSCAPE While some of the CALAs have had a fleeting existence, appearing just before major legislative fights and disappearing just as quickly thereafter, the nationwide CALA phenomenon is now a permanent part of the national political landscape. And some of the CALAs, with ongoing infusion of corporate funding, have shown significant staying power. The Texas CALAs continue to function more than a decade after starting the national trend. In February, the network of Texas CALAs emerged as the public Lace of a corporate-driven effort to rewrite again the state's tort laws and further restrict consumer and injured party rights in Texas. Speaking straight from the text of a decade earlier, Jon Opelt, still the Houston Executive Director of CALA, told the Dallas Morning News, "this bill provides a far-reaching fix to the state's lawsuit abuse problem."

03/01/2003
Bush Admin. Just Says “No” to Tax Increase
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Press Release

Bush Admin. Just Says “No” to Tax Increase

Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) applauds the Bush Administration’s rejection of an Interagency Committee for Smoking and Health (ICSH) proposal to increase federal excise taxes on tobacco by $2. Appearing before the House Budget Committee, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson emphatically stated, “…this administration does not raise taxes,” when pressed about the administration’s stance on the ICSH proposal. CSE President Paul Beckner had these comments:

02/27/2003

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