Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To Attend to Slander and Falsehoods Put Out by Business Paid Lobbyist and PR Groups, HSUS Launches Eye on the Opposition

A great idea. I’m amazed that money interests actually trump truth in the eyes of these sick groups. Well, now they’re being watched, and unlike them, the HSUS will report the truth.

You can find out more at:

Eye on the Opposition

It's no secret that The Humane Society of the United States doesn't see eye-to-eye with some people and organizations over animal protection. These groups typically have a vested interest in some form of animal use—it could be trophy hunting or cockfighting or greyhound racing—and they instinctively view The HSUS as a threat to the status quo.

To protect their own interests, these animal-use groups routinely resort to smear campaigns and high-powered spin control to confuse the public about their practices. The disinformation can be deafening at times. For these reasons, and others, The HSUS has launched its Eye on the Opposition campaign to keep tabs on those who would do animals harm. We will publish regular columns under this banner with the hope of lifting the fog of disinformation generated by others. We plan to set the record straight and unmask those who abuse animals for profit or leisure.


Legal Concerns: ALEC Looks to Turn Animal Activists into Domestic Terrorists

November 20, 2004

By Michael Satchell

The events of September 11, 2001 have re-ordered the lives and values of many Americans. Tough new anti-terrorism measures have been implemented, and freedoms and civil liberties long taken for granted have begun to erode. In the name of homeland security, travel restrictions, personal searches, identity checks, surveillance cameras, and military patrols are now everyday facts of life.

This new climate of heightened security has also provided an opening to target domestic lawbreakers. In their zeal to look tough, conservatives have cited groups like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) to justify pushing state legislation against so-called "animal rights and eco-terrorists"—despite the fact that destruction of property, stealing private property, and threatening violence are already serious offenses.

The punitive new laws—already on the books in Oklahoma and California, and currently proposed in Hawaii, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, and Washington state—not only increase penalties for the aforementioned (or lesser) crimes, but also seek to have a chilling effect on all forms of social and political activism. Some of these broadly written laws could potentially define any non-violent, law-abiding animal or environmental activist as a "domestic terrorist."

What historically has been a legally protected form of dissent and protest could suddenly become an act of domestic terrorism—non-violent animal advocates lumped into the same category with legitimate targets like foreign hijackers and home-grown arsonists. The HSUS and our friends in law-abiding animal-protection and environmental groups are all potential criminals under new state statutes.

"We agree with the criticisms of those who resort to violence in the name of animal protection," says Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of The HSUS. "But we don't want to allow political opponents of animal and environmental protection to leverage legitimate societal concerns about terrorism in order to institute indefensible restrictions on non-violent and long-permissible forms of dissent."

It's already too late in some states. Last April, for instance, Oklahoma enacted a new law against trespassing on a farm. Causing a disruption (whatever that means) or damaging property is now punishable by a felony jail term and a $10,000 fine. On January 1, California bumped up penalties for farm trespass from a citation and a $10 fine to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Similar measures came very close to passage in Illinois and Missouri, where the legislatures approved bans on photographing puppy mills. If not for conference committees, which stripped out the bans in the 11th hour, both bills would have become law.

The Man Behind the Curtain

So who or what are behind these new laws? The impetus for them comes from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a tax-exempt Washington-based organization that is financed to the tune of $5 million-plus annually by corporations. ALEC's main function is to bring together state lawmakers (2,400 of them are members, a number that reportedly represents a third of all state lawmakers) and corporate representatives in so-called "task forces" to draft "model" legislation on a raft of right-wing issues. These task forces cover such issues as health care, criminal justice, tax policy, education, economic development, and transportation.

But since 9/11, ALEC has also turned its attention to drafting laws aimed at "animal rights activists and terrorists." ALEC ominously calls its model legislation "the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" (AETA). Once drafted, the legislation often finds a receptive audience among ALEC's "legislator members," who may be influenced by perks such as junkets to prime tourist destinations and Broadway theater tickets.

ALEC claims its model eco-terror act is justified because of the escalating violence by ALF, ELF, and similar groups. ALEC cites FBI statistics listing 600 criminal acts since 1996, with damages totaling close to $50 million. "The legislation specifically addresses actions that are designed to intimidate, coerce, invoke fear, or other forms of terror that are committed in the name of environmental or animal rights activism," ALEC argues.

That may be, but the proposed state laws based on the AETA model are written so broadly that such innocuous activities as fundraising, lobbying, photographing abuses, or even picketing and protesting could be treated as criminal acts. Consider this language, imported from ALEC's model legislation, contained in a Senate bill in Washington state:

" 'Animal rights or ecological terrorist organization' means any association…or combination of two or more persons with the primary or incidental purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity through intimidation, coercion, fear, or other means that is intended to obstruct, impede, or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals, activity involving natural resources, animal facility, research facility…" (Emphasis added.)

Or these prohibitions in last year's House bill in Texas, which forbid: "Entering the facility to take photographs or a video recording with the intent to defame the facility or the facility's owner…" (Emphasis added.)

And "A person commits an offense if the person knowingly provides financial support, resources, or other assistance to an animal rights…organization for the purpose of assisting the organization in carrying out an act …" (Emphasis added.)

Broad and nebulous catch-all phrases like "other means," "obstruct, impede, or deter," "defame the facility or the facility's owner" and "provides financial support, resources or other assistance" would almost certainly violate constitutionally protected political activity and free speech.

Consider what such language could cover: It could cover nonviolent civil disobedience and other forms of activism, including demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns, and fundraising. This legal overkill could make criminals out of bunny huggers. "Holding a bake sale to support tree sitters could be a terrorist offense," quips the Sierra Club's Andrew Becker.

The Chilling Effect

Threatening law-abiding activists with felony arrests and branding them with terrorist labels are ways of intimidating them from gathering information, demonstrating peacefully, committing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, and other forms of constitutionally protected political dissent. To ratchet up the pressure, ALEC's animal and eco-terror law also allows plaintiffs to sue for triple damages, and calls for property forfeiture by defendants.

What's more, under the model laws, those found guilty would have their photograph and personal information posted on a statewide "terrorist registry" web site—as if they were convicted child molesters or other sex offenders. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a hunting advocacy group of middling influence, has jumped on the anti-animal bandwagon and teamed with ALEC to help introduce the eco-terror legislation in several state capitals.

Animal-protection organizations, including The HSUS, have argued that these laws, particularly the measures passed in Oklahoma and California, are just thinly veiled attempts to prevent the investigation and documentation of abuses on factory farms and other commercial animal operations.

"The fact is, animal abuse often occurs on private land," says Pacelle. "There are times when documenting abuse on private lands is necessary for the prosecution of individuals committing acts of cruelty or for the exposure of systemic abuse that policy makers need to address. ALEC's model legislation is designed precisely to thwart those worthy aims."

When The HSUS investigates the myriad cruelties heaped upon animals in hog factories, egg production plants, slaughterhouses, puppy mills, canned hunts, fur farms and other animal enterprises, the activities are designed only to document conditions. "Investigating potential cruelty is a crucial function that we, and others, provide in order to allow an informed debate on how animals are treated in our society," Pacelle notes.

Tilting Right

Today's ALEC has swung far to the right of the organization founded in 1973 by conservative activist Paul Weyrich and a handful of state legislators, who were looking to oppose liberal groups on social issues like abortion and women's rights. In its joint critical analysis of the organization, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council call ALEC "an insidious…corrosive, secretive and highly influential power in state capitals across the nation."

In the 1980s, ALEC began tapping big business for support, and today some 300 large companies each pay up to $50,000, plus additional fees, each year to help draft favorable laws and influence state legislative agendas. As a tax-exempt matchmaker between legislators and corporate giants in the oil, insurance and airline industry (to name but a few), ALEC purports to be a bipartisan "good government" group operating in the public interest. In fact, its state legislative officers and ALEC's directors are overwhelmingly Republican, and represent the most conservative wing of the party.

What's more, ALEC brags on its web site that more than 100 legislative members "hold senior leadership positions in their state legislatures, while hundreds more hold important committee leadership positions." That's an important point given the nature of state legislatures: They are often made up of underpaid, part-time lawmakers, usually dealing with a confusing blizzard of bills in brief and often-frantic sessions.

ALEC's model bills can find a receptive audience in these chambers, particularly when the bills are pushed by senior leaders or committee chairs who have perhaps enjoyed a few of those previously mentioned perks. This arrangement survives in most states because of weak public-reporting requirements; lawmakers simply may not have to report their largesse.

ALEC's well-financed advocacy is proving to be remarkably effective for corporate America—and threatening to advocacy groups like The HSUS. In the 1999-2000 legislative cycle, the group introduced more than 3,100 pieces of legislation, and more than 450 new laws were enacted.

All this legislative activity under ALEC's banner raises an important point: How does a 501(c)(3) organization like ALEC deal with the lobbying restrictions placed on such non-profits? It's a question we couldn't answer by looking at the organization's Form 990, which it files with the Internal Revenue Service annually. We looked at five years' worth of 990s, from 1998 to 2002, and on every one of those forms, here's what ALEC reports for lobbying expenditures: zero.

"Legislators need to see through the smoke and mirrors of ALEC's efforts," concludes Pacelle. "Our nation's most important reforms—whether civil rights, women's rights, or environmental protections—have come through a blend of sound ideas and sensible and determined political activism. Such efforts need to be protected because our work as a society in halting the abuse of the weak and disempowered is hardly complete."

Journalist Michael Satchell is a former senior consultant for The HSUS.

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