Acton Institute Powerblog

Attorneys General line up to attack free speech

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By now, readers should be aware of the campaign waged against the Competitive Enterprise Institute led by Al Gore and a cadre of attorneys generals with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at the top of the rogues’ gallery. The subpoena goes so far as to demand CEI produce “all documents or communications concerning research, advocacy, strategy, reports, studies, reviews or public opinions regarding Climate Change sent or received from” such specifically named think tanks as the Acton Institute, The Heartland Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as well as industry organizations the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Oil & Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute.

It’s the latest volley from the left – including religious shareholder activists’ often successful efforts to force corporations withdraw financial support and cede membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council – to stifle any whiff of opposition when it comes to the hypothetical, manmade catastrophic climate-change theory. ALEC, in fact, joins Acton and many other groups named in the subpoena, and leaders from these organizations have joined CEI in a strongly worded full-page advertisement that appeared in the New York Times last week:

This abuse of power is unacceptable. It is unlawful. And it is un-American.

Regardless of one’s views on climate change, every American should reject the use of government power to harass or silence those who hold differing opinions. This intimidation campaign sets a dangerous precedent and threatens the rights of anyone who disagrees with the government’s position – whether it’s vaccines, GMOs, or any other politically charged issue. Law enforcement officials should never use their powers to silence participants in political debates.

For those who haven’t been shocked out of complacency by this latest, blatant abuse of politically empowered legal authority marshaled in an effort to shut down free speech and exchange of scientific public policy, allow your writer to recap briefly. U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker – one member of Gore and Schneiderman’s lawyerly goon squad, which also includes AGs from California, Connecticut, District Of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington State – issued a subpoena to CEI in late March.

According to CEI:

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

In the same blog post, CEI admirably announced its intention to push back:

CEI will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association for Attorney General Walker to bring such intimidating demands against a nonprofit group,” said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman. “If Walker and his allies succeed, the real victims will be all Americans, whose access to affordable energy will be hit by one costly regulation after another, while scientific and policy debates are wiped out one subpoena at a time.

Ahhh, the land of the free and the home of the brave! I joke, but there’s nothing remotely humorous when it comes to public officeholders zealously prosecuting opposing agendas equipped with deep pockets lined with taxpayer dollars. It’s more than mischief when the seemingly unlimited cache of power wielded by government officials is deployed to enforce its mindset on nonprofits foolish enough to challenge the party line. As your writer noted elsewhere this activity extends well beyond the boundaries of McCarthyism with which others including CEI have compared it, and more resembles the Soviet show trials fictitiously depicted by Arthur Koestler in his monumental Darkness at Noon. Be afraid, very afraid.

In the name of all that represents sanity, freedom and democracy in our country, let’s hope CEI is successful in its fight against this crusade.

Once upon a time, dear readers, that hope carried significantly more weight, but the aims of leftist activists have turned everything topsy-turvy. As noted above, there seem no limits to their ability to shut down debate from repetition of the “scientific consensus” canard and exaggerating both the diagnosis and prescription of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical to demonizing ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for, gasp!, advocating in the best interests of companies, their employees and customers, and their shareholders. Oh! The humanity!

Here’s the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility from a May 2015 missive in which they describe the efficacy of shareholder activism:

These are strange days indeed for shareholder activism. By some measures it’s experiencing a surge. Progressive groups have used the strategy since the early 1970s, but the past few years have seen an increase in its frequency, sophistication and success. In December, for example, the defense contractor Northrup Grumman announced that it would immediately end its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a key player in the push to privatize education and a purveyor of climate-change denial. The move came in response to a shareholder resolution filed by an activist group that owned stock in the company. More than 100 companies have withdrawn from ALEC over the past four years, many under shareholder pressure….

Conservatives have noted the tactic’s power and potential, and they are sounding the alarm. In a 2011 report on “Activist Investing in Post-Citizens United America,” the right-wing Center for Competitive Politics warns that shareholder activists “see for-profit corporations as their political enemy, and seek partisan or ideological advantage by squelching corporate political speech.”

In 2013, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took another tack. It released a study suggesting that union-backed shareholder activism punishes “the millions of individuals who rely on these investments for retirement,” including union members, because it doesn’t increase the value of a company’s stock.

The attorneys generals aligned with Al Gore have merely opened up a new front on the war against any and all opposing views. That they adapted the tactic from nominally faith-based investment groups such as ICCR and As You Sow only makes the future more worrisome.

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Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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