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Out of the frying pan and into the fire

NOTE: this is an excerpt from my exclusive investigative report on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's recent appointee to the Board of State Canvassers. For the full report, click HERE.

On June 18th, Sterling Corporation employee and Jeff Timmer resigned from the Board of State Canvassers, leaving only one Republican on the elections board and a Democratic majority. While some feared that the remaining Republican, Norm Shinkle, would resign as well, leaving the group without a quorum and unable to approve a number of ballot initiatives pending for the November election, Governor Rick Snyder acted quickly and last week appointed Colleen Pero to the Board.

Described in glowing terms on the official announcement, Pero sounds like an innocuous and innocent choice. The truth is, however, quite the opposite. Colleen Pero has deep connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society and a host of other far-right, pro-business lobby groups.

Here's how the official announcement describes her:

Pero is vice president of Pero Consulting Inc., a public affairs consulting firm based in Laingsburg. Previously, she served as former Gov. John Engler's special counsel and director of state affairs, as co-director of the Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University and as a senior analyst with Gulf Oil Corp. Pero serves as co-chair of the Michigan Council on Citizen Diplomacy and is a board member for the State Bar board of commissioners, Michigan Political Leadership Program and Montessori Children's House.
What's missing from this description is the fact that Pero, along with her husband Dan, work for the ironically-named American Justice Partnership (AJP). Formed in 2005 by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, Steve Hantler formerly an attorney for DaimlerChrysler, and former Michigan Governor John Engler, former president of the pro-business, anti-government regulation group National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). AJP, in fact, originated with NAM, formed to combat attempts to move away from judicial elections, promote "tort reform" by limiting plaintiff's ability to be compensated by negligent corporations, and to promote what they call "pro-reform" -- in other words, very conservative -- judges around the country. Since then, they have separated from NAM and claim they are "not working with NAM on any projects" or "coordinating with NAM in any way".

When I say that Pero works for AJP, what I'm talking about is that she has contributed major "reports" that are featured prominently on their website. Her most notable one is a piece titled "Justice Hijacked" (pdf) which claims, breathlessly and with high drama, to pull the curtains back on the Soros funding of liberal causes, not a particularly big bombshell to anyone paying attention. She also was the author of "The 'Activist' Journey of The Florida Supreme Court" (pdf) in which she evaluates various Florida Supreme Court decisions using criteria she developed to identify "activist" judges/rulings. If a ruling meets any one of five specific criteria (that she invented), they are considered "activist".

So, who and what, exactly, is the American Justice Partnership? They are affiliated with many state Chambers of Commerce, of course, the bastions of pro-business lobbying. But have a look at their national partners list:

American Enterprise Institute. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). American Tort Reform Association. The Manhattan Institute. The Federalist Society. The Heritage Foundation (where Pero has provided content and participated in events). Overlawyered.com. It's a veritable Who's Who of right wing, pro-business, anti-regulation groups that have the common mission of making it as cheap to run a business as possible. The want to make it as hard as possible for citizens to sue companies and collect compensation based on negligence.

To be sure, AJP is working very hard to reform our nation's tort laws and to get what they refer to as "pro-reform" judges elected across the country. According to a piece in The National Prospect, they are spending millions of dollars, in fact.

In 2004, the [U.S. Chamber of Commerce] was on the winning side in 12 of the 13 state supreme court races in which it was involved, according to Roll Call, including four in Ohio. In 2005, the National Association of Manufacturers followed the Chamber's lead, creating an offshoot, the American Justice Partnership (AJP), to target state courts. Voluminous cash outlays from AJP have included $345,000 to Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse to help back two Republican candidates for Washington state Supreme Court seats in 2006 and $1.3 million the same year to the Georgia Safety and Prosperity Coalition, which spent heavily on ads attacking Georgia Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and then melted away just a little more than a year after its appearance.
In 2006, they spent a whopping $300,000 on one judicial candidate in Oregon, Republican Supreme Court candidate Jack Roberts (he lost.)

AJP are even listed as "experts" on asbestos litigation. For the defendants, of course.

But, more importantly than these efforts, and they are considerable, the connections to the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation and ALEC raise the specter of even more anti-democratic interests. As it turns out, AJP funnels money to a number of groups that have nothing to do with judicial selection or tort reform. The trail is often hard to follow because, in what amounts to a very clever money laundering operation, they can make "grants" and other contributions to 501(c)(4) groups who do not have to reveal their contributors.

Countless other right-wing, pro-business groups wrapped in a tangled and incestuous web where money flows freely but often without any followable trail. Meanwhile, AJP decries left-leaning groups for their lack of transparency. Colleen Pero's disdain for Soros and his funding of progressive groups is, apparently, not held equally for the billionaire Koch brothers who fund conservative candidates and causes across the country. The hypocrisy is rampant.

While Jeff Timmer's connection to the group trying to prevent the repeal of Michigan's Emergency Manager law -- Public Act 4 -- was deplorable, replacing him with Colleen Pero, a woman connected to multiple anti-democratic, pro-business conservative groups is a step in the wrong direction. Having a person like her making decisions on what initiatives and candidates get on the ballot is an order of magnitude worse than the fox guarding the hen house. This fox is part of a network that built the hen house.

Our elections in Michigan are at serious risk. From redistricting to new rules making it harder to vote and disenfranchising laws like PA 4, we are quickly seeing the democratic process perverted and corrupted by the right to suit their own corporatist goals.

And Colleen Pero is now sitting on the panel that, more than any other, determines what and who we get to vote for.

[For the full report, click HERE.]

[Pero photo from AJP publication]

Cross-posted from Eclectablog.

Originally posted to Eclectablog - eclectic blogging for a better tomorrow on Mon Jul 02, 2012 at 05:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by Michigan, My Michigan and American Legislative Transparency Project.

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