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“The Bush administration is perpetuating a system where corporate agribusiness can reap huge profits from factory farming and avoid responsibility for the pollution they generate. Why should taxpayers have to pay for the mess they make?” [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/16/2002]
The Montana Militia calls newly elected Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) the best friend militia groups have in Congress, according to a report by the New York Times. The Montana Militia’s fall 1994 catalogue sells, among other items, a bomb-making manual, tapes explaining the “one-world government” conspiracy, and a video of a speech made by Chenoweth in late 1993, in which, the catalogue claims, she told listeners over 50 percent of the United States is now under “the control of the New World Order” (see September 11, 1990). She does not use the actual term on the videotape. “We are in a day and age now when we are facing an unlawful government from time to time,” she told listeners. “We are in a battle today that is far more insidious and dangerous as far as conquering our people and our soul than we have ever faced before. Our land has been taken. It’s time we reclaim our land.” The tape is titled “America in Crisis” and is sold along with tapes like “En route to Global Occupation,” which states, “The anti-Christ is not coming—he’s here!” Chenoweth has also made claims of an impending “New World Order” takeover of the United States, and has cited as proof the UN’s designation of Yellowstone National Park as a world heritage site. (The Sierra Club will note: “In real life, the UN label means only that the site has ‘outstanding universal value.’ The regulations under which it was designated were drawn up by Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary, James Watt.”) Chenoweth is now under pressure to explain her contacts with militia groups, an issue that did not significantly arise during the 1994 election but was sparked by recent revelations that Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) received faxes from militia groups in the hours after the Oklahoma City bombings (see 10:50 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 23-24, 1995). Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network says, “Given what we know about the conspiratorial world view and violent tendencies that are at the core of militia beliefs, for elected officials to be supportive or even neutral does nothing but embolden these people.” In March 1995, Chenoweth issued a press release demanding that the federal government immediately stop sending “black helicopters” filled with armed federal agents to interfere with private citizens’ affairs in her state (see February 15, 1995). Chenoweth, Stockman, and other congressional members who have had militia members as campaign volunteers and have presented militia concerns to the House insist that they are doing nothing more than looking out for their constituents. (Egan 5/2/1995; Sierra Magazine 5/1996)
The New York Times prints a lengthy interview with Craig Rosebraugh, who serves as an unofficial spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997). Rosebraugh, who claims to sympathize with the group even though knowing little about it, has spent weeks sending out statements and press releases on behalf of the ELF after the recent firebombing of a Vail, Colorado, ski resort (see October 19, 1998). Rosebraugh, who was contacted by unidentified ELF members about the Vail fires, says the ELF takes credit for the incident, and defends it by saying the resort has caused extensive damage to the area’s lynx habitats and a planned expansion would all but destroy those habitats. “They don’t want this to be seen like an act of terrorism,” he recently told a reporter on behalf of ELF. “They instead want this to be seen as an act of love for the environment.” The firebombing was not an instance of so-called “ecoterrorism,” he told another reporter: “To me, Vail expanding into lynx habitat is ecoterrorism.” Many mainstream groups such as the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife have condemned the Vail firebombing; Jonathan Staufer of the Colorado group Ancient Forest Rescue, who has been working to stop the Vail resort’s proposed expansion, says: “It marginalized all the enviromentalists in Colorado who have been fighting it. I can’t condemn it more completely.” Rosebraugh became active in extreme environmental movements in June 1997, when he was contacted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976) and asked to be its “aboveground” spokesperson. Since then, he has formed a group called the Liberation Collective, which he says is intended to bring the ELF, ALF, and other “direct action” groups together to make common cause (see 1996 and After). Lieutenant Jeff Howard of the Oregon State Police says of the two groups, “If the truth be known, there are members that are probably members of both groups.” Because of the decentralized, “cell” structure of both ELF and ALF, federal investigators have had difficulty determining even the most basic facts about the two organizations. Recently, Rosebraugh said of the federal investigations into ELF, ALF, and the Vail firebombing: “This is a very hot topic not only for the media, but most important it’s a hot topic for the FBI and government agencies. The FBI just had a big meeting on animal rights terrorism. So there’s obviously going to be a big crackdown soon. It’s hard to imagine what’s going to happen but you can only look at history, and history shows that there is going to be a lot of pressure and my feeling is the best way to act is to resist.” (Sullivan 12/20/1998)
The Senate approves bipartisan legislation, the so-called “Stealth PAC” bill, that requires secretive tax-exempt organizations that raise and spend money on political activities to reveal their donors and expenditures. The so-called “527” organizations have flourished because until now, Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code has protected both their nonprofit status and their right to keep their donors and funding information secret (see 2000 - 2005). President Clinton will sign the bill into law. It is the first major legislative change in American campaign finance law in two decades (see January 8, 1980). Under the new law, Section 527 organizations raising over $25,000 a year must comply with federal campaign law, file tax returns, disclose the identities of anyone contributing over $200, and report expenditures in excess of $500. That information will be reported to the IRS every three months during an election year, and the information will be posted on the Internet. The bill takes effect as soon as Clinton signs it into law.
Passed Despite Republican Opposition - The House passed the bill on a 385-39 vote; only six Senate Republicans vote against the bill. Senate and House Republican leaders have blocked the bill for months. Clinton says, “Passage of this bill proves that public interest can triumph over special interests,” and urges Congress to pass a more comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance law. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says, “I’m not pretending we don’t have other loopholes to close, but those groups that have found this an easy, painless way to go on the attack are now going to have to scramble to figure out different ways.” Some ways that groups will avoid the requirements of the new law are to reorganize themselves as for-profit organizations—thus losing their tax exemptions—or trying to reorganize as other types of nonprofits. Many expect donors to rush big contributions to these 527 groups before the new law takes effect. Mike Castle (R-DE), a House Republican who supports the bill, says, “I am sure that the phones are ringing over on K Street right now about how to get money into the 527s before they are eliminated.” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who helped Senate Republicans block the bill and who voted no on its passage, now calls it a “relatively benign bill,” downplaying his stiff opposition to the bill and to campaign finance regulation in general. McConnell advised Republicans up for re-election in November 2000 to vote yes for the bill “to insulate them against absurd charges that they are in favor of secret campaign contributions or Chinese money or Mafia money.” McConnell explains that he voted against the bill because it infringes on freedom of speech (see December 15, 1986). Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), the GOP’s presidential candidate, issues a statement supporting the bill: “As I have previously stated, I believe these third-party groups should have to disclose who is funding their ads. As the only candidate to fully disclose contributors on a daily basis, I have always been a strong believer in sunshine and full disclosure.” Bush defeated Republican challenger John McCain (R-AZ) in part because of the efforts of Republicans for Clean Air, a 527 group headed by Bush financier Sam Wyly and which spent $2.5 million attacking McCain’s environmental record (see March 2000 and After). McCain helped push the current bill through the Senate, and says: “This bill will not solve what is wrong with our campaign finance system. But it will give the public information regarding one especially pernicious weapon used in modern campaigns.”
527s Used by Both Parties - Both Democrats and Republicans have created and used 527 groups, which are free from federal oversight as long as they do not advocate for or against a specific candidate. The organizations use donations for polling, advertising, telephone banks, and direct-mail appeals, but are not subject to federal filing or reporting rules as long as they do not advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Some groups, such as the Republican Majority Issues Committee, a 527 organization aligned with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), intend to continue functioning as usual even after the bill is signed into law, while they examine their legal options. The committee head, Karl Gallant, says his organization will “continue on our core mission to give conservative voters a voice in the upcoming elections.” The Republican Majority Issues Committee is considered DeLay’s personal PAC, or political action committee; it is expected to funnel as much as $25 million into closely contested races between now and Election Day. Gallant says the organization will comply with the new law, but complains, “We are deeply concerned that Congress has placed the regulation of free speech in the hands of the tax collectors.” He then says: “We’re not going anywhere. You will have RMIC to amuse and delight you throughout the election cycle.” The Sierra Club’s own 527 organization, the Environmental Voter Education Campaign, says it will also comply “eagerly” with the new law, and will spend some $8 million supporting candidates who match the Sierra Club’s pro-environmental stance. “We will eagerly comply with the new law as soon as it takes effect,” says the Sierra Club’s Dan Weiss. “But it’s important to note that while we strongly support the passage of this reform, 527 money is just the tip of the soft-money iceberg. Real reform would mean banning all soft-money contributions to political parties.” Another 527 group affected by the new law is Citizens for Better Medicare, which has already spent $30 million supporting Republican candidates who oppose a government-run prescription drug benefit. Spokesman Dan Zielinski says the group may change or abandon its 527 status in light of the new law. “The coalition is not going away,” he says. “We will comply with whatever legal requirements are necessary. We’ll do whatever the lawyers say we have to do.” A much smaller 527, the Peace Voter Fund, a remnant of the peace movement of the 1970s and 80s, says it intends to engage in voter education and issue advocacy in about a dozen Congressional races. Executive director Van Gosse says the group will follow the new law and continue as before: “Disclosure of donors is not a major issue for us. So we’ll just say to donors in the future that they will be subject to federal disclosure requirements. It’s no biggie.” (Schmitt and Broder 6/30/2000; OMB Watch 4/1/2002; Wertheimer 9/28/2010)
District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” (Associated Press 12/9/2002) Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. (Savage 2007, pp. 112) The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. (Yost 12/6/2002) That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. (Dean 2004, pp. 76-80) Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14) In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” (Savage 2007, pp. 112-113)
The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” (Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).
The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. (Cornwell 12/15/2003)
Billionaire George Soros, a frequent contributor to Democratic and liberal causes, gives $23.7 million to a number of “527s,” politically active groups that operate independently of particular campaigns or candidates (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000). Peter Lewis, the CEO of Progressive Insurance, gives almost that much, with donations totaling $23.247 million. Their donations include:
$16 million (Lewis) and $12,050,000 (Soros) to the Joint Victory Campaign 2004, an “umbrella” fundraising entity that distributes funds to two other major groups, America Coming Together (ACT) and The Media Fund.
$7,500,000 (Soros) and $2,995,000 (Lewis) to America Coming Together.
$2,500,000 (Soros) and $2,500,000 (Lewis) to MoveOn.org.
$650,000 (Lewis) and $325,000 (Soros) to the Young Democrats of America.
$485,000 (Lewis) to the Marijuana Policy Project.
$325,000 (Soros) to Democrats 2000.
$300,000 (Soros) to the Real Economy Group.
$300,000 (Soros) to the Campaign for America’s Future.
$250,000 (Soros) and $250,000 (Lewis) to Democracy for America.
$250,000 (Soros) to Safer Together 04.
$117,220 (Lewis) to Stonewall Democrats United.
$100,000 (Lewis) to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
$100,000 (Lewis) to the Sierra Club.
$50,000 (Lewis) to PunkVoter.Inc. (Center for Responsive Politics 2012; Discover the Secrets 2012; Center for Responsive Politics 6/11/2012; Center for Responsive Politics 6/11/2012)
Canada’s Supreme Court hears the case of Percy Schmeiser v. Monsanto. Schmeiser is appealing a lower court’s decision that he infringed on Monsanto’s patent when he planted canola seed in 1998 that he “knew, or ought to have known” was from glyphosate-resistant plants. Intervening on Schmeiser’s behalf are a consortium of six non-government organizations (Council of Canadians; Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration; Sierra Club; National Farmers Union; Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology; and the International Center for Technology Assessment) and the Ontario attorney general. The Ontario government is backing Schmeiser because it fears that a decision upholding the lower court’s ruling would encourage more gene patents and increase healthcare costs. Monsanto’s lawyers also presenting arguments before the court. In addition to defending the lower courts’ ruling that Schmeiser infringed on the company’s patent, the lawyers are cross-appealing the decision that the farmer’s profits in 1998 (awarded to Monsanto) only amounted to $19,832 CAD. Monsanto has calculated Schmeiser’s profit to be $105,000 CAD. Monsanto’s interveners include the Canola Council of Canada, BIOTECanada, and the Canadian Seed Trade Association. (Clark 2/2/2004)
Schmeiser's Arguments -
Schmeiser’s lawyer, Terry Zakreski, challenges the validity of Monsanto’s patent arguing that the patent contradicts the Harvard College v. Canada Supreme Court decision that higher-life forms cannot be patented. He explains that in claiming exclusive rights to glyphosate-resistant plant genes and cells, Monsanto is in effect claiming patentholder rights to any plants and seeds containing those genes and cells, which as the Supreme Court has already decided, is not legal. He argues that Monsanto should have instead chosen to protect its intellectual property rights under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act, which was designed to protect the rights of seed developers. (Elias 1/20/2004; Clark 2/2/2004)
Zakreski also argues that extending Monsanto’s patentholder rights to second-generation roundup-resistant seeds makes it illegal for farmer’s to save and share seeds—the 12 thousand year old practice responsible for creating domesticated crops. (Tibbetts 1/20/2004)
Even if the patent is ruled valid, according to Zakreski, Monsanto implicitly waived its patentholder rights when it failed to control the spread of its invention after releasing it unconfined into the environment. (Clark 2/2/2004)
Zakreski also argues that even if the court upholds the validity of Monsanto’s patent, Schmeiser did not violate the patent, because he never exploited its utility—the resistance it provides against glyphosate. The only way to use the patent, he says, is to spray Monsanto Roundup Ready Canola with Roundup, which Schmeiser did not do. (Clark 2/2/2004)
Zakreski notes an inherent contradiction in the claim that Monsanto is entitled to all profits resulting from the sale of seed containing the patented gene. Zakreski offers the hypothetical example of a farmer whose canola is infested with two different genes, each patented by a different company. Would each of the patentholders be entitled to the full profit? Would the farmer be required to pay each of them 100 percent, in effect being forced to pay out twice the profit from his crop? (Clark 2/2/2004)
Monsanto's argument -
Monsanto’s lawyers reject Schmeiser’s position that a farmer’s right to save seed overrides the company’s patent rights. In order for them to recover research and development costs they must charge farmers annually for use of the seed containing their patented gene, they argue. (Tibbetts 1/20/2004; Elias 1/20/2004)
The company’s lawyers also insist that the Harvard College v. Canada decision does not apply to this case. Its patent is not on the entire plant, but rather just one of the plant’s ingredients. He compares the company’s gene to a special patented steel that is used for an automobile where the inventor’s rights extend only to the steel, not the entire car. The judges interrupt Monsanto’s presentation on several occasions challenging the lawyer’s steel analogy and asking Monsanto’s lawyers where Monsanto’s patent rights would end since plants have the ability to reproduce themselves and hence the inventions contained within them.
Lawyers for Monsanto’s interveners said that invalidating the company’s patent would harm Canada’s economy and undermine its patent system. “Patents create a climate that favors new research,” argues A. David Morrow, a lawyer for the Canadian Seed Trade Association. (Elias 1/20/2004)
Biotech Canada’s lawyer, Anthony Creber, similarly states, “I’m nervous that if you don’t give (patent protection) for seeds and cells, you will have a hollow Patent Act with severe economic consequences.” (Tibbetts 1/21/2004)
Mona Brown, a lawyer with the Canadian Canola Growers Association, tells the judges that the “patent makes us more profitable and better farmers.” (Elias 1/20/2004)
The Supreme Court convenes to hear arguments in Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a judicial order to reveal information about his secret energy task force (see December 15, 2003). Justice Antonin Scalia has recently returned from a duck hunting trip with Cheney; though critics demand he recuse himself to avoid charges of conflict of interest, Scalia refuses. The plaintiffs, conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch and progressive environmental group Sierra Club, are heavily represented in the courtroom, and friends and supporters jam the courthouse steps. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, arguing for the government, posits that the White House enjoys a “constitutional immunity” that protects the executive branch from all requests for information unless the president himself is under criminal investigation. If the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) forces the president to make public any advice he or other White House officials have received, or even to make that information available to a judge (see August 2, 2002), FACA itself is unconstitutional, Olsen argues. “This is a case about separation of powers,” he says. Neither Congress nor the judiciary can force the president or his officials to disclose information to a judge, not even on a very limited basis to determine whether a lawsuit can proceed—a process called discovery. “We are submitting that the discovery itself violates the Constitution,” Olson asserts. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is taken aback by the sweep of his claim, which, if accepted, would gut the ability of the courts to review any civil lawsuit involving the executive branch. “All discovery?” she asks. “Yes,” Olson replies. Throughout the questioning, most of the justices seem sympathetic to the administration’s general constitutional concerns, but uncomfortable with siding entirely with the White House’s sweeping claims of inherent legal immunity from scrutiny. (Savage 2007, pp. 166-167) The oral arguments will continue for weeks (see April 27, 2004).
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against the release of records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The case is Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475) (see December 15, 2003). Two public interest groups, the environmentalist Sierra Club and the conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch, have joined to argue for the release of the records, saying that because the task force deliberations included energy industry executives and lobbyists, the task force is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires disclosure of the work of advisory groups that include non-federal employees. Bush administration lawyers, spearheaded by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, argue that releasing those records would violate the concept of “separation of powers.” The administration also argues that releasing the records, most pertinently the meetings between Cheney, his aides, and officials from energy corporations and lobbying firms, would damage the White House’s ability to receive candid advice. “This case is about the separation of powers and the president’s discretion to receive the opinions of subordinates,” Olson tells the court; Olson has resisted submitting task force documents even to the Court, saying that even that so-called “discovery” process would violate the Constitutional separation of powers. Lawyers for the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch argue that Cheney’s contacts with industry executives and lobbyists were improper while he was developing government policy that benefited their businesses. They are demanding to know whether energy lobbyists helped shape the government’s long-term energy policies. Lower courts agreed with Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and Cheney, with the Justice Department, has successfully ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unprecedented speed.
Justices Question Breadth of Requests - Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from deliberations after accompanying Cheney on a duck-hunting trip in January, is one of the justices most favoring the government’s case. But even more moderate justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg question whether the information request is too broad and inclusive. As for the White House, it argues that neither the courts nor Congress have any right to make any inquiries into the decisions of federal agencies and officials. Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder says the White House appears to have violated laws supporting open government: “What the panel said to energy executives was: Help us decide what the energy policy should be. A line has been crossed because the process should have been transparent. The panel was inordinately influenced by the energy industry.” Cheney has said that the executive branch must defend itself against the “continual encroachment by Congress.” The White House has already turned over some 40,000 documents from the task force after a lower court ruling compelled it to do so (see July 17, 2003), but the lawsuit before the Supreme Court says that another 100,000 potentially relevant documents and files remain secret. (Curry 4/26/2004; Greenhouse 4/28/2004; Mears 6/24/2004)
Cheney 'Beyond the Reach of the Law?' - In a legal analysis of the case, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean calls the case “extraordinary,” and notes that Cheney “contends that he is, in essence, beyond the reach of the law. It began as a set of rather pedestrian discovery matters in two consolidated civil lawsuits. Now, however, because of Cheney’s stance, it could be a landmark Constitutional decision.” Dean sees the case as an opportunity for Cheney, with the assistance of Olson and Scalia, “to expand executive powers.” (Dean 3/26/2004)
Case Sent Back to Lower Court - The Court will vote to send the case back to the District of Columbia Appeals Court for further adjudication (see June 24, 2004). That court will rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). (Coffin 6/25/2004; Dean 7/2/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 167-168) The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Four leading environmental groups—the NRDC, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the National Wildlife Federation—conduct a joint expert study. The report, largely based on Army Corps of Engineers documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, shows that the Bush administration’s policies have allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands. The loss of wetlands on the Gulf Coast could have a catastophic effect since coastal wetlands weaken hurricanes before they make landfall thereby lessening the impact of such storms on populated inland regions. The report also says the policies have opened America’s waterways to massive amounts of industrial discharge. (Natural Resource Defense Council et al. 8/12/2004 ) “There’s no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection,” one of the report’s authors says. The study is dismissed by the chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, who describes it as “highly questionable,” and claims, “Everybody loves what we’re doing.” (Eilperin 8/12/2004; Blumenthal 9/1/2005; Ivins 9/1/2005)
In an 8-0 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch asking that the court require information to be disclosed from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force from 2001 (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The US Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court (see April 27, 2004 and June 24, 2004). The appeals court ignores reports from the Government Accountability Office finding that energy executives and lobbyists took part in the task force deliberations (see After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001), and accepts the government’s contentions that the executive branch should not be forced to disclose information about its workings to either the legislative or judicial branches. Because no evidence was submitted that showed the energy executives or lobbyists cast votes or exercised veto power over task force decisions, the court rules, the task force is not obligated to comply with federal laws mandating that such governmental working groups reveal details of their deliberations. The executives and lobbyists are essentially no different than staff aides, the court finds. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee, and therefore “the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” says the court’s opinion. The court applies the Supreme Court’s standard of law as recommended in the case, a standard far more favorable to the executive branch than any previously applied in the case. Several of the appellate judges will later say that they took the Court ruling to mean that the judiciary should not be involved in a legal struggle with the executive branch. The ruling allows Cheney to keep the task force documents secret, and says that the task force is not bound by the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA). (Associated Press 5/10/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 176)
'Double Blow' - David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says, “The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government.” (Sierra Club 5/15/2005) He says the ruling is a double blow: “As a policy matter, we see the Bush administration has succeeded in its efforts to keep secret how industry crafted the administration’s energy policy. As a legal matter, it’s a defeat for efforts to have open government and for the public to know how their elected officials are conducting business.” Judicial Watch official Chris Farrell will later say the ruling leaves the open-government laws “a hollow shell.” (Savage 2007, pp. 176) The New York Times calls the decision “regrettable,” and observes, “The Bush administration hardly needs encouragement to deny public access to vital government information.” (New York Times 5/15/2005)
Rejected Judicial Precedent - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The decision relied entirely upon the assertion of two Cheney aides that the lobbyists had not cast any votes, a claim no judge ever verified by looking at the records. The court’s ruling also dismissed arguments that ‘influential participation’ by outsiders made them de facto members of the task force whether or not they cast votes, rejecting the standard the courts had applied to the 1994 Clinton health care task force.” (Savage 2007, pp. 176)
Republican presidential candidates Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), and Mitt Romney (R-MA) come out against the Law of the Sea treaty, saying that the treaty infringes on the natural rights of the United States. That treaty, signed in 1982, is supported by organizations and government entities as disparate as the Sierra Club and the US Navy, and provides what author J. Peter Scoblic will call “a commonsense agreement… that define[s] national responsibilities governing use of an international resource, the oceans.” Explaining his stance, Giuliani says, “I cannot support the creation of yet another unaccountable international bureaucracy that might infringe on American sovereignty and curtail America’s freedoms.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 267)
A group of Democratic donors, shaken from the defeat the party suffered in the November midterm elections, meets in a Washington hotel to discuss how to counter the huge influx of corporate spending that helped defeat dozens of Democrats and give control of the US House of Representatives back to Republicans. Outside conservative groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network (see Mid-October 2010), and American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS outspent Democratic groups by more than a two to one ratio. The donors are split on whether to try to emulate their opponents by raising as much money as possible from wealthy corporations and donors, or continuing down their traditional path of funding their campaign efforts via labor unions and organizations such as the Sierra Club. If they decide to pursue corporate cash, some argue, they will be viewed as hypocrites in light of Democrats’ almost-uniform opposition to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which “opened the floodgates” for unlimited corporate and labor donations (see January 21, 2010). One of the fundamental problems, Democrats note, is that while unions are allowed to contribute unlimited funds just as corporations do, unions, which traditionally support Democrats, are far less wealthy than their corporate counterparts. And despite record-breaking fundraising by the Obama presidential campaign in 2008, most corporations donate to Republicans. The donors are not expected to come up with simple answers as they begin to strategize for 2012, where Republicans are expected to raise and spend an unprecedented half-billion dollars trying to defeat President Obama. Moreover, the White House has sent decidedly mixed messages on the subject. During the 2008 race, the Obama campaign instructed an independent progressive “527” PAC, the Fund for America, to shut down its operations after it began releasing attack ads against Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The Obama campaign did not want independent organizations conducting their own operations, but wanted full control of the campaign message. And campaign leaders said they wanted to win with small individual contributions from ordinary citizens, not with massive corporate donations. The White House’s opposition to such outside funding continued through 2010, and as a result, corporate donations to Democratic-supporting groups were far outstripped by Republican donations. Since then, Obama’s top political advisor David Axelrod has indicated the White House would support liberal donors’ independent efforts to counter Republican political donations, but many Democratic donors still believe the Obama administration is not fully behind those efforts. A Democratic strategist who refuses to be identified says: “By and large, the political people in the Obama firmament really have disdain for outside groups. They think they whine and snivel and make all these demands and don’t produce very much.” Some liberal donors and organizations are ignoring the resistance from the White House and making their own plans, such as David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America (MMFA), who is considering forming his own 527 (see 2000 - 2005) for 2012. Another Democratic activist, Joan Fitz-Gerald of the umbrella group America Votes, says Democrats cannot depend on the courts or Congress to rein in corporate spending, noting that Congressional Democrats failed to get the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance reform measure, to the floor of the Senate for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Fitz-Gerald says Democrats must adapt to the new political landscape or risk another trouncing in 2012. However, she recommends working through existing progressive organizations more than using hastily formed PACs and 527s funded by one or two wealthy sources. Unions and environmental groups have large, citizen-based funding sources, whereas Republican organizations are often funded by a small group of wealthy donors who bankroll numerous such organizations. Those organizations, she says, lack credibility with voters. The traditional grassroots-based organizations, she says, “are trusted messengers, whether they’re a union that someone belongs to or a group that people have been a member of for many years. At some point the American people, as they see these ads pushing this right-wing agenda, they’re going to ask: ‘Who are these people? What’s the goal of American Crossroads?’” But the funding garnered by the right made the difference in the 2010 elections, Democratic donors agree. Mike Palamuso of the League of Conservation Voters recalls, “For every $500,000 we spent, it felt like American Crossroads spent another $5 million.” Many agree with Democratic political strategist Harold Ickes, who says: “Is small money better? You bet. But we’re in a f_cking fight. And if you’re in a fistfight, then you’re in a fistfight, and you use all legal means available.” (Kroll 11/15/2010)
The Los Angeles Times publishes a long analysis of the environmental impact solar power projects are expected to have on the southwestern US desert (see August 13, 2013). Written by Julie Cart, the analysis focuses on the Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave (see September 22, 2013), which is projected to expand to some 3,500 acres of public land when finished. The plant “will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility, and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource [the firm building the plant] has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species, and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.” Environmental attorney Johanna Wald, who was involved in the negotiations to build the plant, says: “I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection. I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.” Cart says that plants like the Ivanpah facility will result in “a wholesale remodeling of the American desert” in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. “[H]undreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear,” Cart writes. “Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.” Dennis Schramm, the former superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, warns: “The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal. The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted.” Cart writes that at the moment, solar energy is “three times more expensive than natural gas or coal” because of “capital costs and other market factors,” and ratepayers will pay “as much as 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the [California] state Public Utilities Commission.” The impact on the environment will be dramatic in some places, with birds and other wildlife abandoning some areas entirely, and the possible “massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors,” according to government biologist Larry LaPre. Desert tortoise expert Jeffrey Lovich says no one really knows the impact the plants will have on the desert. “This is an experiment on a grand scale,” he says. “Science is racing to catch up.” Most large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have chosen not to protest the development, instead agreeing to become part of the negotiation process and winning some environmental concessions from the developers. Wald, who works with the NRDC, says of the projects: “We didn’t make them perfect. We didn’t eliminate their environmental impact because you can’t eliminate the environmental impact. But we made them better.” (Cart 2/5/2012)
Refutation of Land Use Requirements - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife 1/14/2013 ; Theel 1/24/2013)
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