Talk Business reports that the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce has created a nonprofit organization to “educate” the public on “civil justice reform” — meaning changing the law to make it harder to sue for damages and to limit the amount of damages that can be recovered.
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Foundation has been established as a 501c3 nonprofit organization to push this agenda. This means contributions to it are tax-deductible. That means U.S. and Arkansas taxpayers will effectively subsidize corporate contributions to the cause of making it harder to sue and win damages from corporations in lawsuits. (Tax records indicate the organization existed as early as 2011, but has been moribund, reporting only $1,500 in revenue on its one report on file.)
The Chamber has hired Holly Wilson, a lawyer who’s worked as the communications director for the Arkansas Republican Party, to lead the effort.
Randy Zook, President and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, said Wilson’s role with the foundation will not include lobbying. He said she would conduct research, position development, speak, fundraise, and build grassroots support for civil justice reform [making lawsuits more difficult and less profitable].
I predict the effort will look and sound a whole lot like lobbying. But we shall see. This is what the IRS says about 501c3 activities in the political arena:
In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.
Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.
An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.
Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.
We already know Wilson will be focusing on a single issue. It is an issue that can lead only to legislation. How else is “reform” accomplished? The education will be designed to persuade recipients of the information of the need for “reform” (law change). This is all part of the runup to another push to get a constitutional amendment recommended by the legislature to make damage lawsuits more difficult to file and to further cap damages, particularly punitive damages. That effort was stymied at the 2013 session. Another battle is already brewing for this session, with Democrats, though in the minority, and a Republican friendly to preventing corporate takeover of the legal system well-positioned on committees to throw up more than token resistance to the Chamber onslaught. But if the Republican agenda factory decrees that this is part of the agenda — Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson certainly does and the transfer of the GOP mouthpiece to the cause is another good indicator — it is a done deal for the ballot. If so, TV stations can look forward to some whopper ad buys from the corporate takeover campaign and the trial lawyers attempting to keep the doors open to the courthouse.
PS — MESSAGE MASTERS NEEDED: Civil justice reform is right up there with death tax in the GOP talk machine factory of misleading, but group-tested messaging.
The other side needs a matching phrase.
Corporate Injustice Protection Act
Corporate Negligence Protection
Civil Injustice Act
Victims’ Injustice Act
Justice for Millionaires
You get the idea. Help needed.