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Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation
3900 Lennane Drive, Suite 200
Sacramento, CA 95834

The Pacific Legal Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 1973. PLF is the oldest public legal foundation oriented toward the corporate interest. PLF commissioned a study which proposed the umbrella organization model of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest. Furthermore, their aggressive courting of business interests enabled the PLF model to be replicated in other regions of the country.

PLF currently has offices in four different states: California, Washington, Florida and Hawaii. Their main offices are in Sacramento. They have 12 attorneys as well as assistants, law clerks and fundraisers. PLF employs attorneys who specialize in areas such as construction and business law, civil litigation, civil rights, free speech, environmental regulations, public lands and takings, endangered species, wetlands, property rights, natural resources, rent control, educational reform, economic liberties and freedom of association.

In addition to litigating, PLF frequently files amicus briefs to combat governmental regulations, diversity programs, and other environmental laws. PLF runs a Program for Judicial Awareness, which propagates a strict Constitutionalist view of government by publishing law review articles by PLF attorneys, offering faculty research grants, and organizing student writing contests "to put forth persuasive, well-founded legal arguments for individual liberty and limited government." LF also publishes op-eds in several newspapers on a regular basis. They maintain media web kits on their web site for specific issues, including environmental regulation and diversity admissions processes. They also offer their staff attorneys as a resource to the media to obtain information in their relevant area of expertise.

Many of the early donors to PLF were utility companies and those that dealt with them. In 1974, when California passed a moratorium on new nuclear power plant licenses, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Gas and Electric filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the law. On the same day, PLF filed suit in a separate federal district court. Both cases raised the same issue, but PLF narrowly tailored their suit to win summary judgment. Having done so, the utilities were able to then win a favorable judgment at trial based on the precedent established by the PLF. As PLF's president said, "we had narrow issues, and our case was designed for a summary judgment, while they had broader issues and their case was designed for trial. We got the summary judgment that established the law. They went to trial and the trial court followed our case."

The corporate legal foundation strategy was intended to mimic the success of organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Foundation (outlined in Richard Kluger's book, Simple Justice) in carefully calculating where and when to take the cases to win important precedents.

The fact that corporate front groups like PLF qualify as an IRS recognized non-profit was icing on the cake for their donors, both corporations and individuals who have since been able to not only outsource their legal strategy in a manner that duplicates and diversifies their strategic approach to using the courts but, since they can deduct their donations from the taxes they pay, significantly cuts down on their legal expenses. In "With Charity for All," Oliver Houck's 1984 analysis of the business public interest law firms (93 Yale Law Journal 1415), he determined that they fail to meet the definition of public interest set by the IRS, yet they continue to enjoy tax-exempt status, and have motivated the creation of many copycat groups.

PLF's President and founder Ronald Zumbrun argued Nolan v. California Coastal Commission. This Supreme Court case set a favorable precedent for the land rights movement. He served as PLF's president and CEO until 1995, when he stepped down. he is still involved with the conservative legal movement, serving as a board member for the American Civil Rights Union.

An example of the type of litigation that PLF current does is Bauknight v. Monroe County, currently in the pre-trial phase in Florida's 16th circuit court. In this case, the Monroe County Board adopted a program requiring growth allocations to control the growth of new development. While the plaintiff in this case met the criteria to receive an allocation, they were denied a building permit because the only highway serving Monroe County (which is in the Florida Keys) was over-congested, and the Florida Department of Transportation asked the county to not issue permits to projects which would generate excess traffic. The Department of Transportation was proceeding cautiously toward expanding the highway, because the Florida Key Deer live in the Keys, and road mortality is the largest danger faced by these endangered animals. 1997 was when the plaintiffs received their growth allocation, but the county did not grant them a building permit until 2002. PLF is suing on their behalf, because it alleges the time that the Bauknights had to wait to begin construction on their property amounted to an unlawful taking, and that they are entitled therefore to compensation. This case is characteristic of the type which PLF litigates for several reasons. One, while the Bauknights are not necessarily poor, they aren't spectacularly wealthy, so PLF can purport to be helping average Americans fight over-regulation. Secondly, the case has an environmental element, and PLF is opposed to most environmental measures, as they deem environmentalism as an excuse for government overregulation. Lastly, in this case they are attempting to greatly broaden the constitutional rights of property owners. Under the Fifth Amendment, Americans are guaranteed the right to due process, and to be compensated when private property is taken for public use. PLF is litigating this particular case to establish a precedent that corporations can use to chill government regulation.

Funding: PLF's annual revenues in 2003 were $6.67 million. Twenty percent came from corporations, 43 percent from individuals and 24 percent from foundation grants, including Sarah Scaife, Castle Rock and John M. Olin Foundation. These foundations have consistently funded PLF over two decades. Corporations giving to PLF include Wyerhaeuser, Chevron, and Exxon.

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