Washington Legal Foundation
Washington Legal Foundation
The Washington Legal Foundation is a national non-profit legal foundation based in Washington, DC. The group not only litigates but does extensive communications and public relations work.
In 2008, the Washington Legal Foundation released a report called, "Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties.
On its web site WLF proclaims: "For many years, WLF has been a vigilant guardian of the civil rights of the business community. Those rights include the First Amendment right to speak truthfully on commercial matters, the Fifth Amendment protection against uncompensated government confiscation of private property, the right to engage in business without unnecessary government regulation, and the right to maintain the privacy of trade secrets and internal corporate affairs in the absence of an overriding public interest in disclosure."
"I like to think of us as a small business version of the American Civil Liberties Union," WLF Chairman Dan Popeo told one reporter. "Only our stress is on economic civil liberties."
But public interest advocates who have opposed WLF say they are one of many mouthpieces that work to "legitimize predatory, rogue industries" like Big Tobacco. (Internal Philip Morris documents describe WLF as "A close ally...for many years." WLF has issued legal backgrounders such as this one suggesting that government efforts to educate the public on the hazards of smoking were tantamount to communism. Daniel Troy, the Bush administration's FDA counsel, has written Legal Backgrounders for WLF like this one claiming that ordinances enacted in New York, Baltimore and Cincinnati to restrict tobacco and/or alcohol advertisements are unconstitutional. (In 1994 the WLF issued another legal backgrounder that argues that there is no need for additional federal tobacco regulations, and that public health advocates are neo-prohibitionists.)
A cursory glance at WLF's website reveals that while its immediate clients may be small businesses or individuals, the interests served by WLF are clearly large corporations and the legal horsepower behind the group their partners at the large corporate law firms.
Although WLF has a small staff of 15 to 34 (depending on the budget and workload), its governing body is a "legal policy advisory board" of 55, comprised almost entirely of lawyers, judges and legal academics from the most prestigious schools in the country. In addition, 48 firms donated professional services to the WLF in 1993, among them such prestigious (or infamous) names as Arnold & Porter, Covington & Burling, and Vinson & Elkins.
WLF's Legal Policy Advisory Board includes top Bush administration officials including Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Hon. Harold Stratton, chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson (long an ally of Tobacco companies like Phillip Morris, and on WLF's policy advisory board since 1994, Department of Homeland Security General Counsel Joe Whitley. Other members of the WLF's policy board include right-wing judicial activists such as former Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor (nominated by President Bush to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals), and Ken Starr.
Since its founding in 1977, the WLF has produced more than 1,360 publications, litigated more than 800 court cases, and participated in more than 600 administrative and regulatory procedures. The WLF coordinates a steady stream of legal backgrounders, written by prestigious judges, academics, and lawyers, to encourage the press and others to better understand current legal debates from the perspective of corporate and property rights. The organization also regularly places opinion pieces in the nation's leading news outlets, including the New York Times.
Over the past decade, the Washington Legal Foundation has filed amicus briefs and distributed legal backgrounders advocating for the expansion and protection of commercial constitutional rights in a variety of ways:
* Opposing FDA trans fat labeling requirements.
Other WLF legal actions:
Additionally, using the 5th Amendment to file suit against uncompensated taking of private property, the WLF has mounted serious legal challenges to the use of legal trust funds (money collected from pooled short-term interest paid on trust accounts that lawyers set up to temporarily hold certain client funds) to fund pro bono services for indigent clients. "We are finally in a position we've fought more than a decade to reach - a position where we can deal a death blow to the single most important source of income for radical legal groups across the country," wrote WLF Chairman Dan Popeo in a fund-raising letter. Among the group's adversaries, Popeo says, are "groups dedicated to the homeless, to minorities, to gay and lesbian causes, and any other group that has drawn money from hard-working Americans like you and me to support its radical cause!" In March of 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found in a 5-4 ruling that the practice was constitutional because the clients do not lose anything. But Richard Samp, WLF's chief counsel said his clients were considering mounting a First Amendment challenge to the funds.
In 1986, WLF established a Legal Studies Division, which it explained would fill the need for "intellectual legal lobbying" and expand the pro-free enterprise legal idea base by conducting original research and writing. "It also provides a diverse array of publications for Corporate CEOs and their general counsel, state and federal judges, Members of Congress, Administrative officials, academia and the media.
Funding: In 2002, WLF had a budget of $3.7 million. Corporate funders and foundations include: ScheringPlough; Bristol-Myers Squibb; ExxonMobil; Kimberley-Clark; Textron; 3M; Chase Manhattan; Caterpillar; ADM; Citicorp; Philip Morris; Eli Lilly; Warner-Lambert; Nabisco; Cigna; Sprint and many others.
WLF documents such as this 1988 WLF appeal to the Tobacco Institute for $5,000 for general operating support explain that WLF "receives support from over 120,000 individuals and over 350 corporations and foundations.