In an effort to promote greater transparency about who makes campaign contributions, outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today unveiled a new set of election rules.
The rules, which were approved by the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, is aimed at offsetting some of the impact of the Citizens United ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. In the landmark 5-4 decision, the court overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.
When CityBeat profiled the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in May, just after the conservative organization held a private meeting in Cincinnati, some of its members downplayed conspiracy theories about the group and its love of secrecy.
Fueled by corporate donations, ALEC is credited with working quietly behind the scenes to draft legislation that can then be introduced by elected state lawmakers. Among its efforts, ALEC spearheaded the push in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere to introduce bills that limited or abolished collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions.
The membership list that contains the names of the roughly 2,000 state legislators and about 300 private-sector supporters who belong to ALEC is kept confidential.
State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), who sits on ALEC's board of directors, noted in the CityBeat article that the identity of its sponsors aren't kept secret. They include the American Petroleum Institute, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Coors and the National Rifle Association.
Now with the help of Aliya Rahman, an activist based at Miami University in Oxford who organized the Cincinnati protest, The Nation magazine has obtained more than 800 documents representing decades of ALEC's model legislation. The treasure trove of materials is featured in The Nation's Aug. 1-8 issue, which currently is on sale.
[UPDATE: Read more about Rahman's path to unearthing the documents here.]
In conjunction with the Center for Media and Democracy, The Nation asked policy experts to analyze this never-before-seen archive.
As The Nation's John Nichols writes, “Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to 'develop alternatives to existing policies (and) keep them alive and available,' ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces.”
A full archive of the exposed ALEC legislation is available here.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco sheds his clothes in a new print advertisement for an animal rights group.
Never one known to be shy or retiring, Ochocinco appears naked and holding a football in front of his genitalia in the ad for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Referring to the many tattoos visible on his muscular frame, the ad's tagline is, “Ink, Not Mink.”
While Congress has been wrangling back and forth for months about raising the federal minimum wage, the City of Cincinnati is doing what it can to encourage businesses to pay their employees enough to get by.
The Cincinnati Living Wage Employer Initiative will officially recognize employers paying their employees at least $10.10 an hour, the same hike congressional Democrats have been pushing in the House and Senate. The program looks to reward businesses and nonprofits that take the step, providing a website, cincinnatilivingwage.com, where consumers can check to see which businesses pay employees a fair wage.
Though the program is voluntary, the hope is that positive recognition and consumer pressure will encourage businesses to pay employees a wage that allows them to be self-sustaining.
“Although the city of Cincinnati cannot legislate a higher minimum wage–that’s left up to the state–we do feel we have a crucial role to play in creating a culture of living wage employers,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at an Oct. 2 news conference announcing the initiative, which he’s helped push.
“Cincinnati cannot wait on Congress to take action,” he said. “But our local businesses and organizations can raise their minimum wage voluntarily and immediately, and individuals can make conscientious consumer decisions about spending their money with those employers.”
So far, four organizations, including the city, are listed as partners in the initiative. One is Cincinnati-based Grandin Properties, whose CEO Peg Wyant appeared with Sittenfeld at the Oct. 2 announcement.
Another is Pi Pizza, which is opening its first store in Cincinnati downtown at Sixth and Main Streets on Oct. 13. The company, based in St. Louis, has paid non-tipped workers at its seven locations in Missouri, Washington DC and elsewhere $10.10 an hour for five months. The company looks to employ about 100 people in Cincinnati.
Pi Pizza CEO Chris Sommers estimates about 75 percent of those employees will be hourly and not working for tips, meaning they’ll benefit from the wage boost. Sommers said the increased payroll costs are more than balanced by reduced employee turnover rates and increased productivity.
“We did it without raising prices, and we did it after extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis to make sure we could pay for it and that we could still grow and expand to cities like Cincinnati,” Sommers said of the wage boost.
He encouraged other businesses to make a similar commitment.
“If Pi Pizza can do it, you can do it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s good for business–more people walking around, with not only more money to put gas in their cars, more money to get their cars fixed, but also more people to buy pizza. And that’s important, right?”
Boosting the minimum wage has caused a deep debate in the United States. Proponents, including President Barack Obama, who called for the boost to $10.10 during this year’s state of the union address, say that low-wage workers don’t make enough to survive easily or raise families, boosting dependence on government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Opponents, however, including Republicans in Congress like House Speaker John Boehner, say that it will cost businesses more and stifle job growth. Republicans also say that most low-wage jobs are held by high school students, part-time workers who aren’t trying to sustain themselves independently or raise families.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data, however, show that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are over the age of 19. Sommers said that few, if any, of the 107 employees at a recent orientation for Pi Pizza’s Cincinnati location were young students.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, though 23 states, including Ohio, have a higher minimum. The highest wage in the country is in Washington State, where employers must pay adult non-tipped workers at least $9.87. Ohio’s minimum wage is currently $7.95, which will increase to $8.10 in January, thanks to a 2005 constitutional amendment that pegs the state’s minimum to inflation. Even at this new state minimum wage, however, a worker working 40 hours a week will still gross less than $17,000 a year. At $10.10, the same worker would earn $21,000– enough to put a family of three just above the federal poverty level.
“While even the higher hourly wage will leave some people vulnerable, the extra earned income represents the difference between people being able to sustain a basic existence or not,” Sittenfeld said.
LGBT rights are becoming “the new normal” in corporate America, but American Financial Group and Western & Southern Financial Group are apparently exceptions. Both Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 companies received a 0 percent for LGBT policies in the 2012 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
The index uses LGBT-related corporate policies to determine scores: non-discrimination policies including sexual orientation and gender identity, company-provided domestic partner health insurance, equal health coverage for transgender individuals, organizational LGBT cultural competency, engagement in actions that undermine LGBT equality and other categories. The full rankings, dubbed a “Buyer’s Guide,” can be found here.
In the Greater Cincinnati area, Cincinnati-based Omnicare, Covington-based Ashland and Highland Heights-based General Cable fared only slightly better than American Financial and Western & Southern. The three companies received 15 points for at least including sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies.
Other Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 companies did much
better in HRC’s rankings. Procter & Gamble got a 90 percent, Macy’s
got a 90 percent, Kroger got an 85 percent and Fifth Third Bank got an
85 percent. The high scores show some companies are providing more to LGBT individuals than local, state and federal governments through equal access to health care and other benefits that aren't written into law.
On a national level, the five low-scoring Fortune 500 companies in Greater Cincinnati show a surprising level of backwardness. In general, the nationwide rankings were very positive this year. In an emailed statement, HRC pointed out 252 companies got 100-percent scores in 2012, up from 13 companies in 1991. As HRC put it, “For American companies, 100 percent is the new normal.”
CityBeat could not reach Western & Southern or American Financial Group for immediate comment. This story will be updated if comments become available.
As part of its slate of endorsements announced today, the Cincinnati U.S.A. Regional Chamber of Commerce stated it's opposed to Issue 48, the proposed charter amendment that would block construction of Cincinnati's planned streetcar system.
The Chamber announced its positions on six local issues that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
At the time of the announcement that the park would not be opening, The Beach had already sold 8,800 season passes. But rather than offering full refunds to the thousands of consumers who had purchased waterpark passes, the Beach offered a collection of day passes and various discounts to other local attractions, such as Kings Island and the Cincinnati Zoo, that it said was valued at "close to $200." Season passes to The Beach had most recently been sold for $89.99.
In response, 427 people filed complaints with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, resulting in the May 25 filing of a lawsuit against The Beach by Attorney General Mike DeWine. The lawsuit charges the business with failure to deliver, a violation of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act.
"It's unfortunate when a long-standing Ohio business closes," DeWine said in a press release. "But The Beach Waterpark took money from thousands of consumers and never delivered promised services. That's unacceptable."
The Beach in recent years has seen increased competition from such nearby attractions as Kings Island’s Soak City waterpark and the Great Wolf Lodge, which opened an indoor waterpark in Mason in 2006. In response to The Beach’s closing, Kings Island offered discounted rates for upgrades to its season passes and a complimentary visit to its amusement park and waterpark for Beach pass holders.
Dan Tierney, spokesman for DeWine, says companies that go out of business often refund money or provide a different product or service in place of that which was previously purchased, but it must be of equal or greater value and meet the consumer’s satisfaction.
“That has not occurred in this case,” Tierney says.
The lawsuit alleges that The Beach’s ownership partners have committed unfair or deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Failure to Deliver Rule and Consumer Sales Practices Act. Each violation of the Consumer Sales and Practices Act is punishable by a $25,000 fine. The lawsuit asks for reimbursements for all consumers, legal and court costs, an injunction and civil penalties.
“There’s a possible penalty on the punitive side of $25,000,” Tierney says. “That being said, the goal of this, because there is no bankruptcy protection, is to help affected consumers get refunds.”
According to Tierney, if The Beach had filed bankruptcy protection, the company would be protected and each individual consumer would need to file failure to deliver lawsuits.
“During a bankruptcy consumers can become creditors for not being delivered products,” Tierney says. “In absence of that they would have to each individually file failure to deliver lawsuits, but the attorney general is doing it on behalf of Ohio consumers.”
The lawsuit was filed in the Hamilton County Court of Common Please against the park’s owners and operators: The Beach at Mason Limited Partnership and Dayton-based Water Parks, Inc., and Cabana Equities, Inc.
According to the lawsuit, the Beach’s operators decided to close the waterpark on March 7, two days before announcing the canceled season and lack of refunds.
The attorney general’s office is encouraging other consumers who purchased passes to The Beach Waterpark to file a complaint a www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov.
The corporate parent of The Enquirer is offering a voluntary “early retirement” buyout proposal to rid the company of some older and more highly paid employees.
Robert J. Dickey, president of The Gannett Co.'s U.S. newspaper division, announced the buyout offer Thursday in a memorandum to employees.