Johnson & Johnson Finds it Hard to Break Up With ALEC


As Procter & Gamble became the 13th major American firm to announce that it was dropping its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a few corporations have publicly confirmed their loyalty to the controversial organization. Johnson & Johnson is one of the companies that has so far stood by ALEC, despite ALEC's role in pushing “model” laws that make it harder for Americans to vote and that advance the NRA’s gun agenda.

Firm Tries to Distance itself from Extreme ALEC Agenda

Instead of quitting, Johnson & Johnson prefers to try to distance itself from certain elements of the ALEC agenda, which may explain ALEC’s PR move to dump its “Public Safety and Elections Task Force,” where corporate lobbyists and elected officials voted behind closed doors on templates for changing gun and voting laws.

Bill Price, a spokesman for the New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson said the company financially supports ALEC and other organizations because of “a broad range of issues and, while we express our views to organizations with which we work, we may not align with or support every public position each of these broad-based groups takes.” Johnson & Johnson’s Vice President for State Government Affairs Don Bohn represents the company on ALEC’s corporate "Private Enterprise" board, as of 2011.

The company was also a "Vice-Chairman-" level sponsor of ALEC’s 2011 Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $25,000. It was also a 2011 sponsor of ALEC’s New Orleans convention's “Kids Congress,” which provides day care and activities for the children, six months or older, of ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists.

Despite assertions by corporations that their interest in ALEC membership can be selective, corporations like Johnson & Johnson provide ALEC with general support that makes its operations and agenda possible. ALEC’s agenda includes bills to privatize public schools, prisons, and public assets, bills to push climate change denial, bills to repeal the rights of workers, and resolutions in support of the privatization of Medicare and Social Security. 

Johnson & Johnson Stands to Benefit from ALEC's Agenda

Why would Johnson & Johnson, which sells a host of consumer products such as its "no more tears" baby shampoo, Listerine mouthwash, and Tylenol brand pain killer, risk tarnishing its image by renewing its vows to ALEC? What does it get in return for its financial investment, besides one-stop shopping for legislators at ALEC meetings and the chance to vote as equals with elected officials on "model" legislation, away from the eyes of the press and public?

ALEC's corporate bill mill includes numerous templates that make it more difficult for American families to hold corporations accountable when their products injure or kill their child, partner, or parent. Backed by Big Tobacco, drug companies, insurance companies, and other global corporations, ALEC has long been pushing changes to the laws, so-called "tort reform bills," governing claims by people injured by corporate products.

Johnson & Johnson has also had a seat (and a vote) on ALEC’s so-called “Civil Justice” Task Force, co-chaired by state senator Bill Seitz (R-Ohio). His co-chair is Victor Schwarz of the Shook, Hardy & Bacon law firm, who is the national point person for the corporate wish list in this area of the law, working with the American Tort Reform Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other global corporations to push this agenda forward.

Johnson & Johnson sells numerous products sold in drug stores across the country, under such names as Neutrogena soaps and lotions, Listerine mouth wash, Acuvue contact lenses, and Splenda sweetener. It also sells Band-Aids, Neosporin, and RoC moisturizer and wrinkle cream. Johnson & Johnson also sells over the counter and prescription drugs, such as anti-seizure medicines. These include the pain killers, Tylenol and Motrin, St. Joseph’s children’s aspirin, Benadryl, and Rolaids.

Defective Products

Rolaids antacids were subject to a massive voluntary recall in 2010 due to contamination with a chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA). Johnson & Johnson also recalled more than 135 million units of children's Tylenol, Benadryl, and Motrin medicines in 2010 for possible bacterial contamination and the presence of small metal parts.

In 2010, Johnson & Johnson’s then-CEO, William Weldon, was called before Congress after regulators learned that the company had also engaged in “stealth” recalls by buying up products -- supplies of the pain killer, Motrin -- rather than notifying the public of its need to recall defective Motrin tablets.

And, just this month, on April 10, a jury determined that a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary had downplayed and had hidden risks associated with the antipsychotic drug Risperdal. The Arkansas Attorney General is seeking fines of at least $1.1 billion for the 250,000 prescriptions of this drug that the state’s Medicaid program paid for over three and a half years. Johnson & Johnson is involved in other claims about this and other products as well.

For example, Johnson & Johnson has faced lawsuits over defective heart stents as well as hip replacement parts, the failure of which put at-risk American patients at additional risk from more surgery to address these defective medical devices. In the case of the defective hip joints, some recipients have experienced degradation of the soft tissue around the joint, leaving injured Americans unable to fully replace the defective part and instead suffering long-term disability in their mobility.

Through ALEC's "tort" task force, global corporations like Johnson & Johnson underwrite an agenda that would bar American families from suing if their loved one dies as a result of a drug if that drug were approved by the FDA. ALEC has pursued such legislation despite the long-history of inadequate regulation by the FDA and numerous recalls of dangerous or defective drugs--including numerous drugs manufactured by Johnson & Johnson.

The ALEC agenda also focuses its rhetoric on “frivolous” claims while pushing bills that limit the ability of a jury that has found that a drug company has acted dangerously, irresponsibly or recklessly from punishing the company through substantial damages to deter similar conduct in the future. Some ALEC legislators have gone even further than ALEC’s templates, as with a bill introduced in Wisconsin last year that would extend ALEC’s bar on suit for FDA-approved drugs to reach medical devices, like defective hip joints or heart stents. The text of ALEC's model bills, along with analysis, is available here.

Johnson & Johnson had revenue of over $62 billion last year and has accumulated assets valued at over $100 billion. Last year’s profits were consistent with prior year’s: in 2010, it had a gross profit of $42.8 billion on revenue of $62 billion, along with a net income after taxes of $13.3 billion. It paid its CEO over $28 million in total compensation that year.

ALEC's Exile of Gun Laws Won't Stop Push for So-Called "Tort Reform”

Last week, ALEC announced it had reassigned the staff of its "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" after the task force was subject to opprobrium for pushing bills to make it harder for American citizens to vote and that advance the NRA's extreme gun agenda. In a PR maneuver to limit corporate and legislative defections, ALEC claimed this move would allow it to sharpen its focus on “jobs, free markets and growth.” But, when ALEC talks about enhancing employment opportunity, hiding just behind that are templates to change the laws so that a family might not be able to sue a corporation like Johnson & Johnson for the damages its product caused.

Such policies enrich drug companies while they may impose devastating losses on families -- all because the company escapes responsibility under ALEC-promoted laws. And, many of the bills in the ALEC agenda seek to supplant the democratic check of the jury system and its careful evaluation of the facts in an individual case with the generic judgment of a legislator, who may have schmoozed and boozed with corporate lobbyists and even voted behind closed doors on an ALEC task force as an equal with unelected corporate representatives from companies like Johnson & Johnson.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s Executive Director Lisa Graves has written off ALEC’s announcement to nix one of its task forces as a public relations stunt. “ALEC's so-called ‘jobs’ agenda is a thinly disguised effort to make it more difficult for American families to hold corporations accountable ... ," she said. ALEC's measures may "strip workers of their rights to organize or even get sick pay to help care for their children when they are ill, limit the ability of the government to protect the health and safety of American families and to fight climate changes underway, funnel tax dollars from public institutions like schools into private coffers, and to continue a reckless agenda of tax loopholes and giveaways to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the world, like Koch Industries and the Koch family.”

CMD, along with Color of Change, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Progress Now!, and others will continue to expose ALEC’s corporate funders, including Johnson & Johnson. Already, hundreds of thousands of Americans have asked ALEC corporations to sever their ties with ALEC and its extreme agenda.

This article originally appeared on PR Watch.