Pacific Legal Foundation
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
The Pacific Legal Foundation is a Sacramento, California-based legal organization that was established March 5, 1973  to support pro-business causes. In recent years, it has taken a lead in pursuing anti-affirmative action policies.
It is the key right-wing public interest litigation firm in a network of similar organizations funded initially by Scaife Foundations money across the USA to support capitalism and oppose environmental and health activism and government regulation.
The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) was established in 1973-74 by a group of attorneys from California's Justice Department (then under the control of Attorney-General Ed Meese) to counter reform of the welfare system, and the liberal public interest legal groups that were pressing for better environmental and health regulations. Especially targeted were the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Governor Ronald Reagan of California appears to have provided the required financial links to Pittsburg billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife who funded the initial office in Sacramento, and his friend and counsellor, Ed Meese (III) became one of the founders and its chief supporter. Its expressed aim was to use its financial and litigation power to "impact the public policy agenda."
An article in the Washington Post in May 1999 reveals that "Scaife's first grants in this area (conservative public interest law movement) were made in 1974 to the Pacific Legal Foundation. In its early years Scaife kept the PLF alive. Since the mid-'70s more than $20 million in Scaife money has gone to the conservative public interest law movement "on behalf of a market-oriented economics system, traditional property rights and limited government," in the words of an internal memo written by a Scaife aide in December 1980."
The day-to-day operations of the Foundation were in the hands of Ronald A Zumbrun, who's law firm Zumbrun & Findley ran most of the cases. Before his elevation to CEO of the PLF, Zumbrun had been a lawyer with the California Department of Public Works, the California Department of Social Welfare and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
By 1983 the organization was seen as a "growing force in public interest work" with an annual income of $2.5 million per year  and it had already begun to spawn other regional legal centers of a similar kind using Scaife funding. Not all of these, however, focussed on the aggressive use of litigation as did the PLF. According to a Philip Morris document urging the company to develop stronger links with the foundation: "It has participated in hundreds of cases at all court levels, winning the vast majority of those reaching final decision - including several before the U.S. Supreme Court."
It has also won many major social cases in California involving decisions to uphold ballot initiatives, ending state-aid to illegal immigrants, banning affirmative action, and replacing bilingual education with immersion in English.
As of March 2011, top PLF officers were:
- Robin L. Rivett, President
- James S. Burling, Director of Litigation
- Richard P. Green, Chief Philanthropy Officer
- M. David Stirling, Counsel
As of March 2011, PLF trustees were listed as:
- John C. Harris, PLF Board Chair, of Harris Ranch Beef
- Richard Albrecht
- Richard Geary
- George Kimball
- Warner C. Lusardi
- H. Dixon Montague
- Jerry W. P. Schauffler
- Charles W. Trainor
- Ronald E. Van Buskirk
- Jeffrey E. Warren
- Donald Joe Willis
- Thomas G. Bost, Vice Chair
- James L. Cloud
- Greg M. Evans
- Leonard S. Frank, Secretary-Treasurer
- Timothy R. Hall
- Lorraine O. Legg
- April J. Morris
- Bruce C. Smith
Tobacco Industry associations
PLF is listed as a "key third party ally" in a September 14, 1999 Philip Morris document.
In 1989, Philip Morris began funding the organization through its Mission Viejo (gated-community land-development company) subsidiary, mainly because the organisation was active in the property rights area and had won cases limiting the States' ability to expropriate or regulate private property. The Mission Viejo subsidiary was interested in fighting a no-growth initiative which had been blocking some of their development projects. At this stage Philip Morris only gave an annual grant of $5,000 each year, just to keep the organisation on side and available, but it may have also funded specific legal projects.
By 1991 the PLF had a major budget crisis. It was in deficit to the tune of about $1 million, which was about a quarter of its $4 million annual requirements. Not long after, Roy Marden, the Philip Morris executive in charge of maintaining relations with the right-wing think tanks and advocacy institutes, joined the PLF board. Overnight the funding increased substantially to $10,000, and then $22,000 by 1993. Philip Morris also began to utilize the PLF to undertake hidden media and political activities on its behalf.
For instance, it enlisted the organization (together with think-tanks like the Reason Foundation, Hoover Institute, Heritage Foundation and Claremont Institute) to write op-ed pieces that were planted in newspapers attacking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its determination that Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) was a carcinogen and its attempt to regulate Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). (See page 4 of this planning document.)
At this time Philip Morris was also heavily funded two of PLF's unacknowledged offspring, the National Legal Center for the Public Interest and the Atlantic Legal Foundation. The Washington Legal Foundation was another of a similar kind favoured and funded ($200,000) by Philip Morris, but it was independent of the Scaife-funded, PLF-based network. 
The PLF also intervened successful in Keller v. California State Bar, where it established a legal precedent that California lawyers could challenge the use of their dues to the state bar for political purposes. This was an successful attempt to block collective actions by the more liberal Californian lawyers who were involving themselves in such policy areas as class-actions and product liability.
By the mid 1990s the PLF had offices in Sacramento, Anchorage and Seattle and ran several key issues and programs:
- Judicial Responsibility Project
- College of Public Interest Law
- Limited Government Project
It also sloughed off the Center for Applied Jurisprudence which focused on commercial "free speech issues" (i.e., the right to advertise harmful products) and "regulatory reform." Philip Morris was giving them a $25,000 retainer by this time (and presumably paying also for work done on their behalf).
In 1997-1998 the PLF joined forces with the $10 million funded (by Philip Morris) National Smokers Alliance, in a fierce and vindictive legal attack on Professor Stanton Arnold Glantz, a leader of California's main anti-smoking organization, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights and attempted to brand him in the public mind as having something to hide ... a destroyer of legal document (a ruse the tobacco industry used itself on a massive scale). Glantz had received documents from the early tobacco industry whistleblowers, and he had established the first public-access Internet web site revealing how the industry operated.
According to ExxonSecrets.org, the Pacific Legal Foundation has received $110,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. The website goes on to state that:
Anti-environmental from the start, PLF's early actions supported the use of DDT, the use of herbicides in national forests, and the use of public range land without requiring an environmental impact review. They also supported at least six pro-nuclear power cases before the early eighties while accepting funding from Pacific General Electric (PGE), a utility which has gained a great deal through the development of nuclear power in the Pacific Northwest. In the 1980s, PLF won several cases that are considered landmarks by those working on property rights issues today: Nollan v the California Coastal Commission and First Church, both Supreme Court victories which provide precedence for the takings litigation pursued today (Oliver Houck, "With Charity For All," Yale Law Journal, 1993). In October 2003, PLF Vice President M. David Stirling had an Op-Ed published in which he defended President Bush's environmental record and condemned former President Clinton for endorsing the Kyoto Protocol.
Associated Legal Foundations
- American Legal Foundation (Founded by Daniel Popeo (of WLF) and run by Michael Carvin) - It says: "we deal exclusively with media issues."
- Atlantic Legal Foundation (PM supported) Run by James Richards with strong links to Stephen Whelan (husband of Elizabeth Whelan) and the ACSH - claims to be "committed to redressing the bias against business which manifests itself in favor of narrow "consumer" or "environmental" concerns."
- National Legal Center in the Public Interest - Ernest Heuter (It does no litigation work, but is PM supported) It was founded by PLF, and has no members-only a board of directors. It acts as an umbrella and communications hub.
- Pacific Legal Center (Sacramento) - Ron Zumbrun - This is the nation's oldest and largest with a 1983 staff of 20 (PM supported)
- Southern States Legal Center (New Orleans) founded in 1983 by Elizabeth Williams.
- Mountain States Legal Center (founded by the PLF)
- Great Plains Legal Foundation (founded by the PLF), and now called Landmark (Kansas City)
- Landmark Legal Foundation Run by Mark Levin. Scaife used this organization to fund the anti-Clinton Arkansas Project (He gave them $250,000 - and more than $1 million over a few years).
- National Chamber Litigation Center Inc. (Washington) - affiliated with US Chamber of Commerce - run by Stephen Bokat - and says it is "unabashedly pro-business." (PM worked with them and the Business RoundTable)
- Capital Legal Foundation (Washington) - run by Dan Burt and funded by Scaife
- Washington Legal Foundation - founded by Daniel Popeo (independent of the PLF but supported by both PM and its subsidiary, Kraft Foods)
Pacific Legal Foundation
3900 Lennane Drive, Suite 200
Sacramento, CA 95834
Phone: (916) 419 7111
Fax: (916) 419 7747
Email: plf AT pacificlegal.org
Articles and Resources
- Bill Berkowitz, "Pacific Legal Foundation is on the wrong side of history: Partially funded by conservative foundations, the legal advocacy group is at the hub of fighting for the re-segregation of America", Media Transparency, December 11, 2006.
- Media Mouse, "Anti-Affirmative Action Legal Group Threatens Litigation against GRPS, Mediamouse.org, April 25, 2007.
- Guidestar, Claude R. Lambe Foundation 1998 990, organizational IRS form 990, 1998.
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