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Letter to U.S. Attorney General from the Ad-Hoc Coalition for the Defense of the Massachusetts Burma Law

  • Campaign for America s Future
  • Center of Concern
  • Co-op America
  • EarthRights International
  • Essential Action
  • Food and Allied Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • Franklin Research and Development Corporation
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Institute for Policy Studies
  • International Labor Rights Fund
  • Philadelphia-Burma Roundtable
  • Preamble Center For Public Policy
  • Public Citizen
  • Sierra Club
23 June, 1998

Honorable Bruce M. Botelho
Office of the Attorney General
Post Office Box 110300
Diamond Courthouse
Juneau, AK 99811-0300

Re: NFTC v. Baker
U.S. District Court for Massachusetts

Dear Attorney General Botelho:

We are representatives of a coalition of local grassroots advocacy groups, labor unions, non-profit organizations and religious organizations who want to call your attention to a threat to your state's sovereign authority to conduct procurement and investment activities in a way that promotes the values of your taxpayers. We are writing to encourage your office to contact Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and to file an amicus brief in the above- referenced case in defense of the Massachusetts Burma "selective purchasing" law (1996 Mass. ALS 130) which the plaintiff, National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), an industry lobby group, has attacked on constitutional grounds.

Your sister state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and 20 municipal and county governments across America, have enacted Burma selective purchasing laws, designed to allow local jurisdictions to avoid indirectly supporting a regime whose conduct their constituents find repugnant and also to encourage transnational corporations to disinvest from Burma. These laws are modeled on the effective divestiture and purchasing initiatives which animated the South Africa anti-apartheid movement in this country during the 1980's. According to Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, the American organization which led the fight against apartheid, Nelson Mandela might still be in jail if selective purchasing laws had not been passed at many state and local government levels.

As you are aware, when a jurisdiction enacts a selective purchasing or investment law, it acts as a market participant, with all the proprietary rights and powers of all corporate entities, public or private, to do business with whomever they choose. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs in NFTC v. Baker insist that such traditional and effective laws are unconstitutional. In short, the plaintiffs claim that the elected representatives of the people may not spend and invest their taxpayers money in the way that is consistent with their constituents values.

State, city and county legislators voted to adopt these procurement measures because they did not want to support a brutal regime in Burma, however indirectly, which is both a human rights pariah and a narco-state, responsible for producing over half of the heroin shipped to America. On July 27 of last year, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that "Drug money has become so pervasive in Burma that it taints legitimate investment and threatens the region as a whole." The regime has been condemned by the United States, the United Nations, Amnesty International and a host of other nations and organizations for widespread human rights abuses, including the use of forced labor on projects involving international investors, religious persecution of Christians and Muslims, and systematically killing, torturing and raping of ethnic minorities.

The Massachusetts Burma selective purchasing law is both effective and strongly supported by the legitimate leader of the Burma's democracy movement and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party won free elections in 1990 only to have them annulled by the military regime. Aung San Suu Kyi observed in a interview last year that selective purchasing laws are an effective means of restoring democracy in Burma. She further praised the Massachusetts Burma law and called for the enactment of more laws like it.

We respectfully call your attention to the April 9, 1986, opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, which concludes that state "selective purchasing" of the precise sort represented by the Massachusetts Burma law "survive constitutional scrutiny" (10 U.S. Op. Off. Legal Counsel 49, *49). We are certain that your legal staff will similarly conclude that the U.S. Constitution and the traditions of federalism must allow for local control of purchasing decisions. Therefore, we urge you to consider filing an amicus brief in defense of the Massachusetts Burma selective purchasing law. In fact, several of us are currently collaborating on the outlines of such a brief which we would be honored to share with your office in the event that you are able to weigh in on this important case. If so, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Lyndy Worsham who is working out of the offices of Public Citizen s Global Trade Watch in Washington, DC; her phone number is 202-546-4996.

Our country started its democracy with a boycott. When the people of Massachusetts were told what products they must buy and with whom they must do business, they responded by staging the Boston Tea Party which led to the American Revolution. Over two centuries later, the people of Massachusetts, through their elected legislators, used their freedom to promote democracy in Burma. Now, a group of multinational corporations wants a Federal Court to take away that freedom. If they succeed, it is not only democracy in Burma and Massachusetts that will suffer, but in every state including yours. We look forward to your continued defense of this principle and your leadership on this important issue.

Mark Anderson

Simon Billenness
Senior Analyst
Franklin Research and Development Corporation

Brent Blackwelder
Friends of the Earth

Michael Dolan
Field Director
Public Citizen s Global Trade Watch

Alisa Gravitz
Executive Director
Co-op America

Pharis Harvey
Executive Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Richard Healey
Preamble Center for Public Policy

Roger Hickey
Campaign for America s Future

James E. Hug, S.J.
Executive Director
Center of Concern

Dan Orzech
Philidelphia-Burma Roundtable

Katie Redford, Esq.
Tyler Giannini, Esq.
EarthRights International

Dan Seligman
Senior Fellow
Sierra Club

Michael Shuman
Institute for Policy Studies

Robert Weissman
Essential Action

cc: Honorable Scott Harshbarger
Attorney General
Commonwealth of Massachusetts


The Ad-Hoc Coalition dispatched a total of 50 letters addressed to all United States Attorneys General.

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