At least seven national health and environmental organizations have resigned from the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) Data & Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation (DMANF) in protest of a court filing in support of a lead paint case in California.
The organization confirmed there had been resignations saying it had been fewer than 10 of its 300 DMANF members.
The NonProfit Times confirmed the seven are: American Lung Association, National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Food & Water Watch, League of Conservation Voters, March of Dimes and Native American Rights Fund.
Sherwin-Williams Company has asked the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn lower court rulings in California which held it liable for lead paint sold for exterior use. The case stems from an ad the firm ran once in two newspapers in 1904. There was also $5,000 in donations to a trade organization between 1937 and 1941 that the organization used to promote better paint, including lead paint, for lumber products. Interior residential use of lead paint was lawful at the time of the advertisements.
The firm is on the hook for at least $1 billion in remediation and other costs.
The ANA’s court filing made reference to its nonprofit members. In its amici curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in conjunction with the Atlantic Legal Foundation, the ANA argued it is a First Amendment issue that should be a tipping point in overturning the lower courts’ rulings. Via a statement to its members, the ANA wrote that the “case raises fundamental issues regarding liability for advertising. Companies and organizations understand the need to have one legal standard applied at the time the advertisement or the fundraising solicitation is made, rather than penalized when new legal standards are developed decades in the future.”
It continued that the ANA’s sole interest was “focused on protecting the legitimate First Amendment speech of our members, and we have never taken a position regarding toxic or other potential harms of products.” The letter also cited several court cases where the DMANF filed briefs on behalf of commercial fundraisers regarding free speech issues in advertising.
Several of the members didn’t quite see it that way, even though the ANA statement included: “We are fortunate that our environmental organization members provided insight and guidance into this matter to assure that all stakeholders are heard in the process. We will be certain that our Washington representatives are aware of all views as we all work to have a positive effect on our society.”
In its letter of resignation, obtained by The NonProfit Times, the American Lung Association (ALA) cited its long membership in the DMANF but “finds it necessary to withdraw as a member based on the recent acquisition of the DMA by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the implications of this acquisition.”
The ANA acquired the DMA this past June. The ALA’s letter cited the legal brief “to protect companies that endanger the health and well-being of the lives we strive to protect makes it impossible for us to be affiliated with the organization any longer. Further, the First Amendment does not protect misleading or false commercial messages. We fundamentally disagree with the position taken by ANA in its brief. ANA positions are in direct conflict with our principles and objectives.”
Five of the organizations, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, signed one letter, writing that there “is no safe level of lead exposure. Lead is likely to impact children’s normal brain development, contributing to learning and behavioral problems and lower IQs. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are major sources of lead exposure for children across the country with elevated blood lead levels and lead poisoning.”
Lisa Hardaway, vice president of communications for the National Audubon Society, confirmed the resignation saying only that the “decision to leave the ANA speaks for itself.”
The member letter, signed by senior leaders of the ANA stressed “the ANA welcomes and supports the views of our membership since members’ expertise and strong advocacy makes the world a better place, including our environment. We will be scheduling a member call to update you on this case and we hope that you can participate.” A date and time for that call was not yet available.