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Politics often leads to unexpected alliances, but few relationships are as peculiar as the recent coalition that’s linked the American Civil Liberties Union with a host of corporate groups. Since last year the ACLU � an organization not usually perceived as particularly interested in the business world � has been part of an alliance with the Association of Corporate Counsel, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others. Their common cause? A shared belief that the government is overstepping its bounds on legal issues affecting corporate America. First, the coalition petitioned the U.S. Sentencing Commission to relax its guidelines for companies and other organizations. Then the alliance regrouped to oppose several features of the USA Patriot Act, which is up for renewal. Members of the coalition are now looking at other potential targets, including new immigration legislation pending in Congress. Caroline Fredrickson, legislative director for the ACLU in its D.C. office, agrees that the “commonality of interests has created strange bedfellows” within the coalition. But Fredrickson says the diversity gives the alliance even more credibility. “We are able to raise issues with a lot more members of Congress and the public when there are all these different faces,” she says. According to ACC general counsel Susan Hackett, Stephanie Martz of the D.C. � based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the key player behind the coalition and the person who brought diverse organizations like the ACLU and ACC into its ranks. Big business groups like the Chamber of Commerce “have been critical players [in the alliance] because of their stature,” Hackett says, “but I’d say it was Stephanie who often made the connections happen.” Martz, director of the NACDL’s White Collar Crime Project, says she’s trying to keep coalition members in touch so they can continue working on issues of shared interest. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone else in Washington keeping larger lobbying groups informed on the criminal enforcement front,” Martz says. Hackett describes the alliance as fluid and informal, with members staying in contact mainly by phone and e-mail. The coalition initially came together over the most recent revision of the federal criminal sentencing guidelines, which were written by the sentencing commission and adopted by Congress in 2004. The guidelines were amended to say that if organizations (which includes corporations) cooperate with the government, they’ll be eligible for lighter sentences if they’re later found to have violated the law. And one key form of cooperation is waiving attorney-client privilege if prosecutors ask for confidential documents. While an American Bar Association task force took the first stand against the sentencing guidelines, Martz was the one who pulled together a group of signatories for an ABA letter to the sentencing commission in August 2005. The letter, which asked that organizations only be required to provide “all pertinent nonprivileged information” in order to be considered for sentencing leniency, was signed by 11 groups, including the ACC and the Corporate Counsel Consortium, an ad hoc group of GCs. The sentencing commission will propose its next round of guideline changes by May 1, which if adopted by Congress will take effect in November. Hackett says that if the commission doesn’t adopt the coalition’s position on privilege waiver, the alliance will lobby Congress directly. The coalition’s second project is trying to change certain features of the USA Patriot Act, which expired at the end of 2005 but was renewed for five weeks. The NACDL’s Martz is again spearheading this networking effort, which targets Patriot provisions that, among other things, allow law enforcement agencies to demand records from businesses, without showing justification and regardless of the costs involved. At press time lawmakers were still trying to come up with a compromise for the renewed act. What’s next for the coalition? Probably the employment and enforcement issues in the pending immigration bill, according to the ACLU’s Fredrickson. In December the House passed a version of the bill, which Fredrickson says would turn millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. into felons, ineligible for any legal status. Businesses, for their part, would no longer be able to tap a large pool of low-cost labor and would be subject to more immigration raids. So coalition members are asking the Senate to pass a bill that would give immigrants already in the U.S. the right to live and work here. Not all members of the coalition are expected to join the battle on the immigration bill. But Fredrickson says other unusual bedfellows have already signed on to the immigration effort, including the Chamber of Commerce and two labor unions. Pillow talk, anyone?

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