Corporate and nonprofit political spending

Hidden Puppet Masters

Falicia Elenberg

February 21, 2023

“These children were first stripped of their God-given right of cognition, executive function and impulse control by the knowing misconduct of the lead paint companies, and then they were stripped of their right to their day in court…” This statement was made by Milwaukee attorney Peter Earle, who represented Yasmine Clark and other young children affected by lead paint poisoning. 

When she was two years old, Yasmine was lead-poisoned so severely that she had to be hospitalized for treatment to remove life-threatening levels of the heavy metal from her blood. At the age of five, she was again diagnosed with lead poisoning. This time, Yasmine suffered severe brain damage and reduced cognition

For many decades, lead paint companies not only knew of the grave danger posed by lead-based paints but they actively launched a PR and lobbying campaign to undermine efforts by Public Health Agencies to regulate lead-based paints (their strategy almost seemed to come straight out of the tobacco industry’s playbook). To portray themselves in a good light, the paint industry sent Dutch Boy costumes to children on Halloween, and printed coloring books that showed children how to prepare it. As another part of their influence campaign, the paint industry tried shifting blame to parents. They claimed that fault lied with the “uneducable Negro and Puerto Rican” parents who “failed” to stop children from placing their fingers and toys in their mouths. 

DutchBoy lead-based paint can

Yasmine, along with roughly 170 other children living in Wisconsin who were irreparably and significantly injured by these lead paint manufacturing companies brought suit. But before they could ever collect damage payments, Wisconsin Senators retroactively barred their claim. This law came in the form of an amendment to a budget bill that was added at the last minute, without notice, without sponsors, and without public hearings. 

Eventually, it was leaked that the lead paint companies who were at the heart of the litigation — Sherwin-Williams, Atlantic Richfield Company, and NL Industries, Inc. — had anonymously poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into influencing Wisconsin Senators to enact this exact legislation. Fortunately, the retroactive ban on recovery was eventually struck down as unconstitutional. But for a time, the paint companies had successfully used dark money to convince politicians that preventing wrongfully harmed children from being recompensed was the right move.