The long arm of ALEC

29 Mar 2011 12:46 pm
Posted by: Donna

From blogging that I and (many) others have done on the topic of national conservative organizations influencing state legislation, it should be obvious by now that the ideas that Republican elected officials in Arizona are trying to push on us are not just toxic to our lives an communities, they are not even original. I’ve written about how Arizona’s Goldwater Institute is part of the national State Policy Network and how Center for Arizona Policy is affiliated with Dr. James Dobson’s Colorado-based theocratic outfit Focus on the Family. GI and CAP have been very successful at promoting and implementing right wing policies by passing themselves off as local grassroots movements. But by far the most powerful, and until recently little known, national political influence group is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC doesn’t have to bother with any public pretense because they operate behind the scenes. Their legislator member roster is not made public but it is believed that a good number of GOP Arizona legislators are members. ALEC and GI recently collaborated on a guide to help state legislators repeal the Affordable Care Act.

I became aware of ALEC back in 2006 when I was researching for my State Senate race. I was struck by how similar Republican bills in Arizona were to those in Utah, South Carolina, and several other GOP majority legislature states. I found this Progressive States Network report that explained it all. ALEC brings the multi-national corporate agenda along with a truckload of corporate money to (mostly) Republican legislators, providing them with model legislation.

HOW ALEC AND THE RIGHTWING OPERATE IN THE STATES At its heart, ALEC is little more than a tax-exempt recipient and front for some of the nation’s largest corporations, as companies ranging from Enron, ExxonMobil, Coors Brewing, Pfizer to Phillip Morris have paid for ALEC’s expansion and success:
•Corporate-dominated task forces of ALEC and other non-profit groups provide industry with, in the words of one former industry co-chair, ‘a channel to express its interests to a majority of the states’ speakers of the house and presidents of the senate.’
•A key to ALEC’s success is that it coordinates the introduction of legislation with national experts, local political operations, state-based think tanks, national issue-based lobbying networks and direct corporate lobbying in the statehouses.
•States are vulnerable to rightwing takeover because most state legislatures are made up of poorly paid, part-time lawmakers with few if any staff to research or evaluate the laws they are asked to approve. There are therefore few staff who can challenge the expertise presented by conservative operatives or to uncover the hidden payoffs for corporate interests contained in the legislation.
•By setting the agenda in the statehouses, even a legislative defeat gives ALEC’s legislative allies an issue to run on at the next election, with progressives always reacting and often having little to say in response.

THE ALEC AGENDA: THE IMMEDIATE PAYOFF TO ITS CORPORATE BACKERS The rightwing network fronted by ALEC gives a “public interest” sheen to the raw special pleading of corporate interests that have bought a slot on the organization’s board. Some examples of its recent agenda items includes:
•Defending Oil Companies from Global Warming Legislation: Backed by the oil industry, ALEC lined up legislators to ‘temporarily’ lower taxes on gasoline to divert attention from record oil company profits. ALEC has also worked to undermine regulations aimed at curbing the carbon dioxide emissions leading to global warming.
•Serving Big Pharma: Fighting the Importation of Prescription Drugs: ALEC and its drug company backers have mounted a full-scale campaign to defeat initiatives by cities and states to promote importing prescription medicines from Canada.
•Protecting Low-Wage Employers: Rolling Back Labor Rights: ALEC has promoted legislation to block local governments from raising local minimum wages or even requiring government contractors to pay a fair wage to their employees.
•Telecoms: Blocking Municipal Broadband at Expense of High Tech: ALEC has worked to block or hamstring cities trying to build cheaper or even free Internet services for their residents.
•Helping Insurance Companies Fight Off Corporate Accountability: ALEC has been promoting a campaign to stop state insurance commissioners from requiring insurance companies to meet the same accountability and auditing rules that were imposed on publicly-traded corporations in the wake of the Enron debacle.
•The Bankers Payoff from Long Term Health Care ‘Reform’: ALEC has been advocating cracking down on seniors who shelter income in a home while using Medicaid to finance long term care, a campaign to undermine health care for seniors and force them to buy ‘reverse annuity mortgages” from ALEC’s financial industry patrons.

That was back in 2006. Republicans have taken large majorities in Red States across the country since then, giving ALEC a clearer path to successful implementation of their pro-corporate, anti-worker, and anti-consumer agenda. Janet Napolitano’s departure from the Arizona’s Governor’s office and Jan Brewer’s subsequent appointment to that office and ushered in SB1070, which was not (contrary to popular belief) the brainchild of Russell Pearce. Last October NPR reported that it was model legislation drafted in a hotel conference room by an ALEC task force of which Corrections Corporation of America was a key participant. Also from that NPR piece.

But first ALEC has to get legislators to the conferences. The organization encourages state lawmakers to bring their families. Corporations sponsor golf tournaments on the side and throw parties at night, according to interviews and records obtained by NPR.

Bowman says that’s nothing special: “We have breakfasts and lunch. They’re at Marriotts and Hyatts. They’re normal chicken dinner. Maybe sometimes they get steaks. Yeah, we feed the people. We think that it’s OK to eat at a conference.”
Videos and photos from one recent ALEC conference show banquets, open bar parties and baseball games — all hosted by corporations. Tax records show the group spent $138,000 to keep legislators’ children entertained for the week.

But the legislators don’t have to declare these as corporate gifts.

Consider this: If a corporation hosts a party or baseball game and legislators attend, most states require the lawmakers to say where they went and who paid. In this case though, legislators can just say they went to ALEC’s conference. They don’t have to declare which corporations sponsored these events.

$138K to entertain kids? Dude, that’s a lotta Chuck E. Cheese. And clearly it’s pretty easy, if you’re a corporation, to persuade lawmakers whom you’ve wined and dined and whose kids you’ve placated – and who don’t even have to report it as corporate gifts – to be very obliging about pushing legislation that you’ve written for them.

I’ll have more about ALEC a little later.

1 Comment(s)

  1. Pingback by Democratic Diva » MSNBC picked up the ALEC story. Maybe the Arizona media will pay attention. on May 17, 2011 10:15 pm

    […] blogged about how ALEC was behind SB1070, something that was picked up by NPR last summer but didn’t get much traction because […]

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