Protest corporate stranglehold on states

Did you ever wonder how clueless, ultra-conservative state lawmakers come up with complex bills full of complicated language designed to screw you out of your rights and opportunities? They have a lot of help.

Did you ever wonder how clueless, ultra-conservative state lawmakers come up with complex bills full of complicated language designed to screw you out of your rights and opportunities? For example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who many say is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, presents lawmakers with a budget bill designed to take away worker rights, raise taxes on working poor and middle-class taxpayers, cut vital social programs like Badger Care and undermine public schools and higher education in flowery legalese.

They can't do this stuff by themselves. They have a lot of help. Meet one of their helpmates: ALEC.

The American Legislative Exchange Council pushes a radically conservative agenda for state government to front for the interests of their corporate patrons like Big Oil, drug and telecom companies, Big Banks, Big Tobacco, and the asbestos industry. They have "model legislation," for example, to dilute, attack and ignore federal environmental laws and regulations, which suits many of these corporate interests just fine.

They were also behind not only Wisconsin, but Ohio's and many other states' attacks on collective bargaining rights.

Students and other concerned Americans about the corporate stranglehold on legislation are protesting in Cinanniti, Ohio ALEC's spring conference, April 29. To find out more, go to:

The following recent press release offers more background and important questions to ask ALEC.

Americans deserve to know who makes the laws in their state. So, who is ALEC?

1. THE EARLY YEARS: ALEC was launched in 1973 by conservative activists and politicians, including Paul Weyrich—co-founder of the Heritage Foundation—Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp, and Henry Hyde.  Over the years, its radically conservative social agenda was left behind and replaced by an aggressively pro-corporate platform.

2. THE BASICS: ALEC is the “ultimate smoke filled backroom”—connecting elected officials with corporate representatives, and working with deep-pocketed companies to turn their agendas into model legislation.  (Edwin Bender of the National Institute on Money in State Politics has saidthat "Corporations can implement their agendas very effectively using ALEC.")  

3. MISSION: ALEC’s innocuous, generic mission statement hides its real benefactors: corporations.  According toan ALEC staff member, “Most of the bills are written by outside sources – companies, attorneys, leg counsels.”

4. STRATEGY: ALEC uses the word ‘educate’ because they are not legally allowed to lobby as a 501(c)3 organization.  The difference is indistinguishable—ALEC’s lawmaker education involvesprivate corporations paying money to sit down with lawmakers to draft bills to later be introduced in state legislatures—essentially, lobbying.  Their tax status as a charitable organization however protects them from the tight regulation and disclosure obligations faced by actual registered lobbyists. 

5. LEGISLATION: Corporations act a lot like puppet masters at ALEC, drafting the legislation and buying sit-downs with state legislators who lack the time and resources to adequately develop public policy.  Theresult is what the American Association of Justice calls,“a consistent pipeline of special interest legislation being funneled into state capitols” across the country.  ALEC’s model legislation and campaigns:

  • Oppose any increase in the minimum wage and would prohibit local citizens from making businesses pay workers a decent salary.
  • Limit the rights of those seriously injured, and the families of those killed by medical negligence by “capping noneconomic damages, eliminating joint and several liability,” and limiting attorney fees.
  • Oppose requiring that women be paid the same as men in comparable jobs.
  • Question the science behind climate change.
  • Oppose consumer-preferred caps on ATM fees and ceilings on credit card rates

6. REVENUE: ALEC’s annual revenue is made up almost entirely by corporations, who collectively payas much as $6 million a year in dues.  Only around one percentof their revenue is accounted for by membership dues from elected officials.

7. MAKEUP:  Of 72 of ALEC’s filled state chairman seats in 2010, 69 were held by Republicans.  20 of 23 public sector board members were also held by Republicans.  Despite this overwhelming imbalance, ALEC has always and continues to claim non-partisan status.

8. CORPORATE CONNECTION:  ALEC’s 2010 private sector board includes representatives from: Koch Industries, PhRMA, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, and over 20 more behemoth companies that pay ALEC for access to their public members.

Despite a series of reports and mainstream news articles over the last decade, very little beyond what is listed above is known about ALEC’s reach into state policy-making.  Theirs is a stunning case of a secretive, under-the-radar system of pay-to-play that has solidified ALEC’s status as one of the most powerful political organizations in the country.  For more information, don’t take our word for it – just ask them.

Ten questions to ask ALEC when they’re in Cincinnati:

1. A former ALEC spokesperson said that as a 501(c)3 organization, ALEC educates state legislators and “inform[s] ideas” but does not lobby.  What’s the difference?

2. ALEC promotes legislation and public policy but the public doesn’t have access to your model bills or much other information. Why not?

3. Who provides the majority of ALEC’s funding?

4. Does ALEC have or have they ever had any registered lobbyists?

5. A Fortune magazine article calls ALEC “the big political player you’ve never heard of.”  Why is ALEC frequently described as secretive and behind the scenes?

6. The New York Times wrote in January of this year that ALEC was at the time, “quietly spreading” anti-collective bargaining model legislation from state to state.  Is that accurate, in your view?

7. With the vast majority of ALEC’s public sector board members and state chair seats held by Republicans, does ALEC consider itself a partisan organization?

8. ALEC provides scholarships for state legislators to go to their conferences.  Does ALEC maintain a record of who pays for these scholarships?  Will you make that publicly available?

9. Many 501(c)3 organizations offer up some of, if not entire financial records in an effort to promote organizational transparency.  Has ALEC considered something similar?  If not, how come?

10. If ALEC were forced to abide by federal ethics laws, many of the organization’s activities would be classified as illegal (e.g., ALEC-sponsored dinners, sports games, and childcare for state legislators).  Has that raised any concerns about the propriety of these actions at the local level?

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