Smart ALEC: The Organization That May Be Helping Corporations Write Legislation for Your State

 Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

I’ve been gathering information for a couple of weeks for a post about ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—an organization that I had never heard of until earlier this year when I was doing research for some of my previous Turley Blawg posts. I wanted to write up an extensive and cohesive post for you—but I’ll be on my way to the hospital shortly. My daughter is due to deliver my first grandchild—and she wants me with her for the momentous event. I thought I’d provide you with excerpts from a few articles, videos, and links to a number of other articles about ALEC, a behind the scenes organization that helps corporations provide state legislators with model legislation at meetings and conferences that the  legislators take back to their states.

Recently, The Nation—in collaboration with the Center for Media and Democracy—did a series of investigative reports and developed a website called ALEC Exposed, which has a wealth of information about ALEC.

From John Nichols’s introduction to the ALEC Exposed reports in The Nation:

Founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other conservative activists frustrated by recent electoral setbacks, ALEC is a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics. Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to “develop alternatives to existing policies [and] keep them alive and available,” ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy. ALEC’s priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more. In states across the country they succeeded, with stacks of new laws signed by GOP governors like Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both ALEC alums.

 
From NPR Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny byLaura Sullivan 

Only 28 people work in ALEC’s dark, quiet headquarters in Washington, D.C. Michael Bowman, senior director of policy, explains that the little-known organization’s staff isn’t writing the bills. The real authors are the group’s members — a mix of state legislators and some of the biggest corporations in the country.

“Most of the bills are written by outside sources and companies, attorneys, [and legislative] counsels,” Bowman says.

Here’s how it works: ALEC is a membership organization. State legislators pay $50 a year to belong. Private corporations can join, too. The tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and drug-maker Pfizer Inc. are among the members. They pay tens of thousands of dollars a year. Tax records show that corporations collectively pay as much as $6 million a year.

With that money, the 28 people in the ALEC offices throw three annual conferences. The companies get to sit around a table and write “model bills” with the state legislators, who then take them home to their states.

Lisa Graves Comments on Legislation Drafted by Secretive Corporate-Lawmaker Coalition, ALEC (Democracy Now)

Links to all of the ALEC Exposed articles in The Nation:

ALEC Exposed Introduction by John Nichols

ALEC Exposed: Business Domination Inc. by Joel Rogers and Laura Dresser 

ALEC Exposed: Sabotaging Healthcare by Wendell Potter (The Nation/Wendell Potter)

ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection by Lisa Graves 

ALEC Exposed: Starving Public Schools byJulie Underwood (The Nation/Common Dreams)

ALEC Exposed: Rigging Elections by John Nichols

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From ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests In State Legislatures (People for the American Way)

Who Founded and Funds ALEC?
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, who helped build a nationwide right-wing political infrastructure following the reelection of Richard Nixon. In the same year, he helped establish the Heritage Foundation, now one of the most prominent right-wing policy institutes in the country. One year later, Weyrich founded the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, the predecessor of the Free Congress Foundation. In 1979, he co-founded and coined the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, and in 1981 he helped establish the ultraconservative Council on National Policy.

ALEC’s major funders include Exxon Mobil, the Scaife family (Allegheny Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation), the Coors family (Castle Rock Foundation), Charles Koch (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation), the Bradley family (The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation) and the Olin family (John M. Olin Foundation). These organizations consistently finance right-wing think tanks and political groups.

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From ALEC Bills Expose Corporate Drive to Advance Business Over Public Interest (Common Cause)

“The ALEC documents reveal an organization in which corporate executives sit side-by-side with elected representatives behind closed doors, drafting and then voting as equals on `model’ bills that once approved by ALEC are introduced in legislatures around the country,” Edgar said. “I’m sure millions of voters will be interested to learn that their state senators and representatives are working to enhance the bottom lines of ALEC-connected companies and trade groups, all of which spend millions of dollars annually to bankroll legislative campaigns. Our preliminary analysis indicates companies in ALEC’s leadership put about $330 million into state politics from 2001-10.”

Edgar said ALEC allows firms to play a direct role in writing and advancing legislation that enhances their bottom lines. For example, one member, the Corrections Corporation of America, was part of the drafting process for a “model” immigration law that makes it easier for state and local authorities to lock up suspected illegal immigrants; CCA would house many of those detainees at prisons it runs under contract with state governments.

In other cases, ALEC’s corporate members are lending their support to legislation far removed from their legitimate business interests.

“Consumers, and stockholders, may wonder why part of the money they put into Coca-Cola and its products is being used to push legislation that would give tax subsidies to private schools, or why the proceeds of their purchases from Intuit, a software company, are helping to advance legislation that would block local governments from regulating pesticides, “ Edgar asserted.

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From Koch, Exxon Mobil Among Corporations Helping Write State Laws by Alison Fitzgerald (Bloomberg):

Koch Industries Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) are among companies that would benefit from almost identical energy legislation introduced in state capitals from Oregon to New Mexico to New Hampshire — and that’s by design.

The energy companies helped write the legislation at a meeting organized by a group they finance, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington-based policy institute known as ALEC.

The corporations, both ALEC members, took a seat at the legislative drafting table beside elected officials and policy analysts by paying a fee between $3,000 and $10,000, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News.

The opportunity for corporations to become co-authors of state laws legally through ALEC covers a wide range of issues from energy to taxes to agriculture. The price for participation is an ALEC membership fee of as much as $25,000 — and the few extra thousands to join one of the group’s legislative-writing task forces. Once the “model legislation” is complete, it’s up to ALEC’s legislator members to shepherd it into law.

“This is just another hidden way for corporations to buy their way into the legislative process,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a Washington-based group that advocates for limits on money in politics.

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Who’s Really Writing States’ Legislation? (NPR)

National Chairman Of ALEC Responds To Report (NPR)

Fiercely Pro-Business Group’s Influence On Statehouses Draws Scrutiny (NPR)

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ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council

Lawrence O’Donnell on the buying of democracy by major corporations – The Last Word (May 17th, 2011)

 Countdown with Keith Olbermann ALEC & Corporate Influence with John Nichols

Nation Magazine Writer John Nichols Discusses the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

Secretive organization behind pro-corporate legislation [NBC 7-15-2011]

Paul Weyrich, a fonuder of ALEC on the Goo-Goo Syndrome (proper audio/video synchronization)

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ALEC Exposed Website (The Center for Media and Democracy)

About Alec Exposed (The Center for Media and Democracy)

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NOTE: I apologize if there is some duplication of information.

46 thoughts on “Smart ALEC: The Organization That May Be Helping Corporations Write Legislation for Your State

  1. Why Are McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Intuit Fleeing ALEC?
    By Brendan Greeley on April 13, 2012
    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-04-13/why-are-mcdonalds-coca-cola-and-intuit-fleeing-alec

    Excerpt:
    The American Legislative Exchange Council describes itself as a nonpartisan champion of free markets. But if you spend some time at an ALEC conference (Bloomberg Businessweek did, for an article last year) you will be hard-pressed to find many Democrats. And when the entire conference meets for lunch, you will hear from the podium nothing that would seem out of place in a press release from Eric Cantor’s office. Last year in New Orleans, for example, Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisana, told an ALEC annual meeting, “Defeating the president is crucial to defending our economy,” and “Obama has been a disaster.” I didn’t hear anyone boo. What I did hear was the sound of fevered applause when the conference played a videotaped greeting from Ronald Reagan.

    I’m not saying it’s wrong to feverishly applaud Ronald Reagan. I am saying that only in the most thinly defensible, legalistic sense can ALEC call itself “nonpartisan.” And the council doesn’t really support free markets, either. It supports the companies that fund it. This is an important distinction, because the corporations that donate to ALEC aren’t doing so to protect markets. They’re protecting favored tax treatments and pushing regulations that lock in their market positions. As best as we were able to determine in reporting our piece last year, corporations propose bills at the state level and then push them up to ALEC, which has both corporate and legislative members. ALEC pushes the legislative members to the foreground, stamps the bills as “model legislation,” and then the corporations push them back out to other state legislatures. This may not be the case with all ALEC legislation, but it certainly was with the bill we followed.

    So ALEC is not what it says it is. That’s not extraordinary: Few advocacy groups are what they say they are. In ALEC’s case, however, the fingers-crossed-behind-its-back description of itself is definitional. If the American Legislative Exchange Council operated with complete openness, it couldn’t operate at all. ALEC has attracted a wide and wealthy range of supporters precisely because it does its real work in a black box. Membership lists are secret. The origins of the model bills are secret. Deliberations and votes on model bills are secret. The model bills themselves are secret. The council has designed its entire structure to disguise industry-backed legislation as grassroots work from state legislators. If this becomes clear to everyone, there’s no reason for corporations to use it. And that is exactly what has been happening.

  2. KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut’s Owner Is The 12th Corporation To Drop ALEC
    By Ian Millhiser on Apr 19, 2012
    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/04/19/467264/kfc-taco-bell-and-pizza-hut-owner-is-the-12th-corporation-to-drop-alec/

    Excerpt:
    Yum! Brands, the owner of fast food brands KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut told Color of Change that they will no longer support the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing front group that, until recently, was a driving force behind state voter suppression and “stand your ground” gun laws. Yum!’s decision means a dozen corporations (plus the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) have now dropped the conservative group:

    “Now we know that Yum! Brands has joined the 11 other companies that have announced in recent weeks that they’re no longer members of ALEC. These companies are McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Mars Inc., Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Intuit, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Reed Elsevier (owner of LexisNexis and publisher of science and health information), American Traffic Solutions and Arizona Public Service.

    “We want to thank these companies for making the right decision, and we want to thank ColorOfChange members and our partners. We continue to call on all major corporations to stop funding ALEC given its involvement in voter suppression. Our members and allied groups are prepared to hold accountable companies that continue to associate themselves with an organization that has attacked voting rights, causing irreparable damage nationwide.”

  3. Special Rights for ALEC: Three States Exempt Stealth Corporate Lobbying Group From Lobbying Rules
    By Josh Israel on May 8, 2012
    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/05/08/479886/special-rights-for-alec-three-states-exempt-stealth-corporate-lobbying-group-from-lobbying-rules/

    Excerpt:
    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a tax-exempt coalition of conservative state legislators and corporations that “acts as a stealth business lobbyist,” has been subject to a steady stream of bad press and criticism in recent months. Critics have highlighted the group’s support for voter suppression, union busting efforts, environmental irresponsibility, harassment of immigrants, and “Shoot First” laws.

    A new report by the Center for Public Integrity reveals that legislators in three states have explicitly exempted the organization from state lobbying registration and disclosure laws:

    [In] three states — South Carolina, Indiana and Colorado — it turns out that ALEC has quietly, and by name, been specifically exempted from lobbyist status.

    The laws in those states allow ALEC to spend millions annually hosting corporate lobbyists and legislators at three yearly conferences, send “issue alerts” to legislators recommending votes on pending legislation, and draft press releases for legislators to use when pushing ALEC model bills — all without registering as a lobbyist or reporting these expenditures.

    Legislators can receive scholarships from ALEC’s corporate donors to attend conference events, or they can legally go on the taxpayer dime.

    Last month South Carolina State Rep. Boyd Brown (D) announced a bill to remove the special exemption for ALEC. He noted the irony that under current state law, “I can’t get in a car with a lobbyist and drive up the street, but ALEC can give me a scholarship to fly across the country.” The bill awaits consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.

  4. ALEC Memo Instructed Members To ‘Navigate Away’ From Tough Questions
    By Dan Froomkin
    05/14/2012
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/alec-memo-instructed-members-t_n_1510684.html

    Excerpt:
    WASHINGTON — When the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) first started facing public scrutiny about its extraordinary ability to turn “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists into state law, the secretive group sent out a list of talking points to its members, telling them what to do when faced with questions about the role of the group’s corporate sponsors.

    The guidance, in a nutshell: Change the subject.

    “The following information is designed to help you navigate away from those tough questions and get back to talking about policy,” says the memo, which was obtained by the public interest group Common Cause and provided exclusively to The Huffington Post. “If you are asked any of these questions, acceptable responses are provided, but please then direct the conversation back to the policy to which you want to discuss.”

    The sample questions, which the memo stated were mostly taken from actual encounters with journalists and state legislative committees, provide a good representation of the fundamental criticisms ALEC has been facing. Among the questions:

    * Didn’t ALEC actually write this legislation in conjunction with private corporations and then convince state legislators to pass it throughout the country?
    * Isn’t this just a front for big corporations to push their legislative policies on policy makers?
    * Isn’t this just another way for big corporations to lobby behind closed doors?
    * I see the huge cost for private companies and the minimal cost for legislators. Why the difference and doesn’t this jus [sic] prove that big corporations run ALEC?
    * How much does __________ contribute to ALEC? I’ve seen figures in the hundreds of thousands. Reports suggest __________ have been contributed to ALEC.
    * Isn’t it true that Koch (or insert other members’ names) provided ALEC over $500,000 in funding over the past few years?
    * Your corporate members are the real ones pushing the issues and controlling ALEC, aren’t they? They do give the most money.

    The model answers provided by ALEC have the consistent theme of attempting to obscure the influence of its corporate members and to shift emphasis onto the role of legislators, whose dues comprise only 2 percent of the group’s budget, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy.

    ALEC spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss declined to answer a series of questions about the memo, which appears to date back at least a year. “[W]e do not use that document at all,” Buss wrote in an email. “It was created by someone who left ALEC to pursue other opportunities and is not a current working document.”

  5. Sixteenth Group Drops ALEC |
    Earlier today, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers announced that it will “not be renewing our membership in [the American Legislative Exchange Council] when it expires next month,” joining fifteen other organizations which have quit the conservative group responsible for pushing model state legislation on a number of conservative issues, including voter suppression and the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws. NACSA joins Kaplan, Procter & Gamble, Yum! Brands, five Pennsylvania legislators, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Reed Elsevier, American Traffic Solutions, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, Intuit, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wendy’s, Mars, Inc., Arizona Public Service, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in dropping ALEC.

    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/05/14/484184/sixteenth-group-drops-alec/

  6. BREAKING: Eleven More Lawmakers Drop ALEC
    By Ian Millhiser on May 18, 2012
    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/05/18/486883/breaking-eleven-more-lawmakers-drop-alec/

    In the last two months, sixteen companies and other institutional supporters of the American Legislative Exchange Council announced that they would part ways with the organization — likely costing the conservative group hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual funding. Similarly, several dozen lawmakers broke ties with ALEC due to a progressive campaign highlighting the organization’s harmful impact on state lawmaking. ALEC drafts and promotes “model” conservative legislation, including bills disenfranchising thousands of student, low-income and minority voters, and the so-called “stand your ground” laws that may shield Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman from justice.

    Today, eleven more state lawmakers announced that they would no longer associate with ALEC. According to an email from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the ex-ALEC lawmakers are:

    8 Pennsylvannia legislators (Sen. Lisa Boscola, Sen. Leanna Washington, Sen. Anthony Williams, Rep. Nick Kotik, Rep. Ted Harhai, Rep. William Keller, Rep. Joseph Markosek, Rep. Joseph Petrarca)

    2 Illinois legislators (Rep. Mary Flowers, Rep. Brendan Phelps)

    1 Iowa legislator (Rep. Brian Quirk)

    All eleven of these lawmakers are Democrats. In total, 39 Democratic lawmakers have dropped ALEC.

    The campaign against ALEC already pressured the conservative group to eliminate its Public Safety and Elections task force, which was responsible for both voter suppression and many gun-related laws. Nevertheless, the group redoubled its focus on bills sacrificing the environment and the middle class in order to funnel even more wealth to the very wealthy. A short list of ALEC-sponsored initiatives includes state union-busting measures, bills repealing minimum wage laws, attempts to privatize public lands, bills to repeal capital gains taxes and estate taxes, fighting any efforts to address manmade climate change while touting “the many benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment,” repealing paid sick day laws, requiring a super-majority to raise taxes and pushing rules deeming that kids eating rat poison is an “acceptable risk.”

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