We have written in several prior issues about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and have attempted to expose this group for what it really is. A recent report sheds more light on ALEC. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released this new report last month. The report, “ALEC at 40: Turning Back the Clock on Prosperity and Progress,” is most interesting. The report identifies and analyzes 466 ALEC bills that were introduced in the state legislatures so far in 2013. You won’t find any bills that are pro-consumer in any respect.
ALEC celebrated its 40th anniversary at a meeting in Chicago last month. At this meeting – as in all ALEC meetings – lobbyists from U.S. and foreign corporations were able to vote as equals alongside state legislators from around the country to adopt ALEC so-called “model” bills. These bills from ALEC will be distributed nationwide with little or no disclosure of their ALEC roots. For years, corporate America has worked through ALEC to get anti-consumer and anti-worker legislation passed in legislative bodies in several states.
This year, ALEC has gone to new lengths to hide its lobbying of legislators from the public eye. For example, it has taken to stamping all its documents as exempt from state public records laws, dodging open records with a “dropbox” website, among other tricks. After Watergate, many states strengthened their laws regarding open meetings and open records, but real sunshine on government is anathema to ALEC. Nick Surgey, CMD Director of Research, made this most astute observation:
When ALEC was born, Richard Nixon was president. Gasoline was 40 cents a gallon and the minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. Forty years later, ALEC legislators seem to be hankering for this bygone era, pursuing an agenda to roll back renewables, expand the use of fossil fuels, and suppress wages and benefits for even the lowest paid American workers.
In this recent report, the CMD identifies 466 ALEC “model” bills introduced so far in 2013, which pursue a “retrograde agenda.” Some of the key findings from the report are set out below:
• CMD identified 466 ALEC bills from the 2013 session. Eighty-four of these passed and became law. ALEC bills were introduced in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2013. The top ALEC states were West Virginia (25 bills) and Missouri (21 bills).
• Despite ALEC’s effort to distance itself from Voter ID and Stand Your Ground by disbanding its controversial Public Safety and Elections Task Force, 62 of these laws were introduced. Ten were Stand Your Ground bills and 52 were bills to enact or tighten Voter ID restrictions. Five states enacted additional Voter ID restrictions, and two states passed Stand Your Ground.
• CMD identified 117 ALEC bills that affect wages and worker rights. Fourteen of these became law. These bills included so-called “Right to Work” legislation, part of the ALEC agenda since at least 1979, introduced in 15 states this year. Other bills would preempt local living or minimum wage ordinances, facilitate the privatization of public services, scrap defined benefit pension plans, or undermine the ability of unions to organize to protect workers.
• CMD identified 139 ALEC bills that affect public education. Thirty-one of these became law. Only seven states did not have an ALEC education bill introduced this year. Among other things, these bills would siphon taxpayer money from the public education system to benefit for-profit private schools, including the “Great Schools Tax Credit Act,” introduced in 10 states.
• CMD identified 77 ALEC bills that advance a polluter agenda. Seventeen of these became law. Numerous ALEC “model” bills were introduced that promote a fossil fuel and fracking agenda and undermine environmental regulations. The “Electricity Freedom Act,” which would repeal state renewable portfolio standards, was introduced in six states this year.
• CMD identified 71 ALEC bills narrowing citizen access to the courts. Fourteen of these became law. These bills cap damages, limit corporate liability, or otherwise make it more difficult for citizens to hold corporations to account when their products or services result in injury or death.
• CMD identified nine states that have been inspired by ALEC’s “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” to crack down on videographers documenting abuses on factory farms. These so-called “ag-gag” bills erode First Amendment rights, and threaten the ability of journalists and investigators to pursue food safety and animal welfare investigations.
• CMD identified 11 states that introduced bills to override or prevent local paid sick leave ordinances, such as the one recently enacted in New York City. At least eight of these bills were sponsored by known ALEC members. Although ALEC has not adopted a preemption bill as an official “model,” the National Restaurant Association, an ALEC member, brought a bill to override local paid sick leave ordinances to an ALEC meeting in 2011, along with a target map and other materials.
ALEC has faced increasing scrutiny since CMD launched its ALEC Exposed project in July 2011, making the entire ALEC library of more than 800 “model” bills publicly available for the first time. Since that time, groups including Color of Change, Common Cause, Progress Now, People for the American Way, the Voters Legislative Transparency Project and others have put ALEC in the spotlight like never before.
One can learn lots about a group by checking out its supporters, its funding sources and its agenda of activities. When the corporate and legislator members of ALEC met last month they worked from a set agenda that in large part was very much anti-consumer and anti-worker. The corporate-sponsored workshops adopted legislative priorities for the coming year. Incidentally, some of the workshops carried a $40,000 pricetag for corporate sponsors. The following items were on the agenda:
• New ways were discussed to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or county governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds. Members of the Agriculture Subcommittee – which is chaired by Jeff Case of CropLife America – promoted a bill to thwart local democratic control by prohibiting city or local governments from regulating genetically modified plant seeds. It should be noted that the bill would benefit many members of CropLife’s trade association and other big agri-business companies. Contrary to Jeffersonian principles of local democracy, for years ALEC has promoted bills to preempt local efforts to establish everything from paid sick days to municipal broadband.
• Presentations were made on how fracking America can lead to increased profits through exporting America’s natural gas. American Petroleum Institute representatives Jon Shore and Rebecca Heimlich gave a presentation on “Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing: Coming Soon to Your District.” Jason French of energy company Cheniere Energy presented to the Energy Subcommittee about “LNG [Liquid Natural Gas] exports: A Story of American Innovation and Economic Opportunity.”
• Nuclear energy and offshore drilling were discussed. Other energy-related agenda items included a presentation on “Nuclear Energy’s Continuing Role in Providing Baseload Electricity,” and another on “Developing America’s Offshore Energy Potential: Good Sense and Good Cents.” ALEC also considered a “Resolution in Opposition to a Carbon Tax.”
• More climate change denial was quite evident at the meeting. Members of the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force were part of a breakfast plenary session called “A Thoughtful Approach to Climate Science.”
• There were redoubled efforts to undermine renewable energy initiatives and continue to rely on coal and other fossil fuels. One workshop, which cost $40,000 to sponsor, was titled “The Economic Benefits and Political Challenges to Coal Exports.” Also on the docket was another bill to repeal renewable energy standards, the “Market Power Renewables Act,” which comes after the failure of the ALEC “Electricity Freedom Act” in 2013.
• Discussions took place about blocking GMO labeling laws and ordinances that would allow consumers to know if they are buying genetically engineered food. This is one of the goals of agribusiness and chemical firms that bankroll ALEC.
• There were updates to some of ALEC’s long-standing anti-union policies.
• Objections were renewed to linking the minimum wage to the consumer price index. ALEC renewed its “Resolution Opposing Increases in Minimum Wage Linked to CPI.”
• Privatization and outsourcing of toll roads were discussed. Members of the Transportation Subcommittee discussed “ALEC Principles on Toll Roads,” which backs privatization of toll rolls, and is particularly relevant to ALEC members Cintra, Macquerie, and Transurban (all foreign firms). Cintra and Macquarie have teamed up to cut multi-billion dollar contract deals to take control of highways in places like Indiana, basically granting companies a monopoly to help state government raise quick revenue in the short term, but in the long-term saddling consumers with higher fees and the state with lost revenue.
• New efforts were discussed to eliminate occupational licensing for any profession, which help ensure that people who want to call themselves doctors, long-haul truckers, accountants, or barbers meet basic standards of training and expertise to guarantee that consumers are safe and get what they pay for.
• Expanding virtual “schools,” which enriches ALEC’s online school corporate funders, such as K12 Inc. was discussed. The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) – the State Policy Network affiliate in the state – made a presentation on “digital education.” IPI employees had pushed a Virtual Charter School plan in Illinois, apparently in collaboration with ALEC member K12 Inc., the nation’s largest provider of online charter schools (which has become notorious for poor educational outcomes and high profit margins). Additionally, at least two “workshops” – which carry a $40,000 pricetag – dealt with online education: “Modeling State Funding Formulas, K-12 Online Course Providers” and “Statewide Full-Time Virtual Schools: The Case for Parent Choice vs. Local Control.”
• More flawed testing for colleges was on the agenda. ALEC has long promoted increased reliance on high-stakes testing for elementary and high school students, which many educators say has altered the classroom dynamic and interfered with teaching. A bill discussed at the Chicago meeting would impose that same costly testing regime to the college level with “The Collegiate Learning Assessment Bill.”
In the past year, at least 49 global corporations have dropped their ALEC membership, apparently recognizing that they don’t want their brands publicly associated with an organization that pushes such things as discriminatory voting laws and anti-worker legislation. ALEC has operated far under the radar of public opinion for far too long. It’s time for this powerful group to face the “light of day” and have its agenda fully disclosed for all to see. When you consider that most state legislatures, because of inadequate resources and staffing, have to depend on lobbyists for information, advice and counsel, it opens the door for groups like ALEC to have tremendous influence with them.
Sources: CMD Release and Report
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