ALEC Exposed: A Nationwide Blueprint for the Rightwing Takeover

by John Nichols

“Never has the time been so right,” Louisiana State Representative Noble Ellington told conservative legislators gathered in Washington to plan the radical remaking of policies in the states. It was one month after the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans had grabbed 680 legislative seats and secured a power trifecta—control of both legislative chambers and the governorship—in twenty-one states. Ellington was speaking for hundreds of attendees at a “States and Nation Policy Summit,” featuring GOP stars like Texas Governor Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Convened by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—“the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators,” as the spin-savvy group describes itself—the meeting did not intend to draw up an agenda for the upcoming legislative session. That had already been done by ALEC’s elite task forces of lawmakers and corporate representatives. The new legislators were there to grab their weapons: carefully crafted model bills seeking to impose a one-size-fits-all agenda on the states.

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.

The details of ALEC’s model bills have been available only to the group’s 2,000 legislative and 300 corporate members. But thanks to a leak to Aliya Rahman, an Ohio-based activist who helped organize protests at ALEC’s Spring Task Force meeting in Cincinnati, The Nation has obtained more than 800 documents representing decades of model legislation. Teaming up with the Center for Media and Democracy, The Nation asked policy experts to analyze this never-before-seen archive.

The articles included below are the first products of that examination. They provide an inside view of the priorities of ALEC’s corporate board and billionaire benefactors (including Tea Party funders Charles and David Koch). “Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest,” says Bob Edgar of Common Cause. “This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic processes.” The full archive of ALEC documents is available at a new website, alecexposed.org, thanks to the Center for Media and Democracy, which has provided powerful tools for progressives to turn this knowledge into power. The data tell us that the time has come to refocus on the battle to loosen the grip of corporate America and renew democracy in the states.

In coordination with the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation, Common Dreams will be re-posting many of the articles examining the leaked ALEC files.  To see what's already available go here and here. Updates to Common Dreams will be added here.

 

CMD Unveils Trove of Over 800 ALEC "Model" Bills Voted by Corps

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 13, 2011
2:16 PM

Center for Media & Democracy Unveils Trove of Over 800 ALEC "Model Bills" Secretly Voted on by Corporations

WASHINGTON - July 13 - Today, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) made available over 800 “model” bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporate and legislative members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC was created by right-wing political apparatchik Paul Weyrich in 1973. ALEC has become the premier institution for crafting and promoting model legislation and resolutions that largely benefit its corporate members. Until today, it has been difficult to trace the controversial and oddly uniform bills popping up in legislatures across the country directly to ALEC.

The public can now examine the array of ALEC model bills for the first time and link them to bills being introduced in their own state house. CMD has uploaded a full archive of ALEC bills with annotations and analysis on the bills, on its website "ALECexposed.org". We make these bills available in the public interest, in conjunction with analysis provided in today’s edition of The Nation Magazine. The bills are in a wiki to empower crowd-sourcing by reporters and citizen journalists to help compile additional analysis of the bills and resolutions.

“Through ALEC, global corporations and politicians vote behind closed doors on bills to rewrite laws reaching into almost every area of American life,” said Lisa Graves, CMD’s executive director, adding “Voters have no idea that legislative proposals dramatically changing our laws have been pre-approved and underwritten by corporations like Koch and others in ALEC.”

HELP WANTED!

Reporters, researchers, and citizen journalists can visit the ALEC Exposed archive here and help us document where these bills are moving or have passed. They are organized into nine topic areas: Worker and Consumer Rights, Tort Reform and Injured Americans, Privatizing Schools and Higher Ed Policy, Health, Pharmaceuticals and Safety Net Programs,Environment, Energy and Agriculture, Democracy, Voter Rights and Federal Power, Taxes and Budgets, and Guns, Prisons, Crime and Immigration. NEWLY CREATED ALEC RESOURCES FROM CMD

ALEC FAQS, what it is, how it is funded, and what goes on behind closed doors.

ALEC POLITICIANS, an incomplete but growing list of ALEC leaders, “state representatives,” congressional alumni, and more. (The list includes Speaker of the House John Boehner, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and blasts from the past like Donald Rumsfeld).

ALEC CORPORATIONS, a growing list of ALEC corporations in leadership past and present.

ALEC FUNDING, our analysis demonstrates ALEC’s almost complete reliance on corporations and corporate foundations, with steeply discounted legislative dues serving as window dressing.

ALEC ANALYSIS FROM THE NATION MAGAZINE, today The Nation magazine published a series of articles tackling major aspects of the archive: labor rights, democracy, health care, the Koch Brothers’ role, and school privatization. These articles are the beginning of an inquiry we hope will be pursued by journalists, academics, and researchers across the country.

ALEC AGENDA IN BRIEF

  • Starving State Government of Revenue to Make It Dysfunctional and Despised.This past session, ALEC members introduced scores of ALEC bills to grant tax breaks to big corporations or cripple state’s ability to raise revenue, including new constitutional rules limiting state taxing powers. Simultaneously, ALEC bills attempt to turn major government programs into a profit-making enterprise.
  • Transforming Government for the Public Good into “Government, Inc.” ALEC bills encompass over 20 years of effort to privatize public education through an ever-expanding school voucher system, to turn Medicare and Medicaid into voucher programs, to privatize public pension funds for the benefit of Wall Street firms, and to privatize almost all aspects of social service delivery including prisons and prison labor. Many firms in ALEC would benefit from these schemes to turn government into a for-profit operation.
  • Race to the Bottom in Wages for Americans. ALEC bills would repeal state or local laws that boost workers wages such as “living wage” and prevailing wage laws. ALEC bills call a starting minimum wage an “unfunded mandate” but think that prison labor is just terrific. ALEC also supports a radical “free trade” agenda that sends U.S. manufacturing and an increasing number of service-sector jobs overseas.
  • Defunding Traditional Supporters of the Democratic Party. ALEC purports to be nonpartisan, but only 1 of 104 legislators in ALEC’s leadership is a Democrat. The “ALEC Exposed” archive contains dozens of bills to defund public sector and private sector unions and to make it harder for trial lawyers to bring cases when consumers are injured or killed by dangerous products.
  • Disenfranchising Democratic Voters. ALEC provides model “Voter ID” legislation that requires all voters to present official state photo identification. ALEC provides the blueprint then disclaims all responsibility when states then target college students, the elderly, the poor, and other traditional Democratic constituencies.
  • Federalism Hypocrisy. ALEC supports the preemption of any policy at any level of government that raises wages (such as living wage laws), expands health care (such as insurance coverage for autism), and protects consumers (such as local pesticide and zoning rules). But its bills are designed to be introduced in every state, nationalizing the corporate agenda through your statehouses.
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The nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism, media "of, by and for the people." Our programs include PR Watch, a quarterly investigative journal; six books by CMD staff; Spin of the Day; the Weekly Spin listserv; and, Congresspedia and SourceWatch, part of our wiki-based investigative journalism collaborative to which anyone, including you, can contribute.

 

ALEC Exposed: Sabotaging Healthcare Reform, Single-Payer Efforts

by Wendell Potter

This article is part of a Nation series exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council, in collaboration with the Center For Media and Democracy. John Nichols introduces the series.

Days after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, I arrived at the spring 2010 meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in Denver, where a fellow consumer representative introduced me to one of the hundreds of industry lobbyists swarming the convention center. “She’s somebody we can work with,” he said, clearly convinced that she would deal with us in good faith, even if we might disagree on certain policy issues. Over the next several months, other consumer reps agreed that she really did seem to want to do what was right for patients, even if the organization that paid her salary often seemed to care more about profits than people.

I was skeptical. I knew from my two decades as an insurance company executive that the industry often conducts duplicitous charm offensives, assuring the public that insurers support consumer-focused reform while executives work surreptitiously to block any reform that might curtail profits. So I was not shocked when I found out that Joan Gardner, executive director of state services for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association’s Office of Policy and Representation, had been keeping something important from us. As a leading member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force, she’d been helping write legislation designed to ensure that any healthcare reform implemented at the state level would benefit insurance companies far more than their policyholders. She was also leading an effort to recruit more dues-paying members to ALEC.

I learned of Gardner’s clandestine work when a reform advocate alerted me to a story about a resolution her ALEC committee had drafted in 2008 to forbid “government-mandated health care.” Apparently fearful that a bill would reach Obama’s desk that would allow states to establish single-payer systems, ALEC crafted the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, which, despite its Orwellian name, was written to deny the citizens of any state that passed it the freedom to set up such a system. By declaring that Congressional attempts to regulate health insurance at the federal level would be unconstitutional, it would effectively ban not only a federal single-payer proposal but also a federally created health insurance exchange and a federally operated public insurance option. ALEC has boasted that some forty-four states have introduced its Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act (which itself would not withstand a constitutional challenge). What it hasn’t acknowledged is that attempts to pass healthcare-nullification bills have failed in at least twenty-five states. Only eight states have passed the act so far.

Reviewing ALEC’s healthcare-related bills and resolutions from the past few years makes it clear that insurers realized early on that the best way to block the profit-threatening provisions of any federal reform would be to attack them at the state level through ALEC. With Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, insurers assumed some kind of healthcare reform was inevitable, so they adopted a strategy to shape rather than stop reform. Its top five goals became:

§ Keeping single-payer proposals off the table;

§ Ensuring that the final bill contain a clause requiring all Americans not eligible for an existing federal program to buy coverage from a private insurance company;

§ Preventing the new law from establishing a government-run plan (the “public option”) that would compete with private insurers;

§ Making sure that the reform law is implemented primarily at the state level, to keep the federal government from assuming any significant new oversight of private insurers’ business practices; and

§ Keeping any new regulations and consumer protections to a minimum.

Insurers achieved their first four goals, with ALEC playing a key role in a well-coordinated effort to keep the most progressive proposals from being enacted at the state or federal level. Where it fell short was in blocking provisions of the law that will impose more rigorous oversight of insurance companies’ business practices. After Obama signed the bill into law, the industry turned its attention to influencing how the new regulations would be written (by the NAIC and federal bureaucrats) and how the law would be implemented in the states.

As its archive reveals, ALEC has been at work for more than a decade on what amounts to a comprehensive wish list for insurers: from turning over the Medicare and Medicaid programs to them—assuring them a vast new stream of revenue—to letting insurers continue marketing substandard yet highly profitable policies while giving them protection from litigation. Republican lawmakers continue to promote model bills from the 1990s. Some of the most far-reaching and industry-favorable measures adopted by ALEC over the years:

§ The Resolution Urging Congress to Create Private Financing of the Medicare Program, initially adopted in 1998, calls on Congress to privatize Medicare by permitting the creation of Individual Medical Accounts, similar to Health Savings Accounts that accompany high-deductible health plans and that have become attractive tax shelters for well-to-do Americans. Individual Medical Accounts, along with vouchers, are a feature of Representative Paul Ryan’s federal proposal to privatize Medicare.

§ The Resolution on Medicaid Funding Through a Federal Block Grant, adopted in 2008, urges Congress to replace the current financing mechanism for Medicaid with block grants, as Ryan proposes. In another proposal to privatize the program, the Access to Medicaid Act, beneficiaries would receive vouchers to buy insurance policies in the private market.

§ The Health Care Choice Act for States, adopted in 2007, would permit the sale of individual health insurance policies across state lines, which would not be subject to the mandated benefits required by in-state policies. The effect would be to make comprehensive policies significantly more expensive than they already are. (Wyoming was the first state to enact this model bill, in 2010, followed by Georgia and Maine this year.)

§ The Non-Economic Damage Awards Act, adopted in 2002, would limit medical malpractice awards for damages like pain and suffering to $250,000, making such lawsuits infeasible. (Few lawyers would be willing to represent patients if the total award were limited to that amount because they probably would not be able to cover their costs.) Insurers and the American Medical Association have joined forces in lobbying for such tort reform.

In sum, ALEC’s model legislation would not only undermine the consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act; it would shred the social safety net for the most vulnerable among us: older, disabled and poorer Americans, and those who become victims of a system that is supposed to heal, not harm.

Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter is former Vice President of corporate communications at CIGNA, one of the United States' largest health insurance companies. In June 2009, he testified against the HMO industry in the U.S. Senate as a whistleblower. He is now the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.

 

ALEC Exposed: How Corporations Are Taking Over Our Democracy

by Ruth Conniff

Today the Center for Media and Democracy rolled out a new web site, ALEC Exposed, based on a massive leak of information from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the powerful coalition of corporations, rightwing foundations, and state legislators who have been literally writing the laws at the state level to push their pro-business, anti- democracy agenda.

For many years, big corporations, including Kraft, Pfizer, WalMart, and AT&T, to name a few, have been paying hefty dues to belong to a group that gives them access to state legislators. The legislators, for a much smaller fee, get to attend annual conferences, receive briefings from ALEC, and get the honor of putting their names on boilerplate legislation the groups drafts.

One of the many new pieces of information to emerge from the impressive ALEC Exposed project is that the corporate members of this group vote these bills out of their own, corporate committees before passing them on to their pet legislators.

"We've discovered through a whistleblower that these corporations actually vote on these bills behind closed doors, before legislators or the people they represent even hear about them," Lisa Graves, the director of the Center for
Media and Democracy said today.

If you live in a state like Wisconsin, the results of this coordinated assault on democracy are all too evident.

Much of the group's legislation--privatizing the public schools, taking away collective bargaining rights, loosening environmental regulation, even suppressing the vote--got a huge boost when ALEC foot soldiers, including Governor Scott Walker and the heads of both of Wisconsin's legislative chambers, took power. The group's hard work and careful planning for just such an opportunity over the last two decades accounts for the head-spinning all-fronts attack ordinary citizens are currently enduring in Wisconsin.

State representative (and Progressive magazine blogger) Mark Pocan went "behind enemy lines" to write a piece about attending an ALEC conference for The Progressive Magazine back in March 2008, in a darkly comic piece titled "Through the Corporate Looking Glass".

That piece is more relevant--and less funny--now that ALEC has become even more powerful.

A big controversy erupted when Professor William Cronon at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, blogged about ALEC's corporate takeover of the state and became the target of Republican attacks and had his emails seized by Governor Scott Walker's administration.

Walker and Co. will be even less pleased when they see ALEC Exposed.

The site, which posts and analyzes more than 800 bills produced by ALEC, is a treasure trove of information, including never-released text of the actual ALEC bills broken down and organized by topic, information about the corporate membership of ALEC's task forces on particular issues, the names of ALEC's state chairmen, and the effects of the bills: on working people, schools, the environment, consumer rights, and our democracy.

"We know that we are standing on the shoulders of some tremendous investigative work," Lisa Graves said in a press conference on the roll-out, "But we believe this is a special contribution."

Reporters and citizens can now look at bills that were introduced in their states under the names of their elected officials, and trace the actual, corporate origins of these profoundly anti-democratic efforts.

"We know, for example, that Kraft has been the head of the task force for ALEC responsible for anti-union bills," Graves said.

On the schools issue, which I wrote about in a Progressive cover story a couple of months ago, it turns out that Connections Academy, the company that runs Wisconsin's virtual charter schools, which are poised to displace bricks-and-mortar public schools throughout the rural parts of the state under a Republican proposal, is the head of ALEC's task force on education.

The Center for Media and Democracy deserves a lot of credit for this tremendous addition to our understanding of what is happening to our states. Now, as ALEC Exposed puts it, it's up to us to dig in and spread the word.

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs. Conniff was a regular on CNN’s Sunday Capital Gang and is now a regular on PBS’s To the Contrary. She also has appeared frequently on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal and on NPR and Pacifica.

 

Explaining the 'ALEC Exposed' Project

by Lisa Graves

The Center for Media and Democracy has obtained copies of more than 800 model bills approved by corporations through ALEC meetings, after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center. We have analyzed and marked-up those bills and made them available at ALEC Exposed

In April 2011, some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. met behind closed doors in Cincinnati about their wish lists for changing state laws.  This exchange was part of a series of corporate meetings nurtured and fueled by the Koch Industries family fortune and other corporate funding.

At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their "task force" co-chairs -- all Republican state legislators -- to approve “model” legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC).

There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The Center obtained copies of more than 800 model bills approved by companies through ALEC meetings, after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center. Those bills, which the Center has analyzed and marked-up, are now available at ALEC Exposed.

The bills that ALEC corporate leaders, companies and politicians voted on this spring now head to a luxury hotel in New Orleans' French Quarter for ALEC’s national retreat on August 3rd. In New Orleans, Koch Industries -- through its chief lobbyist -- and lobbyists of other global companies are slated for a “joint board meeting” with a rookery of Republican legislators who are on ALEC's public board.  (ALEC says only the legislators have a final say on all model bills.  ALEC has previously said that "The policies are debated and voted on by all members. Public and private members vote separately on policy.")  Before the bills are publicly introduced in state legislatures by ALEC politicians or alumni in the governor’s offices, they will be cleansed of any reference to the secret corporate voting or who really wrote them.

With CMD’s publication of the bills, the public can now pierce through some of the subterfuge about ALEC, and see beyond the names of the bills to what the bills really do, alongside the names of corporations that lead or have helped lead ALEC's agenda and accompanied by analysis to help decode the bills.

Many of the bills have obvious financial benefits for corporations but little or no direct benefit to the constituents that a particular legislator was elected to represent. Still, it may be tempting to dismiss ALEC as merely institutionalizing business as usual for lobbyists, except that ALEC’s tax-free donations are linked to it not spending a substantial amount of time on lobbying to change the law. ALEC has publicly claimed its “unparalleled” success in terms of the number of model bills introduced and enacted. But seeing the text of the bills helps reveal the actual language of legal changes ALEC corporations desire, beyond what can be known by the PR in their titles. ALEC says it has created a “unique” partnership between corporations and politicians. And it has.

It is a worrisome marriage of corporations and politicians, which seems to normalize a kind of corruption of the legislative process -- of the democratic process--in a nation of free people where the government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, not the corporations.

The full sweep of the bills and their implications for America’s future, the corporate voting, and the extent of the corporate subsidy of ALEC's legislation laundering all raise substantial questions. These questions should concern all Americans. They go to the heart of the health of our democracy and the direction of our country. When politicians -- no matter their party -- put corporate profits above the real needs of the people who elected them, something has gone very awry.

As President Teddy Roosevelt observed in response to corporate money corrupting the democratic process a century ago, "The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth . . . . The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being."

--Lisa Graves, Executive Director, Center for Media and Democracy

P.S. ALEC anointed the billionaire Koch Brothers as two of the first few recipients of its “Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award.” Smith argued that self-interest promoted more good in society than those who intend to do good. "Greed is good!" is how Oliver Stone translated this concept to fiction on screen.

On that score, perhaps, the award was apt, except that ALEC apparently ignores Smith’s caution that bills and regulations from business must be viewed with the deepest skepticism. In his book, ''Wealth of Nations,'' Smith urged that any law proposed by businessmen “ought always to be listened to with great precaution . . . It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

One need not look far in the ALEC bills to find reasons to be deeply concerned and skeptical.Take a look for yourself.

Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the publisher of PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts.

 

ALEC, For-Profit Criminal Justice, and Wisconsin

by Brendan Fischer

As the first half of 2011 has revealed, Wisconsin is not a moderate “purple” state, but a state divided between staunchly “blue” progressives and righteous “red” right-wingers. That rift is particularly apparent in legislative conflicts over the criminal justice system, a debate spurred by corporate interests represented in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and perpetuated by ALEC legislative members, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Wisconsin’s history and public policy reflects the red/blue divide. It is the state that gave birth to the Republican Party, which supported slavery abolition, and the John Birch Society, which opposed the civil rights movement. In the first half of the 20th Century, the state elected both progressive hero Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette and right-wing extremist Joe McCarthy. It is the state that elected both former Senator Russ Feingold (D) and Representative Paul Ryan (R).

Wisconsin also produced Paul Weyrich, who in 1973 co-founded both the Heritage Foundation and ALEC (and in subsequent years, Free Congress and Moral Majority). Weyrich's ALEC, it seems, has been a factory for many of the state’s most recent right-wing policy initiatives.

Wisconsin’s Progressive Traditions Resist For-Profit Prisons and Bail-Bonds

Elements of Wisconsin's criminal justice system reflect Wisconsin’s progressive traditions. Since 1979, Wisconsin has been ahead of most U.S. states in banning commercial bail-bonding (46 states still use it), joining the rest of the world in recognizing the practice as unacceptable (it is criminalized in countries like England and Canada). Posting another person's bail for profit has a record of corrupting the sentencing process, and puts the decision of whether an accused person goes free in the hands of a profit-oriented business. Wisconsin has led the way in exploring evidence-based, pre-trial release alternatives; according to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisolm, Wisconsin counties like Milwaukee have been working with the Vera Institute for years to "get money out of the bail process altogether," using evidence-based practices "to determine who should not be released and who can be released under supervision," with necessary intervention to protect public safety.

Additionally, unlike 25 other states, Wisconsin has resisted the move toward establishing for-profit prisons. Nationwide, private prisons have been a growth industry: the number of persons incarcerated over the past decade has increased 16 percent, but the number held in private correctional facilities has increased 33 percent on the state level and 120 percent on the federal level. Meanwhile, the two largest private prison operators, Correction Corporations of America and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut), raked in a combined $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010. According to the Justice Policy Institute, “as revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration.”

Both the for-profit prison industry and the for-profit bail-bond industries have done so through ALEC, the national organization that facilitates corporate-sponsored “model bills” for legislators to introduce in their states.

ALEC and For-Profit Criminal Justice

The American Bail Coalition (ABC), the for-profit bail bond industry’s national organization and lobbying wing, calls ALEC the industry’s “life preserver”. ABC pays for ALEC membership, and a representative sits on the ALEC corporate board (the “Private Enterprise Board”) as well as ALEC’s Executive Committee. The trade group boasts that “during its two decade involvement with ALEC, ABC has written 12 model bills fortifying the commercial bail industry.”

The nation’s largest private prison operator CCA is also an ALEC member and funder, and pays for a seat on the “Public Safety Task Force” that approves ALEC model legislation dealing with crime and penalties. Since the late 1980s and 1990s, ALEC has created model bills that lengthen sentences, which have dramatically increased incarceration rates, and bills that privatize prisons, putting more of those inmates under the control of for-profit corporations.

Wisconsin politicians have long ties to ALEC. Former Governor Tommy Thompson was involved in ALEC’s early years. Milwaukee’s groundbreaking “school choice” program was based on ALEC model legislation. ALEC alum Scott Walker’s first act upon becoming governor was to introduce an omnibus “tort reform” bill mirroring many ALEC bills. But, the state’s progressive traditions have thus far trumped efforts by ALEC’s Wisconsin legislators to open the state to commercial bail-bonding and private prison industries. But they are still trying.

ALEC Legislators Try Opening Wisconsin to Bail-Bonding

In 2003, Wisconsin Rep. Scott Suder (R-69) introduced a bill to reinstate commercial bail-bonding. Suder was a longtime ALEC alum and former co-chair of the ALEC “Criminal Justice Task Force,” which was also co-chaired by representatives of ABC (formerly known as the National Association of Bail Companies).* At the time, editorial boards from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal wrote in opposition to the Suder-sponsored plan. In response, ALEC board member and American Bail Coalition Chair William B. Carmichael wrote an op-ed in the Wisconsin State Journal defending commercial bail bonds. Carmichael also donated to Suder's campaign the previous year.

That effort failed, but this June Rep. Robin Vos (R-63), the new state chair of ALEC in Wisconsin, squeezed a last-minute provision into the state budget that would return for-profit bail bondsmen to the state. The American Bail Coalition had one lobbyist operating since the beginning of the year and registered a second lobbyist in the state on June 1, just as Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee convened.

Governor Scott Walker vetoed the bail-bond provision, citing the need for a fuller discussion on the matter, but ALEC State Chair Rep. Vos said “there’s no doubt” the proposal would be reintroduced. According to American Bail Coalition Executive Director Dennis Bartlett, Walker supports commercial bail-bonding in Wisconsin; this is no surprise in light of Walker’s long support for the ALEC agenda.

ALEC alum Scott Walker and For-Profit Prisons

Current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a proud ALEC member when he was in the state legislature. Among the ALEC bills he introduced were "truth in sentencing” and several ALEC-inspired bills to privatize the state's prison system; these bills had been approved by the ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force (of which the for-profit prison company Corrections Corporation of America is a member, and at times the co-chair). Since taking office, Governor Walker has continued to push these ALEC-supported “criminal justice” efforts.

In 1997, then-Representative Walker introduced (and the legislature passed) the ALEC "truth in sentencing" act, which requires inmates serve their full sentence without options for parole or supervised release. The law takes away incentives for prisoners to reduce prison time through good behavior and participation in counseling, and eliminates the ability for judges and parole boards to decide that the financial and social costs of keeping a particular person incarcerated no longer furthers public safety goals. The state estimated that the first 21 months after the law took effect would require 990 inmates to spend 18,384 additional months in jail, costing taxpayers an extra $41 million. In the seven years after the law took effect, Wisconsin’s prison population increased 14%, with no correlative public safety benefit or additional decline in crime rates. Further, the annual budget for the state prison system increased from $700 million in 1999 to $1.2 billion in 2009, becoming the third-largest expenditure in the 2009-2011 state budget.

At the time, "[t]here was never any mention that ALEC or anybody else had any involvement" in the crafting of the bill, said Walter Dickey, a former head of Wisconsin’s prison system and current University of Wisconsin Law Professor, and who had paid close attention to the truth-in-sentencing debate.

During this period of growing prison populations, then-Representative Scott Walker introduced several bills between 1997 and 1999 that would allow private prisons in Wisconsin, including one to privatize state prison operations (see the ALEC bill here), and another allowing private corrections companies to open prisons in Wisconsin to house inmates from other states (see the ALEC bill here). Walker noted in 1998 that longtime ALEC member Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) wanted to expand into Wisconsin. While those bills did not pass, some inmates were contracted-out to private prisons in other states, and CCA has registered lobbyists in the state ever since.

"Clearly ALEC had proposed model legislation," Walker told American Radio Works in 2002. "And probably more important than just the model legislation, [ALEC] had actually put together reports and such that showed the benefits of truth-in-sentencing and showed the successes in other states. And those sorts of statistics were very helpful to us when we pushed it through, when we passed the final legislation." Those statistics, though, were critiqued by criminologists as unreliable and intended to persuade rather than educate: Walker said that he and fellow ALEC members relied on an ALEC report crediting Virginia's truth-in-sentencing law with a five-year drop in crime, but crime dropped in ALL states in the 1990s, regardless of whether a state passed tough-on-crime laws like truth-in-sentencing.

Dickey said in 2002 it is "shocking" that lawmakers would write sentencing policy with help from ALEC, a group that gets funding from, and supposedly "expertise" from a private prison corporation.

"I don't know that they know anything about sentencing," he said. "They know how to build prisons, presumably, since that's the business they're in. They don't know anything about probation and parole. They don't know about the development of alternatives. They don't know about how public safety might be created and defended in communities in this state and other states."

(See this graphic from American Radio Works explaining the CCA-ALEC-Wisconsin sentencing law connection)

The Wisconsin state legislature apparently recognized the folly of truth in sentencing and rolled-back aspects of the law between 2001 and 2009. When Scott Walker became governor, he reversed this progress and pushed for legislation fully restoring the ALEC corporation-supported truth in sentencing, despite the costs to taxpayers and despite claiming Wisconsin was "broke." In early July, Governor Walker ‘s office released a statement supporting expanded use of prison labor, another idea promoted in ALEC bills. Some observers have speculated that private prisons are next. 

ALEC Exposed

Almost always drafted outside of the state with little or no input from state residents (but significant input from corporate interests), ALEC bills have made substantial changes to laws in all 50 states and in some ways determined how state taxpayer dollars are allocated. The full list of legislative membership in ALEC is not public, and legislators introduce ALEC bills in the legislator’s own name. ALEC conferences allow elected officials to hobnob with some of the wealthiest corporations in the world, often behind closed doors and without public scrutiny. This secrecy has prevented state residents from holding their elected leaders accountable for passing laws that serve out-of-state corporate interests at the expense of the individuals that live, work, and vote in the state.

ALEC Exposed, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, has published an archive of ALEC “model bills” to give citizens the tools to make informed decisions and fully participate in their state democracy. One way state residents can use these tools is to better understand the origin of for-profit bail-bond and for-profit prison laws in their state, and whose interests are being served by the politicians supporting these bills. Please visit ALEC Exposed.org.

* ALEC does not have an explicit "model bill" to re-open a state to bail-bonding, but that is likely because only four states prohibit the practice -- there would be little reason to create a "model" that is inapplicable to the vast majority of states. Instead, ALEC allows the bail-bond industry to rub shoulders with Wisconsin legislators, then pitch the "benefits" of the practice and perhaps offer support for their election campaigns. Once the ALEC legislator successfully breaks-open Wisconsin for bail-bonding, they can go ahead and introduce ALEC "model bills" to further support the industry.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan M. Fischer is a law fellow with the Center for Media and Democracy and a student at the University of Wisconsin Law School in the class of 2011.

PRWatch.org

 

ALEC, Republicans Beat Up On Kids in Special Ed

by Ruth Conniff

Republican lawmakers and corporations have a new target: kids in special ed.
 

It sounds like a sick joke, but it’s true.

Like cartoon schoolyard bullies, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—the powerful coalition of corporations and rightwing legislators—has worked out plans to trick special ed students and their families into giving up their federally protected educational benefits, in exchange for cheap vouchers that can be used in unregulated, fly-by-night academies.

Working off ALEC’s proposed legislation--recently leaked by a whistleblower to the Center for Media and Democracy, and viewable on the web site ALEC Exposed--Republicans are pushing private-school voucher bills for kids with disabilities in states across the country.

At first glance, these bills don’t seem all bad. Whether or not you agree with the idea of using public school funds to send kids to private school, individual disabled children whose needs aren’t met in public schools might benefit from being able to use private school vouchers, right?

Wrong.

Advocates for the disabled strongly oppose special ed voucher legislation—and not because the vouchers drain resources from the public schools.

What a lot of people don’t understand, says Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, is that disabled students who take advantage of special ed vouchers forfeit their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That means they no longer have a right to a “free, appropriate public education” or the specific services that come along with that.

Not only that, they give up their chance to get their school districts to cover the costs of private education, if the local public schools can’t meet their needs.

“Embedded in the law is the ability to either voluntarily or legally force school districts to pay for private schools, at significant expense,” says Spitzer-Resnick.

He should know, since he has forced school districts to pay for students’ private education more than once. Under the voucher program, those kids would never be able to afford such an expensive deal. The voucher system drafted by ALEC and before the state assembly in Wisconsin in the form of AB110 gives parents of disabled kids the option to trade their rights for a voucher worth whatever costs less: private school tuition or the value of their special education services.

The result of this cost-saving, rights-stripping approach is on display in Florida, where the nation’s first special ed voucher program recently exploded into the news with a spectacular scandal involving rampant fraud and abuse.

ALEC praised Florida’s McKay special education scholarship fund in a 2003 resolution (viewable on ALEC Exposed) promoting school choice for children with disabilities and decrying the “burdensome regulations” of the current special education system. ALEC criticized the federal law’s “adversarial process, pitting parent against educator, that encourages litigation, not mediation” and contrasted it with Florida’s. “In the state of Florida, where school choice scholarships are offered, achievement is up and the cost of services is down,” the resolution declared.

Reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts from Miami’s New Times visited the special ed voucher schools in Florida, and blew that assertion all to hell in a scathing June expose headlined “McKay Scholarship Program Sparks a Cottage Industry of Fraud and Chaos.”

Garcia-Roberts told of fly-by-night schools for the disabled in Florida, including South Florida Prep, where “two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor.” Students zoned out in front of blaxploitation flicks, supervised by inexperienced staff with no books and no curriculum requirements. At one school, parents complained that an administrator spanked his charges with a paddle, telling them the state had no jurisdiction to make him stop. (Turns out he was not far off: The Department of Ed can’t pull McKay scholarship funds from a school based on its disciplinary policies.)

Since then-governor Jeb Bush introduced the program twelve years ago, it has grown to consume $148.6 million in the last year, the New Times reports—up 38 percent from five years ago. With virtually no oversight and no strings attached, the state has handed out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to schools run by unsupervised administrators, including “criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary,” the New Times reports.

But this hasn’t stopped Bush from becoming a star among school choice advocates, including the American Federation for Children. Lately, he has been touring the country promoting Florida’s school reform plans.

Besides siphoning off public funds, there is another motivation for running cheap schools for the disabled, the New Times article points out: “Failing kids, who would sabotage all-important standardized test scores, are herded en masse to dubious McKay schools.”

This is exactly what advocates for the disabled fear in Wisconsin, where AB110, a bill that borrows language directly from ALEC’s model bill, the “Special Needs Scholarship Program Act” is before the state Assembly.

The bill “guarantees nothing in these private schools,” says Spitzer-Resnick.

Advocates fear that special ed vouchers will undo decades of work getting special-needs kids into regular, public schools. Instead, we will have segregation. Disabled kids will go to separate schools for autism, behavioral and cognitive disorders, and other disabilities.

Pulling disabled kids out of the community and locking them away in segregated institutions flies in the face of research that shows that mainstreaming disabled kids not only helps the disabled, it benefits the non-disabled kids who learn alongside them.

I have seen this in my own kids’ school, where, in my daughter’s first-grade class, the teacher cultivated such a loving, respectful relationship between a student with severe autism and his peers that the other kids glowed with pride along with him as he learned and grew throughout the year. Seeing their sibling-like, cooperative relationship literally brought tears to my eyes.

That sense of community and caring is threatened by budget cuts and a race-to-the-bottom mentality.

As schools are increasingly financially squeezed, conflict arises between parents of special needs kids and other parents.

“No one else gets ‘free, appropriate education,’ ” Spitzer-Resnick points out. “People get angry. There’s resentment: ‘We lost our art teacher because of these kids.’ No one wants that.”

It shows you how far we’ve fallen as a society that parents of non-disabled kids begrudge special needs kids extra therapy and tutoring.

Worse, shadowy, corporate interests are deliberately manipulating people’s fears.

Spitzer-Resnick says a Facebook friend of his who is the mother of a disabled child “liked” the special education voucher page put up by the American Federation for Children.

“It made me realize people are vulnerable,” Spitzer-Resnick says. “This whole movement is predicated on trading on parents’ legitimate frustrations for what their kids are not receiving and then sprinkling magic fairy dust by saying, ‘Here, we’ll give you a voucher and all your frustrations will go away.’ ”

In general, private-school vouchers are an assault on the whole idea of high-quality, universal public education. But in places like Milwaukee, at least they have helped some low-income families send their kids to decent private schools. With special ed vouchers, ALEC and Republican state legislators have hit a new low: stealing money, and prospects for a good education and a good future, from mentally and physically disabled children. It's hard to imagine a worse public policy than that.

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs. Conniff was a regular on CNN’s Sunday Capital Gang and is now a regular on PBS’s To the Contrary. She also has appeared frequently on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal and on NPR and Pacifica.

 

Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding ALEC’s Influence

by Lois Beckett

For decades, a discreet nonprofit has brought together state legislators and corporate representatives to produce business-friendly “model” legislation. These “model” bills form the basis of hundreds of pieces of legislation each year, and they often end up as laws. As media scrutiny [1] of the nonprofit—the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC—has grown, we’ve built both a guide and a searchable database [2] so you can see for yourself how ALEC’s model bills make their way to statehouses.

Following the steps we lay out may reveal some interesting connections. Last month, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political columnist Daniel Bice [3] looked into an obscure ALEC-approved bill to tax chewing tobacco by weight [4] rather than price. The ALEC model legislation [5] calls this a “fairness” issue, noting that “taxes that create a consumer preference within a product category impede free market commerce.” It does not note that Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris [6] and a member of ALEC’s private enterprise board [7], sells pricier “premium” brands [8] of chewing tobacco and stands to benefit from the tax change [9].

ALEC and its members favor “federalism and conservative public policy solutions,” and ALEC representatives tell reporters that its mission is fundamentally “educational.” [10] ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber told the Los Angeles Times [11], “Legislators should hear from those the government intends to regulate.”

Founded in the mid-1970s, ALEC has no real counterpart on the left. Its closest equivalent, the Progressive States Network [12], was founded in 2005, has about a quarter of ALEC’s funding and produces only a small amount of model legislation.

Thanks to a critical mass of resources now available on the Internet, you, too, can trace which of ALEC’s model bills made it to statehouses, which legislators sponsored them and which industries may have had an interest in the success of the bill.

You can find 800 of ALEC’s model bills [13] on the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” site. Using data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics [14], you can also find out how much ALEC-affiliated companies and associations have donated [2] to ALEC-affiliated state legislators, going back to the 1990 election cycle. We’ve made that process even easier—we used the institute’s data to build a more easily searchable contributions database [2].

To navigate among these different sites, we’ve put together a detailed, step-by-step guide to help journalists, bloggers and citizens trace the influence of ALEC’s model legislation on state law.

If you’re confused, or if questions come up as you’re researching, we’ll be answering questions via Twitter (@ProPublica [15]) as well as responding to questions in the comment thread.

If you write stories about your findings, let us know [16] so we can feature them in a special section of #MuckReads [17] and share them via @ProPublica [15].

Please use the comments section below to compare notes or to reveal anything interesting you’ve found. Make sure to include any URLs that illustrate what you’ve found. Our ALEC contributions database [2] makes that part easy—there’s a box on the side of every page with a “permalink” you can include in your comment or story.

Step one: Focus on a particular legislator or issue

To get started, you can search our ALEC Contributors database by state or name to find out which of your state legislators are affiliated with ALEC. Then you can look at their official websites, which typically include lists of the legislation they’ve sponsored [18]. (This might appear under a heading like “Accomplishments.”)

If you’re interested in a particular issue, you can browse ALEC’s website [19], where their model bills are organized by topic [19].

Once you’ve identified a model bill related to a particular issue, you can start with a simple Google search of the title of the bill. Sometimes that will bring up news articles or press releases about the states where the bill has been introduced.

If that doesn’t work, another tactic is to find out which ALEC legislators brought that bill back to their statehouses to turn into law. ALEC’s bills are discussed, written and approved by “task forces [20]” of particular legislators and private sector representatives. So, to find out which state legislators may have sponsored legislation on this topic, it’s helpful to first check which legislators belong to the task force that developed the “model bill.”

Confused? Here’s an example. Under “Civil Justice [21]” on the ALEC site, there are three bills related to limiting asbestos exposure claims. To find out which state legislators may have sponsored a bill on this topic, you should first check see which legislators are members of ALEC’s “Civil Justice” task force [22]. ALEC’s site lists at least one: Ohio State Sen. Bill Seitz [23]. But the Center for Media and Democracy’s [24] “ALEC Exposed” site has a bigger list of task force affiliates [25], and the “Civil Justice” section of the list includes nine state legislators, including Kansas Rep. Lance Kinzer [26], who listed his ALEC affiliation in a press release for his 2010 re-election bid [27].

Posted on Kinzer’s website are detailed annual newsletters [28] with his “legislative highlights.” Search for the term “asbestos” in each of these newsletters, and a relevant bill pops up: 2006, SB 512, the Silica and Asbestos Claims Act [29].

Step two: Compare the text of sponsored legislation with the text of ALEC’s model bills

Once you’ve found a potential connection between an ALEC model bill and state legislation, it’s time to do a full-text comparison.

You can find the full text of roughly 800 ALEC model bills obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy [30] on the ALEC Exposed [31] website. The easiest way to find the bill you want is to do a keyword search. When browsing the bills, you should note that they are organized by subject but in a different way than the bills on the ALEC site, so you may have to click around to find a particular bill. Another tip: Bypass the “Click here for a zip file of bills” option for each topic and instead choose “For more details click here. [32]” On each topic page, there’s a link to the “full list of individual bills” for each section, which will bring you to a long list of ALEC’s model bills, all available in PDF.

To continue our previous example, search the ALEC Exposed site for “silica” [33] or browse the “Tort Reform and Injured Americans” [34] section until you find the relevant bills. A keyword search brings up the PDF of the “Asbestos and Silica Claims Act Revealed,” [35] which seems a likely match for Kansas’ “SB 512, the Silica and Asbestos Claims Act.”

Next, you need the full text of the actual state legislation. To find this, you can usually go to the state legislature’s web page, which should give you the option to search or browse through bills under consideration in the state’s House [36] or Senate [37], as well as search for approved statutes [38]. (If you need a refresher on how a bill becomes law, some states provide that [39], too.)

So, in the asbestos example, if you click on the “Bills and Laws” tab on the Kansas Legislature home page, go to “Statutes” and do a full-text search for “silica,” you’ll find the Silica and Asbestos Claims Act [40]. You have to click through several pages to read the whole text, but even a quick scan shows that many phrases in the Kansas statute [41] are identical to the ALEC model [35]. (You can also download software like Beyond Compare [42] that will do an automatic text comparison for you.)

Bingo—you have identified a state law based on an ALEC model bill.

Step three: Find out who benefits from the bill’s passage

Every bill that’s introduced is supposed to benefit somebody, but the real beneficiaries aren’t always obvious.

One of the most powerful ways to find out who has an interest in the legislation is to look at the records of the discussion and passage of the bill. State legislatures’ websites often provide this information, including minutes of the hearings at which specific bills were discussed, which typically include lists of who came forward to speak for and against the bill.

For instance, doing a site search for “SB 512” [43] on the Kansas Legislature’s page brings up the minutes for the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee on Feb. 14, 15, 21 and 22, 2006 [44]; and the House Insurance Committee’s meetings on March 14 and 21, 2006 [45]. These minutes contain a rich trove of information and reveal that insurance companies, business associations and contractors stood to benefit from the bill, while representatives from trial lawyer associations spoke against it.

You can also see which corporations were involved in discussions about model legislation. ALEC runs conferences, bringing together politicians and corporate representatives. Attendees meet in topic-specific groups such as “Civil Justice,” and you can find partial task force membership information [25] on the ALEC Exposed site.

While you’re looking for potential beneficiaries, you might also want to glance at campaign donations through our ALEC database [46], as well as the National Institute for Money in State Politics’ state-by-state database of campaign contributions [47]. Which companies and individuals contributed to the legislators who supported the bill?

For instance, Lance Kinzer’s page [46] in our ALEC Donor database includes $1,000 in campaign contributions from Kansas-based Koch Industries in 2006, the year the asbestos legislation was introduced. At that time, Koch had recently acquired a company with 57,400 asbestos litigation claims [48] against it. Koch has also lobbied about asbestos at the national level [49]. Kansas politicians don’t exactly rake in the money: Kinzer raised about $43,000 [50] in 2006, and Koch’s $1,000 made it one of his biggest contributors. Of course, this is also a relatively modest contribution from a conservative-owned [51] Kansas corporation to a conservative Kansas politician [52].

When we called and emailed Kinzer to ask about the legislation, he wrote back: “The real expert on this is former Representative Eric Carter.” (Carter was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment.)

“I honestly remember virtually nothing about this issue from 5 years ago,” Kinzer added in a subsequent email message. He did not respond to further questions.

Step four and beyond: Look at the bigger picture

It’s perfectly appropriate—in fact, it’s the right thing to do—to call lawmakers or companies for more information. Do your homework, and have your facts ready. Ask them things like: How did you come to support this particular legislation at this particular time? What factors influenced your decision? What role did ALEC’s model legislation play? Their answers may not be illuminating—they may, in fact, not remember much at all—but it’s important to go directly to the source.

If you’re interested in tracing ALEC’s influence through a particular piece of legislation, you shouldn’t end your investigation with one state. What makes ALEC a powerful policy clearinghouse is that its model legislation is often introduced in several states at once. A quick Google search for the different titles of the act you’ve been following should be enough to point you to more states that may have considered or enacted similar legislation. From there, you can repeat the same steps to understand more about the local and national players who had an interest in the bill.

 

What is ALEC Hiding? Tweeting Now a Crime in ALEC's New Orleans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 5, 2011
9:06 AM

What is ALEC Hiding? Tweeting Now a Crime in ALEC's New Orleans

WASHINGTON - August 5 - For the second time in two days, Center for Media and Democracy’s reporter Eric Carlson has been kicked out of the ALEC hotel. Eric flew down to New Orleans to cover the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual meeting. After hearing from ALEC Board member and Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz that “there is nothing secret about it [ALEC],” Carlson was eager to attend ALEC workshops and interview state legislators about their priorities.

However, Carlson was denied press credentials Wednesday by ALEC's PR firm and then kicked out by security as he sat writing on his computer in the Marriott lobby. Marriott denies that it was their security personnel and speculates that it could have been private security hired by ALEC. Marriott gave CMD assurances that as long as guests were not being disruptive anyone could sit in their lobby.

On Thursday, Carlson was kicked out again and threatened with arrest apparently for the crime of Tweeting about sightings of corporate lobbyists and Heritage Foundation "experts" attending the ALEC meeting. Eric's Twitter handle can be accessed here: http://twitter.com/#!/theericcarlson.

 

Carlson is part of the CMD team that brought ALEC to public attention in recent weeks with the release of the ALECexposed.org website, which lists over 800 ALEC model bills.

“What is ALEC hiding? Our reporter was simply doing his job Tweeting about ALEC corporate lobbyists and legislators as they walked by. Tweeting is apparently a crime in ALEC's New Orleans," said Mary Bottari Center for Media and Democracy.

The ALEC press policy says: “ALEC invites credentialed members of both traditional and online journalist [sic] to attend ALEC events.” No problem. CMD has been engaged in investigative reporting since 1993. We have covered and reported all sorts of conferences, domestic and international, events at the Wisconsin State Capital Building, the U.S. Congress and even the White House. The ALEC press policy also says: “Journalists may not register as media if their news outlet is funded by a think-tank, political party, lobbying organization, trade association or corporation. ALEC will not allow journalists to register as media for the purpose of writing a personal online blog.” Again no problem. CMD is not funded by any of these entities.

But when Carlson went to register for his ALEC press credentials, he was handed the press policy and told that ALEC did not allow “advocacy” organizations. Notably, the ALEC press policy does not mention advocacy organizations.

###

The nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism, media "of, by and for the people." Our programs include PR Watch, a quarterly investigative journal; six books by CMD staff; Spin of the Day; the Weekly Spin listserv; and, Congresspedia and SourceWatch, part of our wiki-based investigative journalism collaborative to which anyone, including you, can contribute.

 

ALEC Exposed: Protecting Factory Farms and Sewage Sludge?

by Jill Richardson

As suburbs engulfed the rural landscape in the boom following World War II, many family farmers found themselves with new neighbors who were annoyed by the sound of crowing roosters, the smell of animal manure, or the rumble of farming equipment. In defense of family farming, Massachusetts passed the first "Right to Farm" law in 1979, to protect these farmers against their new suburban neighbors filing illegitimate nuisance lawsuits against them when, in fact, the farms were there first. Since then, every state has passed some kind of protection for family farms, which are pillars of our communities and the backbone of a sensible system of sustainable agriculture.

Class B Sewer Sludge Sign

However, in the past few decades, intensive corporatization of farming has threatened both the future of family farming and the ability of neighbors to regulate the development of industrial agricultural operations that have transmogrified many farms into factories. Small-scale farms that resembled Old MacDonald's farm (with an oink oink here and a moo moo there) have increasingly disappeared or been turned into enormous livestock confinements with literal lagoons of liquified manure and urine, super-concentrated smells that could make a skunk faint, or vast fields of monoculture crops grown with a myriad of chemicals and pesticides and sometimes even sewage sludge. For example, the decade before the first right to farm law was passed, it took one million family farms to raise nearly 60 million pigs but by 2001, less than ten percent (80,000 farms) were growing the same number of pigs.

Capitalizing on the sentiment of protecting traditional farming, giant agribusiness interests have convinced some states to revise their Right to Farm laws to stealthily protect the most egregious of industrial farming practices from legitimate nuisance suits. The Center for Media & Democracy has recently exposed and analyzed a cache of bills voted on by corporations and politicians behind closed doors and then introduced in state legislatures without any notice to the public of the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bill factory in the production of the legislation and no disclosure of the fact that corporations pre-voted on the bills, let alone disclosures of the names of those companies. In 1996, ALEC suddenly took an interest in expanding right to farm laws. ALEC's corporate backers, unsurprisingly, hale from the factory farm side of the equation.

ALEC's Corporate Backers

ALEC's corporate members and funders have included a number of agriculture interests, including Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Cargill, and DuPont, as well as industry organizations like the National Pork Producers Council, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and the Illinois Soybean Association. Cargill is the nation's second largest beef processor, third largest turkey processor, and fourth largest pork processor. In three other areas, flour milling, soybean crushing, and production of animal feed, ADM joins Cargill as the biggest in the industry. Chemical giant DuPont is one of the world's largest makers of numerous pesticides, and in 1999, it purchased seed giant Pioneer Hi-Bred, the world's top seller of corn seeds, including genetically engineered seeds.


Unlike the corporations, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is actually led by farmers . . . and lobbyists for multinational pork processors, like Don Butler, past president of NPPC and lobbyist for Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processor in the world. The farmers who lead NPPC tend to own farms similar to that of NPPC president Doug Wolf. Wolf's farm produces 24,000 hogs per year - and it also has a beef feedlot and 1,200 acres of corn, soy, and alfalfa.

Perhaps the most surprising "agribusiness" donor to ALEC is the most powerful of all: Koch Industries. It turns out that an early part of the Koch empire was the Matador Cattle Company, founded in 1952. To this day, Koch Agriculture Company retains Matador Cattle Company, which has about 15,000 cattle. However, in the 1990's, Koch Beef Company was the nation's 10th largest cattle feeder, with feedlots that held up to 165,000 cattle. Koch bought a new feedlot in 1996 and, among other things, decided to expand its capacity by adding 20,000 more cows. The neighbors did not think that was a good idea:

"Some businesses and farm owners expressed concerns over the health of their employees, some of whom would be housed within 300 feet of Koch's cattle pens. Other neighbors cited concerns over the potential for groundwater pollution, the amount of dirt, insects, and odors added to the area contributing to health problems, a decrease in the quality of life for nearby residents, and the possible devaluation of land."

Koch overcame their objections with the ruling of a friendly regulator in Texas, winning the right to expand. With all these corporate interests in limiting regulation of factory farming, thank goodness their pals at ALEC approved a model version of a Right to Farm bill in 1996!

Why Corporations Care About Laws For Farmers

While nearly all farms in the United States are technically "family farms" (a tiny fraction are owned directly by corporations), multinational agribusiness corporations have a major stake in how these farms are operated. Often family farms take the form of Wolf L & G Farms LLC, the farm owned by the family of Doug Wolf (mentioned above). Particularly for chickens and hogs, individual farmers often contract with meatpackers like Cargill, Smithfield, or Tyson. In contract farming arrangements, the corporations provide the animals, medications, and feed to the farmers; the farmer is responsible for the animals' housing, manure, and the bodies of animals that die prematurely. When the animals are fully grown, they are picked up by the corporation, which slaughters, processes, and markets the animal and plays the farmer for the weight the animal gained in his or her care. The farmers have most of the debt and risk and the corporation has most of the power and profit.

Because the corporations tightly control the conditions in which the animals are raised (specifying how housing is constructed and the use of certain medications, etc., in the farmers' contracts), they woud be affected by nuisance claims by neigbors against the conditions they require of the farms.  And because they need enough contracted farms in the vicinity of their slaughterhouses to keep the slaughterhouses operating year round, they would find themselves in a pickle if neighbors - and even fellow small farmers - who suddenly found their neighborly family farm mutated into an industrial agriculture operation were able to challenge and shut down animal factories.

For non-contract farms, agribusiness corporations' stake in the farms is much more straightforward. They want as many farmers as possible to buy and use their products (or in some cases involving sewage sludge, take the product for free!). If genetically engineered crops, aerial spraying of pesticides, or application of sewage sludge were banned in an area - or subject to nuisance suits from upset neighbors - agribusiness would have to adapt in response to local concerns.

ALEC's Model Right to Farm Act

In 1996, ALEC entered the fray with its version of a Right to Farm law. Like many such laws, it protects a farm from a nuisance suit if the farm was established before a change in land use around it (i.e. before a suburb encroached upon a rural agricultural area). However, the exemption applies even if the farm had a "change in ownership or size," adopted dramatically different "new technology," or changed "the type of farm product being produced." In other words, if the same family farm next door with two pigs and a cow was bought by new owners who built a mega-dairy on the land . . . too bad. The types of things that cannot be the subject of a nuisance complaint under the law are defined to include "the use of manure and other nutrients, agricultural waste products, dust, noise, odor, fumes, air pollution, water pollution, food and agricultural processing by-products, care of farm animals and pest infestations."

In ALEC's model bill, neighbors may not intervene in a farm's practices so long as the farm conforms to "generally accepted agriculture and management practices." Furthermore, anyone who brings a nuisance suit against a farm and loses must pay the farm's attorneys' fees and any other costs incurred by the farm as a result of the lawsuit.


While such changes would undoubtedly benefit small family farmers, the changes seem much more beneficial to the huge factory farms that were emerging in the 1990s and that dominate the market today. In 2005, Indiana Senate Republicans Bob Jackman, Vic Heinold, and Brandt Hershman introduced an update to the state's Right to Farm law that inserted language similar to that of ALEC's mode Right to Farm Act, shielding a farm from nuisance suits even if it changes in size or adopts a new technology. Both Hershman, who is currently the Indian Senate Majority Whip and a member of ALEC, and Jackman are farmers. Jackman operates a contract hog confinement. Heinold, while not a farmer himself, works in corporate agribusiness, and ultimately left the Senate before the end of his term in order to pursue a career with a multinational grain shipping company.

A local community that is unhappy about groundwater pollution from a large animal confinement or odor and health problems caused by a farmer spreading sewage sludge on his fields might try to pass local ordinances that prohibit those practices. Or could -- until 16 states added bans on any local laws that are stricter than the state's laws. Those states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

 

Sewage Sludge: More Than a Nuisance

Obviously, barring neighbors the ability to file a lawsuit over water pollution, air pollution, by-products or waste products of agricultural processing, and the fumes from the use of manure or other "nutrients" is very far reaching. One product that seems likely to implicate several of these aspects is sewage sludge, which comes from both industrial and human waste flushed down the drains. Over the past several decades sewage sludge, ruled too toxic to dump in oceans, has been promoted has a fertilizer for farms and gardens. Dioxins, PCBs, medical wastes, industrial solvents and chemicals, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, flame retardants, and pathogens have been found in sewage sludge and sewage sludge derived products marketed to farmers and gardeners (often without any disclosure that the products are made of sewage sludge).

Extraordinary odor is just one of the negative attributes of sewage sludge but it is a powerful one. Craig Pataky, a resident of Cottage Grove, Oregon, describes the stench of sewage sludge by saying, "It smells like all the residents of Cottage Grove are taking a crap in a field right down the road." Another Cottage Grove resident, Les Moore, links health problems to the smell. "It was so acrid that I had a severe headache. Never have a bad headache. And I was that close to throwing up," says Moore. A year before, residents of Rio Vista, CA, had the same problem when a nearby farm spread sewage sludge on its fields. "It made you feel energy-less," said Bob Tillisch, a Rio Vista resident who complained about the smell.

Sewage sludge, as a currently legal agricultural practice despite the objections of many people, is one of the many "nuisances" covered by Right to Farm laws.

What other practices might be barred from suit under the ALEC bill? Please help the Center for Media and Democracy identify additional examples.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

PR Watch

 

What Can We Do About The Great American Lie?

by Michael Lewis

I. F. Stone told us many years ago that All Governments Lie. Daniel Ellsberg, in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, told us why governments, including Presidents, always lie, and must continue to lie about what they know to be true, but about which they cannot talk under constraints of "National Security." The lies place an impermeable barrier between Those Who Know and Those Who Cannot Be Told, a barrier that trickles downhill, forever separating the citizenry of the United States from their government.

Today, the lies continue, as they must, even though journalists, bloggers and other malcontents desperately chip away at the facade. The raid into Pakistan to capture Bin Laden is revealed to have been not a one-off military adventure, but part of an on-going campaign of covert military intervention in 120 countries around the world on the part of a highly organized and secretly funded cadre of 15,000 specially trained soldiers let loose on the world.  There was never any intent to capture Bin Laden alive. The goal of the raid was to kill this living embarrassment to the United States government and remove any chance that he might say something awkward and revealing before he died of kidney failure on his own.

It's not just the President who is foisting lies on the public. Politicians of all stripes meet in smoke filled back rooms with corporate lobbyists and industry representatives, barely deigning to conceal the bribes slipped under the table into their grasping clutches. Nudge nudge, wink wink. The press is summarily dismissed from these gatherings, such as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, as politicos hide their faces from the peering eye of the Internet, pretending we do not see. The back slapping and glad handing continue safely within the confines of the Marriott Hotel, where legislation is crafted far from the public eye. Would that they were only making sausage.

What do we do in the face of a government corrupt to the core, a government that professes to be Of the People, by the People and for the People, yet continues to do the bidding of unaccountable corporate lobbyists, revolving door "experts," and an overweening military technology industry? Do we continue to vote for new fodder for the corporate grist mill, aka Congress? Do we demand legislation that will stop the Congressional gravy train, from those who are first at the gravy bowl? Do we demand a President to lead us out of the wilderness scheduled to be clear-cut for corporate profits?

The central authoritarian government doesn't have the answer, as it is the central problem. Jeffersonian Republicans knew what they were doing when they opposed Alexander Hamilton's Federalists at the turn of the 19th Century. They foresaw the coming excesses of centralized authority in a world dominated by capitalist greed. They viewed the Federalist agenda as anti-revolutionary, a continuance of the economic system that had strangled the North American British colonies until the Revolution tore them free.  The Anti-Federalists argued for small government, democracy, mutual aid, self-reliance and self-government. As foreseen, Hamilton's paternalistic state has fostered a populous that cannot take care of itself, let alone serve as a beacon of democracy and freedom in an increasingly privatized world. 

There is only one path open to those few willing and aware US citizens: turn around and take a new step forward. We cannot solve the problem of corrupt government by appealing to the corrupt government. Jefferson was fond of the concept of public dissent and rebellion: "Every generation needs a new revolution."

It's time for our generation to expose the lies and foster a new revolution, a revolution that starts between the ears, and works outward through our families, neighborhoods, communities and bioregions. Not a violent revolution, as that which spawned this country, but a quiet revolution over back yard fences, neighborhood meetings in living rooms, public gatherings with local representatives, the anonymity of the polling booth. By the time the central authority recognizes the revolution, it will be too late, a fait accompli, a done deal.

The challenge at present is to penetrate the fog of lies and mindless distractions of popular culture sufficiently to foster such a revolution. 

The solution is simple: we tell the truth. The Orwellian bumper sticker tells us: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." Whenever we encounter a lie, we respond with the truth. From local neighborhoods to the White House, in the coffee shop or City Council chambers, we never let a lie pass unchallenged. This accomplishes two goals: we raise the consciousness of all within reach, and we challenge those who lie to us and expect to get away with it.

Thus the revolution begins. 

Michael Lewis is an independent anthropologist and social activist. He blogs at hayduke2000.blogspot.com/ and is the author of Écritage, (www.calcentral.com/~aranagulchpress).

 

ALEC: Facilitating Corporate Influence Behind Closed Doors

by Mary Bottari

Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporations pay to bring state legislators to one place, sit them down for a sales pitch on policies that benefit the corporate bottom line, then push “model bills” for legislators to make law in their states. Corporations also vote behind closed doors alongside politicians on this wishlist legislation through ALEC task forces. Notably absent were the real people who would actually be affected by many of those bills and policies.

With legislators concentrated in one city, lobbyists descend on the conference to wine-and-dine elected officials after-hours, a process simplified by legislators’ schedules being freed from home and family responsibilities. Multiple Wisconsin lobbyists for Koch Industries, the American Bail Coalition, Competitive Wisconsin, State Farm, Pfizer, and Wal Mart were in New Orleans, as were lobbyists for Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, Alliant Energy, and Johnson & Johnson. Corporations also sponsor invite-only events like the Reynolds American tobacco company’s cigar reception, attended by several Wisconsin legislators including Health & Human Services chair Leah Vukmir.

ALEC’s power lies not only in generating corporate-sponsored “model bills” for state legislators to make law, but that it facilitates multiple levels of influence-peddling. ALEC itself has a $7 million budget and 32 staffers. In addition to this budget, ALEC technically acts as an intermediary for about a million dollars in travel “scholarships” that pay for many legislators’ trips to ALEC meetings, with corporate funds for the scholarships held in trust by ALEC. With corporate “sponsorship” of ALEC meetings, a couple million dollars flow through ALEC to put on days of workshops, meetings, and festivities. (This does not account for the dollars corporations spend for lobbyists to prepare for and meet with ALEC legislators in pursuit of their legislative agenda, nor does it take into account any campaign contributions that might result from the relationships cultivated at ALEC meetings.)

Which is why ALEC National Chair and Louisiana Representative Noble Ellington told attendees at the beginning of the conference “when you see a sponsor, thank them” for their generosity and that “without them, we could not come close to doing the things we are about to do.”

Corporate-Sponsored Legislation

The legislative sausage is ground at the task force meetings, where a body of legislators and corporate lobbyists actually vote on proposed model legislation. The meetings were closed to the press and the public. While legislators can bring proposed bills to the meeting, “the majority of proposed model bills I saw came from corporations,” says Jeff Wright, a Florida teacher’s union member who paid to attend the conference to observe ALEC in action. As Task Force members discussed and voted on proposed legislation, in the sessions Wright observed “the corporations and think tanks absolutely controlled the debate,” he said. This does not mean corporate members always agree – Wright said a Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force meeting included a dispute between online sellers like Amazon and brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy about taxing online sales.

“In order for model legislation to move forward,” says Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat who attended the ALEC meeting and wrote about it for the Progressive Magazine, “each task force must garner a majority of votes from each HALF. For example, if the legislator half likes an idea, but the corporate half doesn’t, the bill does NOT move forward,” which actually happened in a task force Rep. Pocan attended.

ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber notes that a piece of model legislation passed by the task force still must be approved by the 22-person Board of Directors, all of whom are legislators (and all of whom are Republicans.) Nothing that the legislative board votes on, however, gets to the board unless the corporate wing of each task force has voted in favor of it. The ALECexposed.org site launched by the Center for Media and Democracy in July demonstrates that over 800 bills and resolutions voted for by corporations have been ratified by the ALEC legislators selected for its board. ALEC’s National Chair, Louisiana Rep. Noble Ellington, told NPR’s Terry Gross that even if the public (and the press) are not allowed inside the task force and board meetings, “We represent the public, and we are the ones who decide. So the tax-paying public is represented there at the table, because I’m there.”

ALEC Members Making Laws for Unrepresented Demographics

At the 2011 ALEC meeting, Rep. Ellington was there, as were others who fit his demographic profile. Very, very few African-Americans or Latinos were present. “Wisdom can come from years, and it is not impossible to imagine aged white males being able to represent the interests of a diverse constituency,” said Rev. Dr. Willie Gable, pastor of the Progressive Baptist Church and President of the Inter-Denominational Ministry Alliance of New Orleans, where the ALEC conference was held (a city that is 67% African-American). “But too often legislators work in a vacuum, and have little experience with other populations in their state,” he said. Even if corporations are partnering with legislators who agree with (or can be influenced by) their interests or ideology, Rev. Gable continued, “if they are not bringing in, listening to, or considering the voices of a diverse public, they are not preparing legislation for the masses, but for themselves and corporations.”

The polling place restriction labeled as “voter ID” is one example of an ALEC initiative that predominantly affects those who were not represented at ALEC meetings. Like many other states in 2011, Wisconsin passed a bill earlier this year that echoes the ALEC legislation and will disproportionately impact people of color: more than half of Wisconsin’s African-American and Latino residents do not have a driver’s license or photo ID, but do have proof of residency that has traditionally been accepted at polling places. College students and the elderly will also be affected.

Offering a free ID does little to remedy these issues – the problem is not the cost of ID but the obstacles to obtaining it. States like South Carolina are finding that tens of thousands of largely African-American elderly residents don’t have the birth certificate necessary to receive an ID because they were born in their rural homes. In cities like Milwaukee with few Department of Motor Vehicles offices, acquiring an ID just so a person can vote requires taking a day off work and a long bus ride, a burden that leaders like Jesse Jackson have called akin to a “poll tax.”

ALEC’s Weber notes that even if a “model bill” is created without the input of certain stakeholders, it still must pass through the legislative process, at which point the non-corporate voices absent from the ALEC conference can be heard. But the Wisconsin experience suggests otherwise, with resident Nicole Schulte observing that “the fact that there is a superficial chance for public input [once a bill is introduced] makes no difference” when partisan politicians are determined to force through legislation despite public opposition. Schulte participated in hearings against Wisconsin’s ALEC-influenced Voter ID law, saying that “despite the legislature hearing from the public,” efforts to ameliorate the effect of the bill were thwarted in party-line votes against compromises and amendments.

Indeed, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, an ALEC alum and the 2011 recipient of ALEC’s highest honor, the “Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award,” repeatedly praised the power of obstinance, proclaiming to ALEC members that when legislating, “it pays to be stubborn.”

He added, “I don’t care what china we break in the process.”

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy's Real Economy Project and editor of their www.BanksterUSA.org site.

 

PR Watch

 

Gates Big Contributor to Union-Busting ALEC Education Agenda

Gates Foundation Grants ALEC A Hefty Sum For 'Education Reform'
by karoli

This is exactly why I've always been suspicious of Bill Gates' "philanthropy." Yes, I understand that he's done wonderful things in Africa, but the United States is where we live and there is a very real and lasting battle going on over the future of public education.

While union-busting is certainly one goal of the privatization monsters, profit is the primary goal. Education for profit is lucrative and alluring, especially to people with large sums of money parked and waiting for investment in big-profit items. So when Bill Gates claims to stand for education reform in this country, I place him squarely in the category of those who stand to profit from privatized education.

Now we have this grant from the Gates Foundation to ALEC, of all things. It isn't a small grant, by any stretch. $376,635 to be paid over a period of 22 months. That's about $17,000 per month dropping into the coffers of one of the most evil organizations in the country. The grant description reads as follows:

Purpose: to educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement

Wow, Michelle Rhee must be doing a happy dance right about now. I've tried to turn this around and imagine ways that this money could be used to counter the usual right-wing memes about the wonders of privatization, but I just can't seem to find any way to do that. I can only conclude that Mr. Gates and his fellow trustees fully embrace the notion of killing public education one state at a time.

Lee Fang wrote a tremendous article for The Nation a couple of weeks ago about online education and how profitable it is, at the expense of public education. In it, he describes a talk lobbyist Patricia Levesque gave to philanthropists. Among those listening were representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Among her suggestions:

Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”

This particular talk was being given in the context of online education and the perceived value of permitting online charter schools, funded with public education dollars. Levesque's clients?

But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”

Lee talked with K-12 News Network's Cynthia Liu and I on the MOMocrats podcast Wednesday. He had plenty to say about online charter initiatives and their impact on the educational system.

In the state of Florida, this report from August highlights the cozy relationship between Florida's Governor Rick Scott and the for-profit charter organization Charter Schools USA, after he spoke to a conference of employees:

Speaking to the crowd of about 2,000 Charter Schools USA employees, Scott gave a nod to the charters that are independently operated, but financed with tax dollars. Charter USA manages 25 charters in Florida with about 23,500 students, making its operation larger than 40 of 67 public school systems in the state.

He said charter schools must prove their promise as an escape route for students "stuck in poor performing schools."

"You have to make sure that you are great," he said. "If you don't, you are going to get a lot of criticism."

Charters were under fire earlier this summer when school grades came out and charters earned nearly half of the 31 F grades handed out statewide, although they represent only a fraction of the state's more than 3,000 public schools.

Oh, and guess who else was at this rally? That's right, Michelle Rhee! So here we have a "rally" paid for by a for-profit organization funded solely with public money that might otherwise go directly into the public school systems in Florida, complete with buses to transport employees from their various locations to the lovely Rosen Plaza Hotel. Faced with criticism over the event, here's what Governor Scott had to say:

The for-profit management firm, which is paid with tax dollars, bused in employees from across the state for the daylong event, including lunch, at the upscale Rosen Plaza. Orange and Seminole school district officials said the expense was misguided when schools across the state face a budget crisis for daily operations.

"Leave it to the local educators to decide how to best spend their money," Scott said.

Charter schools, including those managed by Charter Schools USA, have complained that they are inadequately funded by the state.

I wonder if Scott would say that about a similar event for public school teachers? Somehow, I doubt it.

This organization and others like it exist because ALEC is busy at work coordinating with legislators on the state level to throw a bunch of union-busting tactics into the fire in order to sneakily pass state authorizations for online charter schools. Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they now have nearly $400,000 more to use toward that goal.

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

http://crooksandliars.com/karoli/gates-foundation-grants-alec-hefty-sum-...

Koch Brothers, ALEC and the Savage Assault on Democracy

by John Nichols

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch finally got their way in 2011. After decades of funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, the collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators, the project began finally to yield the intended result.
For the first time in decades, the United States saw a steady dismantling of the laws, regulations, programs and practices put in place to make real the promise of American democracy.

That is why, on Saturday, civil rights groups and their allies will rally outside the New York headquarters of the Koch Brothers to begin a march for the renewal of voting rights in America.

For the Koch Brothers and their kind, less democracy is better. They fund campaigns, with millions of dollars in checks that have helped elect the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich. And ALEC has made it clear, through its ambitious "Public Safety and Elections Task Force," that while it wants to dismantle any barriers corporate cash and billionaire bucks influencing elections, it wants very much to erect barriers to the primary tool that Americans who are not CEOs have to influence the politics and the government of the nation: voting.

That crude calculus, usually cloaked in bureaucracy and back-room dealmaking, came into full view in 2011.

Across the country, and to a greater extent than at any time since the last days of southern resistance to desegregation, voting rights were being systematically diminished rather than expanded.

ALEC has been organizing and promoting the assault, encouraging its legislative minions to enact rigid Voter ID laws and related attacks on voting rights in more than three dozen in states.

With their requirements that the millions of Americans who lack drivers licenses and other forms of official paperwork go out and purchase identification cards in order to cast ballots, the Voter ID push put in place new variations on an old evil: the poll tax.

“We are in the midst of the greatest coordinated legislative attack on voting rights since the dawn of Jim Crow,” says NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. “Voter ID laws are nothing but reincarnated poll taxes and literacy tests, and ex-felon voting bans serve the same purpose today as when they were created in the wake of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing ex-slaves the vote—suppressing voting numbers among people of color.”

Voter ID laws represent only the beginning of the assault on voter rights. In states across the country in 2011, conservative governors and legislators who had swept to power in the 2010 election moved to restrict access to the polls in other ways. They ended election-day registration programs in state such as Maine, ending a practice that had allowed new voters to come to the polls, fill out a simple form and cast a ballot. They restricted early-voting in states such as Ohio, making it dramatically harder for citizens to cast ballots in the run-up to an election. They scrapped weekend-voting in Ohio, where working men and women had been able to cast ballots on their days off. They placed new restrictions on voting by students at colleges and technical schools, even going so far in Wisconsin as to move the primary election date to when most students were on summer break. They reduced the number of polling places in some states, making it harder for voters who lack transportation to get to the polls. And after they established the Voter ID requirements in Wisconsin, and said that citizens had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the proper paperwork, they tried to reduce the number of DMV offices.

“For nearly a century, there were Jim Crow laws in place that discouraged people of color from voting, explains Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of The Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights. “Today, there are different laws, but the objective is the same—to prevent millions from exercising their right to vote.”

No one who is serious about voting and elections misses the point of the project.

The point is not just to make it harder to vote. The point is to make it harder for citizens to elect legislators, governors, members of Congress and presidents who will regulate and tax multinational corporations such as Koch Industries, while at the same time establishing programs that meet the needs of the great mass of Americans. “Now, just as before, they are seeking to block us from voting in order to make it easier to come after our other rights,” says Mike Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers. “Everything we care about is at stake, from the right to a quality education to the right to a fair wage.”

It is with all of this in mind that the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund and allied civil rights and civil liberties organizations, churches and unions have endorsed the “Stand for Freedom” voting rights campaign, which will launch with a march Saturday from the offices of the Koch Brothers to the United Nations. At the United Nations, the groups will mark Human Rights Day by calling for an end to assaults on voting rights in the United States.

The choice of the Koch Brothers office as a starting point is not symbolic. It is practical. For decades, the Koch Brothers and their foundation have funded ALEC and other groups that are now driving the attack on voting rights in states across the country.

The people are pushing back. In November, Mainers voted by an overwhelming margin to restore election-day registration. In other states, voting rights has become a central political issue. And, now, that issue is being raised at the headquarters of the Koch Brothers -- and the United Nations.

“From the beginning of our nation’s founding, Americans have understood that voting was fundamental to their pursuit of freedom and equal opportunity,” says Lillian Rodríguez López, President of the Hispanic Federation. “Any attempt to undermine the right to vote, especially when that effort is directed at historically marginalized groups, must be treated as an attack on the very ideals that created our country: democracy and equality. And that is why we stand up for freedom and continue to fight for the right to vote for all Americans.”

© 2011 The Nation
http://www.thenation.com/blog/165077/koch-brothers-alec-and-savage-assau...

Corporate Lobby Group Gave Cash Awards to Cantor, 21 State Reps

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 23, 2012
2:35 PM

CONTACT: Common Cause

Mary Boyle (202) 736-5770

Corporate Lobby Group Gave Cash Awards to Cantor, 21 State Lawmakers
ALEC payments raise legal, ethical questions

WASHINGTON - February 23 - A lobbying group funded by some of the nation's richest corporations appears to have given ethically and perhaps legally dubious cash awards to nearly two dozen state and federal lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Common Cause said today.

Tax filings by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for 2008 and 2009 show cash payments to Cantor and 21 state elected officials who were honored by the group.

While rules spelled out in the House Ethics Manual bar members from receiving cash payments from outside groups, records maintained by ALEC indicate it gave Cantor $1,350 in 2009 in connection with his receipt of ALEC's annual "Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award."

In a letter sent to Cantor, R-Va., today, Common Cause asked the GOP leader to explain his apparent receipt of the ALEC payment and his failure to reveal it on the annual disclosure statement he and other lawmakers file with the House clerk. By copy of that letter, Common Cause also called the payment to the attention of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Here is a video of Cantor accepting the award.

"It appears Mr. Cantor and a substantial number of state legislators have accepted cash rewards for their work advancing ALEC's pro-business legislative agenda," said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause. "And while most of these payments total only a few hundred dollars, a public official's acceptance of any payment other than his or her government salary raises serious ethical – and perhaps legal – questions and, at a minimum, needs to be fully disclosed."

Underwritten by firms including Coca-Cola, Pfizer, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, ALEC brings state legislators and corporate representatives together to draft and push for passage of hundreds of bills each year. The group operated in relative obscurity until last year, when the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy obtained and released thousands of pages of records documenting its involvement in the passage of hundreds of state laws.

Among other things, ALEC has championed lower corporate tax rates that would benefit its business members, a rollback of bargaining rights for public employee unions, and legislation making it more difficult for consumers injured by defective products to collect damages from manufacturers.

The Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award given Cantor in 2009 is ALEC's most prestigious honor. Past recipients include former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and former Virginia Governor and Senator George Allen.

ALEC's IRS filings indicate that the award has not always had a financial component but that in 2009 it included a $1,350 "cash grant."

"Because House members are barred from accepting cash in any amount from outside groups and can receive gifts worth no more than a $100 annually from a single source, we've written Mr. Cantor to seek an explanation of his apparent acceptance of the ALEC award," Edgar said. "We've also referred the appropriate documents to the Office of Congressional Ethics."

ALEC's IRS filings indicate the group made similar grants, all smaller than the Jefferson award, to 21 current and former state officials during 2008 and '09. The "Champion Award," presented in 2008 to Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, carried a $1,250 cash grant. The "William Raggio Leadership Award," presented to Texas Rep. Tom Craddick in 2008 and North Carolina Rep. Harold Brubaker in 2009, also was accompanied both years by a $1,250 grant.

In addition, ALEC reported making 18 "Legislator of the Year" Awards in 2008 and '09. Each of the nine winners in 2008 received a $665 grant; the 2009 winners each received $395. A list of lawmakers receiving cash awards and the amounts ALEC reported paying is here.

While some states permit such payments to lawmakers, Edgar argued that legislators who accept them "cross a dangerous ethical line."

"Citizens have a right to expect that their elected officials are working in the public interest," Edgar said. "The acceptance of any payment, large or small, from a company, group, or individual – especially those that promote legislation – raises questions about whether the lawmaker receiving it has put a private interest ahead of his or her public service."

###

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Common Cause Links:
http://www.commoncause.org/

ALEC Disbands Group Responsible for Voter ID, 'Stand Your Ground

by John Nichols

Pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced Tuesday that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws.

ALEC, the shadowy corporate-funded proponent of so-called “model legislation” for passage by pliant state legislatures, announced that it would disband its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. The task force has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives—not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities. The task force has also been the source of so-called “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws that limit the ability of police and prosecutors to pursue inquiries into shootings of unarmed individuals such as Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

The decision to disband the task force appears to get ALEC out of the business of promoting Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. That’s a dramatic turn of events, with significant implications for state-based struggles over voting rights an elections, as well as criminal justice policy. But it does not mean that ALEC will stop promoting one-size-fits-all “model legislation” at the state level.

Indeed, the disbanding of the “Public Safety and Elections” task force looks in every sense to be a desperate attempt to slow an exodus of high-profile corporations from the group’s membership roll.

Anger over initial failure of Florida police and prosecutors to address Martin’s shooting led to an intense focus on the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and on the role of ALEC and the National Rifle Association in passing similar laws in states across the country.

That expanded interest in ALEC, a conservative “bill mill” that has been under scrutiny since the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation launched the “ALEC Exposed” project last summer.

Pressure by CMD, civil rights groups such as the NAACP, the Urban League and ColorOfChange and good government organizations such as Common Cause and People for the American Way—which have expressed concern with ALEC’s meddling in public safety and democracy debates at the state level—has in recent weeks led to decisions by Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s and other corporations to drop their affiliations with ALEC.

In many cases, the corporations that have quit ALEC have suggested that—while they were comfortable working with the right-wing group in order to advocate on behalf of tax and regulatory policies that are favorable to their business interests—they are ill at ease being drawn into debates about issues such as voting rights and gun control.

ALEC’s decision to disband the Public Safety and Elections task force—which worked on those issues—cannot be seen as anything other than a response to the pressure the group has felt as high-profile corporate members have been quitting it on an almost daily basis.

While the group is not acknowledging as much, its statement on the disbanding of the task force speaks volumes.

“We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus,” announced Indiana State Representative David Frizzell, ALEC’s national chairman. “We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.”

While this is a dramatic development in the struggle to expose and challenge ALEC’s one-size-fits all assault on local and state democracy, it should be remembered that ALEC remains a prime proponent—via task forces working in other areas—of state-based assaults on labor rights, environmental protections and public education.

“Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest,” explains Bob Edgar of Common Cause. “This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic processes.”

ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson promised that the group's advocacy would continue.

"ALEC has spent years promoting voter suppression laws, Kill at Will bills, and other policies that hurt Black and other marginalized communities. They have have done this with the support of some of America's biggest corporations, including AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and State Farm," said Robinson. "ALEC's latest statement is nothing more than a PR stunt aimed at diverting attention from its agenda, which has done serious damage to our communities. To simply say they are stopping non-economic work does not provide justice to the millions of Americas whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers. It's clear that major corporations were in bed with an institution that has worked against basic American values such as the right to vote. Now that these companies are aware of what they've supported, what will they do about it? If ALEC's corporate supporters will not hold the institution accountable for the damage it has caused nationwide, then the ColorOfChange.org community will hold them accountable."

© 2012 The Nation
http://www.thenation.com/blog/167425/alec-disbands-task-force-responsibl...

Hang onto that Paycheck! ALEC 'Sharpens Focus on Jobs'

by Mary Bottari

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced that it would disband its controversial "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" to "Sharpen its Focus on Jobs, Free Markets and Growth." The disbanding of the source a few of its more extreme proposals on voter ID, "Stand Your Ground/Shoot to Kill," and AZ SB1070 will do little to clean up ALEC's reputation. Each of ALEC's nine task forces is a little shop of horrors of legislative proposals that only Milton Friedman could love.

Focus on jobs you say? The Center for Media and Democracy's archive of over 800 ALEC "model bills" has exposed a job's agenda that is nothing less than a ruthless race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.
ALEC's Race to the Bottom in Wages for American Workers

The "Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act" would repeal and then ban local "living wage" ordinances like the ones in some 140 cities that provide a higher minimum for city workers/contractors -- enough to maintain a safe, decent standard of living in a community. Similarly, the ALEC "Starting (Minimum) Wage Repeal Act" would preempt the ability of localities to pay a minimum wage higher than the federal level. Some 22 states allow starting wages, but ALEC objects to the policy as an "unfunded mandate."

The ALEC "Prevailing Wage Repeal Act" would get rid of all state prevailing wage laws that give workers engaged in public works contracts a regional, average salary in an attempt to prevent contractors from entering into a race to the bottom in worker wages to win contract bids.

Not satisfied by pulling down workers' wages in every imaginable domestic scenario, ALEC also supports a radical free trade agenda that pits U.S. workers against foreign workers making a fraction of their wage and facilitates the off-shoring of U.S. jobs. From China Free Trade in 2000 to Korea Free Trade today, ALEC has supported shipping jobs overseas.

Where is the bottom in ALEC's race to the bottom? Why, prison labor of course. ALEC promotes the privatization of prisons and prison industries that do not have to abide by minimum wage rules.

Perhaps in an oversight, the ALEC archive does not contain bills rolling back child labor laws.
Benefits and Working Conditions

There's more. ALEC wants to deter injured employees from making worker’s compensation claims by, for example, giving employers wider access to workers' medical records. ALEC wants to privatize public pension plans by transferring the management of pension funds to for-profit Wall Street firms. What could go wrong?

And where to begin on the health care agenda? When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a law preempting a modest ordinance granting Milwaukee's restaurant workers a few paid sick days a year, a largely female work force earning poverty wages, ALEC eagerly took up the issue in its "Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee" at the ALEC 2011 meeting in New Orleans. The committee has been co-chaired by YUM! Brands, owners of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and other fast food chains.

Yum, who wants flu with their burger or taco? Today, YUM Brands was the 12th company to announce that it was pulling out of ALEC.
Crushing Unions

ALEC has a sweeping anti-union agenda that would cripple labor's ability to serve as an effective counterweight to corporate CEOs. Let's start with decades of support for "Right to Work" and "Paycheck Protection" legislation, and other measures to disempower and defund unions.

On collective bargaining, ALEC's "Public Employee Freedom Act" declares that "an employee should be able to contract on their own terms" and "mandatory collective bargaining laws violate this freedom." This ALEC bill and the "Public Employer Payroll Deduction Policy Act" prohibit automatic payroll deductions for union dues, a key aspect of Walker's collective bargaining bill struck down by a federal court judge.

These bills are designed to financially cripple the most significant organized voice for working families. The co-chair of ALEC's "Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force" currently is State Farm Insurance. Other committee members include Macquarie Capital and Cintra USA. These foreign firms have rushed to purchase bridges, toll roads, and other public assets of financially stressed state and local governments so they can provide formerly public services on a for-profit basis. They have a lot to gain from ALEC's expansive agenda to privatize public services.

Apparently, ALEC and the corporations funding ALEC's operations like State Farm, Johnson and Johnson, and AT&T would like to turn back the clock to those good old days when there were no unions and no minimum wage. They must not be allowed to succeed.

The full list of ALEC anti-worker and anti-consumer bills can be accessed here:

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Worker_Rights_and_Consumer_Rights

© 2012 Center for Media & Democracy
http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/04/11468/hang-paycheck-alec-sharpens-fo...

Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy's Real Economy Project and editor of their www.BanksterUSA.org site.

 

ALEC Abuses Non-Profit Status by Partisan Lobbying

by Mike McIntire

Desperate for new revenue, Ohio lawmakers introduced legislation last year that would make it easier to recover money from businesses that defraud the state.

It was quickly flagged at the Washington headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that views such “false claims” laws as encouraging frivolous lawsuits. ALEC’s membership includes not only corporations, but nearly 2,000 state legislators across the country — including dozens who would vote on the Ohio bill.

One of them, Bill Seitz, a prominent Republican state senator, wrote to a fellow senior lawmaker to relay ALEC’s concerns about “the recent upsurge” in false-claims legislation nationwide. “While this is understandable, as states are broke, the considered advice from our friends at ALEC was that such legislation is not well taken and should not be approved,” he said in a private memorandum.

The legislation was reworked to ease some of ALEC’s concerns, making it one of many bills the group has influenced by mobilizing its lawmaker members, a vast majority of them Republicans.

Despite its generally low profile, ALEC has drawn scrutiny recently for promoting gun rights policies like the Stand Your Ground law at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, as well as bills to weaken labor unions and tighten voter identification rules. Amid the controversies, several companies, including Coca-Cola, Intuit and Kraft Foods, have left the group.

Most of the attention has focused on ALEC’s role in creating model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that broadly advance a pro-business, socially conservative agenda. But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.

The documents — hundreds of pages of minutes of private meetings, member e-mail alerts and correspondence — were obtained by the watchdog group Common Cause and shared with The New York Times. Common Cause, which said it got some of the documents from a whistle-blower and others from public record requests in state legislatures, is using the files to support an Internal Revenue Service complaint asserting that ALEC has abused its tax-exempt status, something ALEC denies.

“We know its mission is to bring together corporations and state legislators to draft profit-driven, anti-public-interest legislation, and then help those elected officials pass the bills in statehouses from coast to coast,” said the president of Common Cause, Bob Edgar. “If that’s not lobbying, what is?”

ALEC argues that it provides a forum for lawmakers to network and to hear from constituencies that share an interest in promoting free-market, limited-government policies. Lobbying laws differ by state, and ALEC maintains that if any of its members’ interactions with one another happen to qualify as lobbying in a particular state, that does not mean ALEC, as an organization, lobbies.

Mr. Seitz, who sits on ALEC’s governing board, said he believed that liberal groups like Common Cause are attacking the organization out of frustration that “they don’t have a comparable group that is as effective as ALEC in enacting policies into law.” He said that ALEC was not much different from other professional associations that represent state legislators, and that members were free to ignore or disagree with the group’s policy positions.

“This concept that private companies are writing the bills and handing them to gullible legislators to trundle off and pass is false,” Mr. Seitz said. “There is nothing new, surprising or sinister about private-sector organizations coming together with legislators to share ideas and learn from each other.”

Even so, the effectiveness of ALEC’s bill-production system is a major part of the group’s appeal to businesses. A membership brochure last year boasted that ALEC lawmakers typically introduced more than 1,000 bills based on model legislation each year and passed about 17 percent of them. A members-only newsletter from 1995, found in an online archive of tobacco company documents, bluntly characterized that success ratio as “a good investment.”

“Nowhere else can you get a return that high,” it said.

ALEC, which is registered as a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, traces its roots to 1973, when the conservative activist Paul M. Weyrich and several other Republicans sought to create a state-level clearinghouse for conservative ideas. Although its board is made up of legislators, who pay $50 a year to belong, ALEC is primarily financed by more than 200 private-sector members, whose annual dues of $7,000 to $25,000 accounted for most of its $7 million budget in 2010.

Some companies give much more, all of it tax deductible: AT&T, Pfizer and Reynolds American each contributed $130,000 to $398,000, according to a copy of ALEC’s 2010 tax returns, obtained by The Times, that included donors’ names, which are normally withheld from public inspection. The returns show that corporate members pay stipends — it calls them “scholarships” — for lawmakers to travel to annual conferences, including a four-day retreat where ALEC spends as much as $250,000 on child care for members’ families.

At the conferences, internal records show, representatives of corporations sit with legislators on eight task forces dealing with issues like telecommunications, health care and product liability. (ALEC announced last week that it was disbanding a ninth task force on public safety and elections, which was the focus of much of the recent scrutiny of the group.) Each task force is led by a legislator and someone from the private sector. Corporate members in recent years have included Bank of America, Walmart, Verizon, Microsoft and Connections Education, an online learning company.

The task forces develop model bills that legislators then introduce in their home states. The provenance of those bills is not always apparent to those being asked to vote on them. But minutes of task force meetings, not available to the public, show how some of the bills were produced and who within ALEC sponsored them.

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

ALEC says that its lawmaker members have the ultimate say over its policy deliberations, and that no model bills are adopted unless its governing board, made up entirely of legislators, approves it. But the organization’s rules give corporations a great deal of influence on the task forces, where model legislation must first clear a preliminary vote before going to the board. As a result, meeting minutes show, draft bills that are preferred by a majority of lawmakers are sometimes killed by the corporate members at the table.

In August, the telecommunications task force met and considered a model resolution regarding online piracy that had been introduced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Although AT&T, Verizon and AOL could not agree on the details, the lawmakers present overwhelmingly supported the resolution in a 17-to-1 vote. However, because the corporate members deadlocked 8 to 8, the bill failed.

ALEC’s bylaws also grant its corporate members greater power over task force appointments. They say lawmakers can be removed from a task force leadership position for any reason, while private-sector members can be removed only “with cause,” like nonpayment of dues.

Beyond creating model bills, ALEC keeps careful track of state legislation, as well as national issues, and tries to mobilize its lawmaker members to take action. Aides on ALEC task forces keep detailed, color-coded spreadsheets on “good bills” and “problematic bills” in all 50 states, and they regularly send e-mails to alert legislators about ones that ALEC opposes or supports.

ALEC also sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama’s health care law. Last month, on the day that Supreme Court arguments on the law began, ALEC sent an e-mail to legislators with a bullet-point list of criticisms of it, to be used “in your next radio interview, town hall meeting, op-ed or letter to the editor.”

Alan P. Dye, a lawyer for ALEC, acknowledged that the group’s practice of communicating with lawmakers about specific bills could meet the federal definition of lobbying, if not for an exception that he said applied when such interactions were a result of “nonpartisan research and analysis.” ALEC simply offers independently produced material for elected officials to consider, Mr. Dye said.

“If you look at the ALEC method of operating, it’s all based on nonpartisan research and analysis,” he said. “They have consensus building, pros and cons, everyone has a say.”

Critics dismiss that argument as misleading. Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which teamed up with The Nation magazine to publicize a cache of 800 ALEC model bills last year, said that as of last August, all but one of 104 leadership positions within the organization were filled by Republicans and that the policies ALEC promoted were almost uniformly conservative.

“They talk a good game about being bipartisan,” Ms. Graves said, “but the record shows the opposite.”

Mr. Seitz, the Ohio state senator, said concerns about partisanship, lobbying and the shaping of model bills were beside the point, because whatever emerged from the ALEC process would be subjected to “endless public vetting” in legislatures before becoming law.

As for his decision to write a memo raising objections to the Ohio false-claims bill, Mr. Seitz, a lawyer and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that occurred after he attended an ALEC task force meeting and talked about it with his co-chairman, a Washington lawyer and lobbyist who represents the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other businesses. He said he learned that the bill, as originally written, would have been “a trial lawyer’s bonanza,” and so he has been working with the state attorney general to draft legislation more acceptable to himself — and to ALEC.

“I expect there could be hearings on it within the next month,” Mr. Seitz said.

Copyright 2012 The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/us/alec-a-tax-exempt-group-mixes-legis...

List of ALEC Corporate Members Released

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 2012
4:14 PM

CONTACT: Common Cause

Mary Boyle, Common Cause (202) 736-5770
Nikolina Lazic, Center for Media and Democracy (608) 770-1343
List of ALEC Corporate Members Released

WASHINGTON - May 4 - The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has long been a secretive organization that does not disclose a full list of its corporate members and donors.

Today, Common Cause and the Center for Media Democracy are posting the most up-to-date list of corporate members available, based on documents obtained by Common Cause and filed with the IRS last week in its whistleblower complaint against ALEC.

This 2011 list of corporations sitting on ALEC issue task forces, disclosed as part of the IRS whistleblower complaint, is available through Common Cause here. The full list of companies that have been involved in ALEC in recent years, updated with the new data, is available here (http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Corporations) through the Center for Media and Democracy.

ALEC has come under increased public scrutiny lately for its extremist agenda to limit voting rights, privatize schools and prisons, weaken environmental protections, and promote ‘Stand Your Ground’ gun laws based on the controversial Florida law at issue in the Trayvon Martin shooting. Amid calls for accountability from civil rights and democracy reform groups like Color of Change, Credo Action, Progress Now, PFAW, Common Cause, and the Center for Media and Democracy, at least 14 major companies, including Proctor & Gamble, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Kraft Foods, Mars Inc. and Coca-Cola, have abandoned ALEC in recent weeks, as have 31 state legislators in 11 states from both major political parties.

Color of Change is urging consumers to reach out to select ALEC corporations to maximize the impact of people’s voices. More information about their corporate campaign is available here (http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/alec/?source=coc_website). Their campaign is currently focusing public pressure on Amazon, AT&T, State Farm, and Johnson & Johnson.

“Firms that remain in ALEC, despite its involvement in a scheme to defraud the IRS and its advocacy of legislation that puts private profit ahead of the public interest have some explaining to do,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause.

ALEC’s member legislators each year introduce about 1,000 bills based on ALEC “model” bills in statehouses across the country. Much of that legislation is drafted by corporate executives and lobbyists; ALEC records unearthed by Common Cause indicate that companies work through ALEC to steer it to passage.

ALEC’s legislative portfolio combines an agenda that favors corporations over consumers and workers – lower corporate taxes, limited environmental protections, and the repeal of worker rights, along with the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, schools, prisons and other government institutions or services – with hot-button social issues. ALEC announced last month that it had disbanded its “Public Safety and Elections” Task Force, the source of its controversial legislation to expand gun ownership and limit the right to vote, although the former legislative leader of that task force vowed that its work would continue through other ALEC task forces.

“ALEC has an extreme agenda through task force meetings where corporate lobbyists vote as equals with elected representatives on model bills to limit Americans’ rights, behind closed doors and without the press or public present,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, ALECexposed.org and PRWatch.org.

The ALEC records released today were obtained during Common Cause’s research into ALEC’s lobbying activity. Common Cause filed an IRS “whistleblower” complaint against ALEC last week, charging that the organization has violated the terms of its federal tax-exempt status by engaging in lobbying.

The Common Cause filing includes more than 4,000 pages of previously unreleased emails, “issue alerts,” “talking points,” meeting minutes and other documents detailing ALEC’s lobbying activity.

ALEC calls itself a charity and its leaders insist the group does zero lobbying. ALEC’s tax exemption allows the group’s corporate funders, which supply most of its multi-million dollar annual budget, to claim a tax deduction for their contributions. The Common Cause complaint asks the IRS to investigate ALEC’s activities, collect unpaid taxes, and impose appropriate penalties.

###

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Common Cause Links:
http://www.commoncause.org/

26 Corps Have Dumped ALEC, 21 Still Dating other ALECs

Don’t Hate Just One Player, Hate the Game: 26 Corporations Have Dumped ALEC, 21 Still Dating Other ALECs

by Steve Horn and Sarah Blaskey

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- described by some observers as a “Trojan Horse” for the corporate agenda in statehouses -- might have been dumped by 26 corporations and four non-profit organizations. That, though, hasn’t stopped 21 of these corporations and two of the non-profits from continuing to promote the corporate agenda via “The Other ALECs.”

Our research shows that of the 26 corporations that have “dumped” ALEC, 21 still pay dues to one or more of “The Other ALECs.” These “Other ALECs” include the Council of State Governments (CSG), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF), State Government Affairs Council (SGAC), and the National Governors Association (NGA).

All of these groups facilitate Corporate America’s Legislative Playbook (http://truth-out.org/news/item/9889-exposed-the-other-alecs-corporate-pl...) for pushing their agenda in statehouses nationwide.

Further, two of the four non-profit organizations who have fled the ALEC scene still pay membership dues for prime access to a bipartisan consortium of politicians in “The Other ALECs.”

The Playbook, then, hasn’t ended with the dumping of ALEC. The corporate players in the game merely have flocked to different teams.

The 26th and most recent corporation to dump ALEC, Express-Scripts, is a case in point. The pharmaceutical giant still pays dues to one of the "Other ALECs," CSG, as part of its "Associates Program."

The Express-Scripts announcement comes in the immediate aftermath of five other corporations “dumping ALEC” this past week, making it six total for the week. The other five: John Deere, CVS Caremark, MillerCoors, HP, and Best Buy.

Four of the five of these corporations still pay dues to the following organizations, the only asterisk being MillerCoors:

John Deere - SGAC
CVS - SGAC, NCSL, SLLF, NGA
Hewlett-Packard - SGAC, CSG, NGA
Best Buy - SGAC, NCSL, NGA

"We want to thank these companies for making the right decision, and we continue to call on all major corporations to stop funding ALEC given its involvement in voter suppression and its work pushing policies designed to benefit rich and powerful corporations at the expense of people of color, workers, and the environment," said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange.org, of the recent ALEC dumpings.

Robinson is right about one thing: by dumping ALEC, corporations will no longer be subsidizing Voter ID legislation. But promoting ideological policies is not the reason corporations like Coca-Cola sponsored ALEC in the first place.

This fact wasn’t lost on ColorOfChange.org. In reporting Coca-Cola’s dumping of ALEC, it quoted a company spokesperson saying, “Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our Company and industry.”

Notably, Coca-Cola still pays $12,500/year to NCSL.This small down payment gains its lobbyists VIP access to the biggest conferences for state legislators hosted annually. It also sponsors NGA, SGAC and SLLF.

Like, Coca-Cola, rich and powerful corporations that have dumped ALEC will continue to utilize “The Other ALECs” to push an agenda harmful not only to people of color, workers, and the environment/energy, but also to students, civil liberties, civil justice, et al.

"It appears any political access or model legislation the ALEC-member corporations want, they can likely get through membership in the 'Other ALECs,’” said John Stauber, author of numerous books and expert on corporate propaganda. “Progressive activists need to deal with this fact or risk whitewashing the corporations now exiting ALEC. These corporations are not in any way being politically responsible, but just PR smart. Clearly the problem goes way beyond just ALEC to the other similar business-funded cabals."

Alas, for multinational corporations and the lobbyist firms that serve them, ALEC is seen merely as one of many “Groups” through which to facilitate the Corporate Playbook. For them, it’s all a big game of speed dating.

But as the old adage goes, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

http://www.desmogblog.com/

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist, and a Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog. Follow him on Twitter at @Steve_Horn1022.

Sarah Blaskey is a freelance investigative journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin.

ALEC Goes After the Center for Media and Democracy

by Lisa Graves

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sent a message to hundreds of legislators across the country attacking the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the creator of ALECexposed.org. Among other things ALEC claimed, "CMD is an attack-dog, not a watch-dog."

The error-filled missive, which was intended to buck up the ALEC faithful as more and more corporations flee the organization, has us here at CMD pondering the old adage, "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they want to attack you and then you win."

ALEC Attempts to Spin Legislators about Corporate Exodus

ALEC Exposed
ALEC's August 13 message claimed that CMD "continue[s] to spread half-truths and lies" about ALEC in order to "weaken [ALEC's] resolve" and "create the false impression that companies are departing from ALEC."

As CMD has reported, 38 corporations, four non-profit organizations, and 70 state legislators have distanced themselves from ALEC by either dropping their funding or their membership or both. These major corporations include General Motors, Walgreens, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard, MillerCoors, John Deere, Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, Procter & Gamble, Mars, Wendy's, McDonald's, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola.

We reported on six new departures, including Sprint and GE, just days ago. In every instance, CMD relied on a formal communication from the firm, a statement, letter, email, or conversation with staff.

Yet ALEC is attempting to make hay over whether some of the corporations that have said they are no longer funding ALEC are funders through paying membership dues and pay-to-play fees or whether they were funders of ALEC through sponsoring its meetings. Such distinctions among funders that have stopped funding ALEC are, to quote Shakespeare, "much ado about nothing."

Amgen: ALEC claims in its note to legislators that "Amgen is not severing ties with ALEC . . . . Amgen has informed us that it is letting its membership with us expire after this year." CMD reported on August 8th that Amgen had "dropped" is membership with ALEC. CMD's article attached the letter Amgen's assistant secretary and associate general counsel, Andrea A. Robinson, sent to Timothy Smith of Walden Asset Management which said, "After careful consideration, we have determined not to renew our membership in ALEC when our current membership expires this year." So Amgen is on the record dropping its membership after sustained pressure by community groups and shareholders.

As for ALEC's attempt to spin Amgen's public statement in August, the company's letter of departure speaks for itself.

Louis Dreyfus: ALEC claims, "Louis Dreyfus never had a membership in ALEC to drop. . . . ALEC has partnered with Louis Dreyfus in past programs and has counted Louis Dreyfus as a sponsor of past annual meetings." After a conversation with a spokesperson at the company, CMD originally mentioned, in a July 30th article about the 46 firms that had disappeared from ALEC's annual meeting brochure, that it looked as though Louis Dreyfus was no longer a member of ALEC. Later, in announcing the departure of the firm from ALEC's circle of sponsors, we clarified, "Louis Dreyfus confirmed to CMD that it had decided not to fund ALEC this year." CMD's website lists Louis Dreyfus as a "Vice Chairman" level sponsor of the 2011 ALEC Annual Conference (in 2010, this level of sponsorship equated to $25,000).

The bottom-line is that Louis Dreyfus chose not to fund ALEC's annual meeting this year after sponsoring "past annual meetings."

And, despite ALEC's spin, neither Amgen nor Louis Dreyfus ever contacted CMD to request a correction about their decisions not to fund ALEC. However, some corporations have contacted CMD: firms anxious to distance themselves from ALEC and asking CMD to remove documented references to their past funding of ALEC, requests which were declined.

ALEC Uses Edelman PR and Media Attack Dogs to Try to Discredit ALEC Critics

In May 2012, PRWeek reported that ALEC had hired the notorious global PR firm Edelman. Edelman is the firm of choice for big tobacco, big oil, and big pharma, all key sponsors of ALEC. ALEC also held a special meeting asking right-wing bloggers, such as the Breitbart operation,for help in "a very aggressive campaign to really spread the word about what we actually do," as CMD has reported.

An "aggressive campaign" is clearly underway.

ALEC's note to legislators claims that CMD's "top investigative reporter" has a "lengthy criminal background." It links to a attack-piece published by a newly created entity called The Washington Free Beacon (WFB), the online publication of the self-proclaimed "conservative advocacy group" the Center for American Freedom.

In that piece, recent college grad CJ Ciaramella focuses on Beau Hodai, a freelance reporter who has written for the Center for Media and Democracy, In These Times, Prison Legal News, Extra! (a publication of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), and the investigative news publication he founded, DBA Press.

Beau has been researching and reporting on ALEC since late 2009. His reporting has detailed the relationship between ALEC and private prison contractors in the dissemination of bills based on Arizona's SB 1070, and has identified ALEC as one of the key forces behind attempts to destroy public employee unions and privatize public services.

Notably, the WFB attack job does not find any material errors in any of Beau's extensively documented reports on ALEC, but focuses on misdemeanor court records. It dwells on the fact that his legal first name is Mohamad. Beau has been nicknamed "Beau" since birth. (It is worth noting that "CJ" is not Ciaramella's legal first name but the nickname he uses instead of "Carl.")

Beau recently stirred the pot with a special report detailing corruption in the Ohio General Assembly based on public records that raise questions as to whether the state's elected officials in ALEC are complying with Ohio's ethics laws regarding gifts.

Interestingly enough, Beau learned that exactly one week following the publication of the Ohio ALEC corruption story, a private investigation firm requested court records concerning a past arrest. Allegations from those same court records emerged as the centerpiece of the WFB attack article.

The Washington Free Beacon's "Aerial Hunting Operation"

WFB's Matthew Continetti (who previously was an opinion editor at the right-wing Weekly Standard, where he remains a contributing editor) outlined the WFB's strategy as part of its recent launch:

"What would happen if the media wolf pack suddenly had to worry about an aerial hunting operation? You are about to find out. The Washington Free Beacon is here to enter the arena of combat journalism. [...] At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them."

And this is the team ALEC is using to attempt to discredit CMD as an "attack-dog"?

This is not the first such piece to come out of WFB. In the past few months, Ciaramella has written three pieces personally attacking reporters and activists working to expose ALEC. In addition to the piece on Beau, he published a similar attack on Color of Change staffer Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte, as well as The Nation reporter Lee Fang. Fang has also written for Think Progress (blog of the Center for American Progress) and Republic Report, and who has reported critically on ALEC over the past year. Color of Change has been instrumental in the call for ALEC corporate members to sever ties with the organization.

The latest piece also takes a shot at George Soros by attempting to link Beau to the philanthropist through PRWatch. But CMD openly discloses on its website that the past grant it received from the Open Society Institute was focused on homeland security, not ALEC. Notably, neither the WFB nor CAF disclose to the public which corporations, organizations, or individuals bankroll their operations or smear campaigns.

The People Behind the "Center for American Freedom"

WFB is a creature of the Center for American Freedom (CAF), which was incorporated in Washington, D.C., on August 18, 2011, as a not-for-profit corporation. According to District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) records, CAF has two active trade names: "Free Bacon" [sic] and "Washington Free Beacon," both of which were formally effected in March 2012.

DCRA records list the names of two founding CAF "governors," Michael Goldfarb and Aaron Harison.

Harison, currently CAF's president, previously served as director of communications for the Republican National Committee (RNC). Harison is joined at CAF by former RNC acting director of communications, and current CAF research director, Tim Killeen.

Harison is also the former executive director of Keep America Safe, an operation co-founded in 2009 by Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney. William Kristol, the founder and editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, is a founding board member of Keep America Safe. Kristol is currently listed as a board member of CAF, and is the former executive director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neocon "think tank" that had strong ties to the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael Goldfarb, CAF's chairman, has reportedly worked as an advisor to Keep America Safe and the militaristic Emergency Committee for Israel. (Kristol is also a board member for the Emergency Committee for Israel). Goldfarb is also listed as a contributing editor to Weekly Standard.

In addition, Goldfarb is a partner in the lobby/PR firm, Orion Strategies LLC. Not surprisingly, given Goldfarb and Kristol's warmongering predilections, Orion has lobbied on issues of arms sales and foreign relations for very special interests like defense contractors and foreign governments.

While these ties may explain some of the content on the WFB, what does any of this have to do with its efforts to defend ALEC by attacking its critics?

According to Politico, right-wing financiers Charles and David Koch also employ the services of Orion Strategies and, as CMD has documented, Koch Industries and/or the Koch family fortune have helped fund ALEC and numerous ALEC private sector members that help operationalize the brothers' ideological and financial agenda. There is no indication that the Kochs asked WFB to jump to the defense of ALEC. However, the right wing has been howling that the press and progressive groups have been too persuasive in exposing ALEC and in making the case about how ALEC helps make the corporate wish list into law through its members and operations.

CMD Wins Awards for ALEC Exposed and Investigative Breakthroughs

In the letter to its members, ALEC also attempted to impugn CMD as a "highly partisan, fringe organization." The charge brings to mind pots and kettles. When CMD surveyed ALEC's political leadership in July 2011, it documented that 103 of the 104 legislators serving on ALEC's Board of Directors or holding the post of co-chair on its task forces or of a state were Republicans. It's difficult to imagine a more lopsided partisan make-up of a body of elected officials than that, other than in groups that are expressly described by their party label, such as the Republican Governors Association.

CMD is a non-partisan watchdog group that has taken heat for being highly critical of President Obama's financial policies and the Democrat's campaign financing practices. We have filed briefs challenging the Obama administration, including its detention powers under the recent National Defense Authorization Act, and have been critical of Democrats and Republicans who push the agenda of their corporate benefactors in dozens of areas.

CMD has been honored to receive several journalism awards for its work to expose ALEC: the "Sidney Award" for Investigative Journalism, along with The Nation magazine, in September 2011; the "Izzy Award" for outstanding achievement in independent media, along with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who covered the uprising in Egypt from the ground; and most recently, the "Professional Freedom and Responsibility award" from the Cultural and Critical Studies Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication -- an honor that has previously been awarded to Bill Moyers, Molly Ivins, I.F. "Izzy" Stone, Noam Chomsky, Studs Terkel, and Bob McChesney. Earlier this year, CMD also recieved one of the Milwaukee Press Club's 2011 "Excellence in Journalism" awards for its investigative work.

ALEC Ups the Ante But the Odds Are on More Defections and Inquiries

While ALEC is fighting CMD with misleading missives to its members and media smears, it is still shedding corporate board members, funders, and sponsors. And it is still getting hammered in the press for its extreme agenda and its corrupting influence, for the fact that corporate lobbyists vote as equals with elected officials on templates to change the law, and its repeated claims it does not lobby despite proof to the contrary. ALEC has also received continued scrutiny for its corporate-funded scholarships. CMD has learned at least one state has had trouble maintaining corporate donors to cover the usual trips for legislators to attend ALEC events.

As calls for investigation of ALEC's lobbying activities and financing practices mount (with three complaints now filed before the IRS and other ethics investigations at the state level), it will take more than Edelman PR and "combat journalism" to rescue ALEC from the trouble it is in.

© 2012 Center for Media & Democracy
http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/08/11717/alec-goes-after-center-media-a...

Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the publisher of PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts.

Watchdogs Shed More Light on ALEC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 27, 2012
2:13 PM

CONTACT: Common Cause
Mary Boyle
(202)736-5770
Watchdogs Shed More Light on ALEC on Eve of Group's DC Policy Summit

WASHINGTON - November 27 - The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) convenes its annual policy summit this Wednesday in Washington, DC. The three day meeting at the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel caps a year of intense controversy surrounding the organization’s political agenda and tax-exempt status. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Common Cause have obtained new documents and produced reports that shed more light on the inner workings of ALEC and offer you valuable resources as you prepare for coverage of the ALEC conference.

ALEC continues to insist that it does no lobbying, even as it brings hundreds of legislators to DC to sit with corporate lobbyists and executives to craft legislation. ALEC’s most recent IRS Form 990 (http://www.commoncause.org/atf/cf/%7bfb3c17e2-cdd1-4df6-92be-bd442989366...), for 2011, indicates that while classified as a charity and enjoying the tax-exempt status that accompanies that designation, ALEC spent nearly $5 million on closed-to-the-public conferences with state legislators and “task forces” geared to advancing hundreds of corporate-drafted “model” bills. Other public records obtained by Common Cause show that PhRMA, the trade association representing drug manufacturers, contributed $264,500 to ALEC in 2011, more than twice as much as ALEC collected in dues from all of its nearly 2,000 legislator members that year.

New open records requests shine light on ALEC’s lobbying agenda for 2013. More than 1,100 pages of new ALEC task force documents (http://www.commoncause.org/site/lookup.asp?c=ctJLLYNMLvF&b=8464293), obtained through state freedom of information requests, demonstrate how ALEC’s corporate members develop and drive its legislative agenda and work in tandem with legislators to secure passage of ALEC-backed bills. These agenda, draft legislation, meeting minutes and other materials strengthen Common Cause’s case that ALEC is a lobby masquerading as a charity. Common Cause is pressing a tax “whistleblower” complaint with the IRS seeking to revoke ALEC’s tax exemption.

Drug companies, big tobacco, telecomm giants and other corporate interests will use a dubious “scholarship” scheme to quietly pay travel and hotel expenses for many of the state legislators gathering in DC this week. “Buying Influence”(http://www.commoncause.org/buyinginfluence), an October 2012 report by CMD and Common Cause documents how ALEC’s corporate backers have funneled an estimated $4 million into “scholarships” since 2006 to pay for the travel and hotel expenses of state legislators attending ALEC meetings with corporate lobbyists like the conference opening on Wednesday in Washington. ALEC’s public disclosure of its role in financing the trips has been spotty, and by paying for the junkets through ALEC, the companies can take advantage of its tax exemption to claim the expense as a tax deduction, effectively shifting the cost to taxpayers.

ALEC and some of its members have taken new steps to hide their activities and intimidate watchdogs. While doing their ALEC task force work in private, some ALEC-member legislators also appear to have shifted their ALEC correspondence to personal email accounts in an effort to avoid public scrutiny; five Wisconsin legislators agreed in October to an out-of-court settlement requiring them to release ALEC-related emails held in their personal accounts. Although ALEC claims it is the largest voluntary group of legislators in the country, it has not behaved in a manner consistent with the public interest obligations of elected officials: for example, ALEC has used a public relations firm to investigate public interest groups asking questions about ALEC’s activities. And last week, a notice posted by ALEC asserted that unauthorized downloads of bills legislators are provided could trigger “civil liability and criminal prosecution.”

Many legislators will shy away from ALEC’s controversial agenda and improper lobbying activity this year. Since the launch of ALEC exposed in 2011, over 70 legislators have indicated that they have left ALEC; in the 2012 election, at least 117 ALEC members lost their seats (links: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/11/11859/117-alec-members-voted-out-2012 and http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Legislators_Who_Have_Cut_Ties_to_...).

Hundreds of state lawmakers from across the U.S. are expected to attend the three-day ALEC conference. They will sit and vote as equals with corporate representatives on ALEC task forces – in meetings closed to the public and press – to advance a slate of bills drafted to advance business interests in the 2013 legislative sessions. ALEC bills and resolutions can affect both federal and state laws.

Though it strives to influence public policy, a penchant for secrecy marks ALEC’s activities. ALEC’s legislative leaders in each state have a “duty” under its public bylaws to get ALEC bills introduced and enacted. ALEC also urges the introduction and adoption of model bills, and corporate lobbyists typically don’t publicly report their work at ALEC meetings on behalf of ALEC model bills as lobbying.

In addition to the exodus of lawmakers, more than 40 companies, including General Motors, General Electric, Amazon.com and Bank of America, severed ties with ALEC this year. Their moves came as journalists and groups including CMD and Common Cause connected the dots between ALEC and state laws restricting voting rights, privatizing public schools and prisons, and weakening clean air and clean water regulations. ALEC came under particularly intense scrutiny for its national drive to promote the “Stand Your Ground” gun law that for weeks shielded the killer of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin from prosecution.

###

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Common Cause Links:
http://www.commoncause.org/

FreedomWorks & ALEC’s Anti-Union Agenda in the States

FreedomWorks Putting Its War Chest to Work for ALEC’s Anti-Union Agenda in the States
by Brendan Fischer

The Tea Party-affiliated group FreedomWorks -- the right-wing organization that helps connect “Tea Party” groups with talking points, rallies, and more -- is gearing up to direct its sizeable war chest towards advancing anti-union initiatives in the states, supporting an agenda set by groups like David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This strongly suggests that the battle for the future of private and public sector unions in America is beginning a new phase of combat.

This month, FreedomWorks announced "an aggressive grassroots, state-based campaign" for 2013 to "push back against domineering unions," among other plans. The group has been in the midst of turmoil in recent months with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey abruptly resigning after the 2012 elections, in part because of concerns about the ethics of FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe. In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s strong showing in battleground states where union members turned out in large numbers against Mitt Romney, Kibbe is apparently prioritizing anti-union advocacy.

Unions have been under attack since the 2010 elections swept new Republican majorities into statehouses across the country. Starting in early 2011, states like Wisconsin and Ohio passed legislation to restrict collective bargaining rights for public sector employees (although Ohio citizens were able to reverse one of the most pernicious bills via referendum), and in late 2012, the Michigan legislature rushed a "right to work" bill into law during the lame duck session.

So-called right to work laws undermine collective bargaining by allowing some employees to free ride when the union uses the collective power of workers to negotiate wages, raises, and other benefits with managers. Under right to work laws, employees can get these benefits while opting-out of paying the costs, which groups like FreedomWorks have spun as "workplace freedom." Much of the anti-union legislation introduced since the 2010 elections can be traced to "model" bills from ALEC, after legislators who attended the December 2010 ALEC meeting embraced the right to work agenda that had stalled decades earlier.

CMD identified how Michigan's right to work measure, for example, was almost identical to the ALEC model. More recently, Progress Missouri identified how ALEC legislators in that state have introduced another right to work proposal that closely resembles the ALEC "model" Right to Work Act.

ALEC legislators have also been buoyed by support for these measures from groups like David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. After a number of Republicans were defeated in federal races, FreedomWorks now appears to have made anti-union legislation in the states a priority for 2013.
Leaked Documents Show Record Fundraising, Internal Coordination

As details about the power struggle within FreedomWorks emerged in December -- with a wealthy donor who secretly gave $12 million to the Freedomworks Super PAC buying Armey's silence (http://www.prwatch.org/news/2013/01/11930/12m-donation-freedomworks-laun...) about Kibbe's ethical issues until after the election via an $8 million "consulting" contract - internal board documents leaked to Mother Jones (http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/550014/freedomworks-board-book-win...) showed that $33 million of the $41 million raised by the group through mid-December came in the form of five-and six-figure checks, contradicting the notion that FreedomWorks is at its core a "grassroots" organization (even though it has been increasing its small-donor base).

According to the leaked documents, FreedomWorks' fundraising surged in 2012, largely thanks to the group's Super PAC, FreedomWorks for America, which raised $23 million.

Federal law requires a group like FreedomWorks to have segregated accounting for its Super PAC, charitable, and nonprofit wings. But Kibbe reported to the board a single $42 million in "consolidated" revenue for 2012, combining funds raised by the FreedomWorks for America Super PAC, the 501(c)(3) charity Freedomworks Foundation, and the 501(c)(4) Freedomworks, Inc. (The group has also shifted millions between its 501(c)(4) and Super PAC in 2012, effectively hiding the identity of the true donor).

"The difference between us and other Super PACs is our commitment to building a machine that outlives any election, won or lost," wrote Kibbe in a "President's Report" to the FreedomWorks Board of Directors.
FreedomWorks to Use Funds to Attack Unions

FreedomWorks now intends to direct that war chest -- and that "machine" -- towards anti-union battles in the states.

Since the election, FreedomWorks has promoted a petition to "support Michigan Governor Rick Snyder" in his anti-union push, published multiple blogs attacking unions, and released a study purporting to show the benefits of "paycheck protection" legislation to defund unions in Pennsylvania.

In a January 6 message to the FreedomWorks email list, Kibbe announced a new "Save the States" campaign and linked to a website where users could rank the issues FreedomWorks has identified as priorities -- like Right to Work, Paycheck Protection, "school choice" (which is presented as an anti-union initiative), and reforming the supposedly "extravagant" pensions promised to unionized public sector employees.

Four out of the five issues in the FreedomWorks "Save the States" campaign are tied to weakening unions, either directly or indirectly.

As CMD has reported (http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/12/11902/alecs-so-called-right-work-bil...), attacks on unions are not only about expanding corporate profit margins at the expense of workers, but also about cutting-off a key funding stream for Democrats and progressive causes (even though the dues workers pay are separate from the funds provided for political activity). These efforts also limit the capacity of unions to get out the vote in support of candidates who protect worker's rights or against candidates who want to strip them away. By weakening a political opponent FreedomWorks can expand its own influence over elections.

FreedomWorks does not appear to be alone in its push. David Koch's Americans for Prosperity also appears to be publicly prioritizing anti-union advocacy, for example calling for right to work in Wisconsin. AFP reported spending $39 million on the 2012 elections (and at least $10 million defending Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker during his recall), but as a nonprofit its primary purpose cannot be electoral. Its lobbying and advocacy on anti-union initiatives could be one way to try and justify its nonprofit "social welfare" status.

FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity both grew out of Citizens for a Strong Economy, a non-profit group founded by David Koch in the early 1980s. Koch Industries and philanthropies have been key funders of ALEC -- which has been instrumental in advancing anti-union laws around the country -- and AFP is an ALEC member along with Koch Industries and other groups funded by the Koch family fortune. The degree to which FreedomWorks is formally associated with ALEC is not known but its leaders have presented at ALEC meetings, and ALEC's Director of External Relations, Caitlyn Korb (who started her career as a Koch Summer Fellow) has recently moved over to FreedomWorks.

This means there may be even bigger battles over labor rights in coming years than we have seen during the turmoil of 2011 and 2012 -- and the right-wing is backing the ALEC agenda big time, with big money.

© 2013 Center for Media & Democracy
http://www.prwatch.org/news/2013/01/11938/freedomworks-putting-its-war-c...

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