Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ALEC Exposed
John Nichols
The Nation
July 12, 2011
This article appeared in the August 1-8, 2011 edition
of The Nation.

"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 that follow 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.

"Business Domination Inc.," by Joel Rogers and Laura

"Sabotaging Healthcare," by Wendell Potter

"The Koch Connection," by Lisa Graves

"Starving Public Schools," by Julie Underwood

"Rigging Elections," by John Nichols

A Discreet Nonprofit Brings Together Politicians
and Corporations to Write `Model Bills'
by Lois Beckett
July 15, 2011

Calling the EPA's attempts to regulate greenhouse gasses
a 'trainwreck,' ALEC crafted a model resolution for
states that was later the basis of legislation in at
least 13 states, according to a press release on its
website. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, both the Los Angeles Times and The Nation put
the spotlight on a little-known but influential
conservative nonprofit that creates "model" state
legislation that often make its way into law. The
organization has helped craft some of the most
controversial-and industry-friendly-legislation of
recent years.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, crafted
a model resolution for states calling the EPA's attempts
to regulate greenhouse gasses a "trainwreck" and asking
Congress to slow or stop the regulations, the Times
reported. A press release on ALEC's site says that at
least 13 other states have passed resolutions based on
their model language.

Latest Episode: Child abuse and death cases can be
particularly difficult to solve. Everyone wants to make
sure justice is served, but when emotions run high and
evidence can be misleading, innocent people sometimes
end up behind bars for the most heinous of crimes.

ALEC was also involved in the writing of Arizona's new
immigration law, which gave police officers broad powers
to detain anyone suspected of being in the country

Brought into being by a legendary conservative who also
founded the well-known Heritage Foundation, ALEC has
been around since the early 1970s. It calls itself a
"policy making program that unites members of the public
and private sectors in a dynamic partnership" based on
"Jeffersonian principles." Critics say it has devolved
into a pay-for-play operation, where state legislators
and their families get to go on industry-funded junkets
and major corporations get to ghostwrite model laws and
pass them on to receptive politicians.

In a multipart report this week, the Nation profiled
ALEC's influence on state legislation related to
privatization and anti-union efforts, fighting Obama's
health care reform, privatizing public education and
enacting voter ID laws, which critics say are designed
to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to vote
Democratic. The Nation also provides a deeper look at
the financial and ideological links between the Koch
brothers and ALEC.

ALEC representatives tell reporters that its mission is
fundamentally "educational." ALEC spokeswoman Raegan
Weber told the LA Times, "Legislators should hear from
those the government intends to regulate."

"ALEC allows a place for everyone at the table to come
and debate and discuss," another ALEC official, Michael
Bowman, told NPR last year. "You have legislators who
will ask questions much more freely at our meetings
because they are not under the eyes of the press, the
eyes of the voters. They're just trying to learn a
policy and understand it." Neither Weber nor Bowman
immediately responded to our requests for further

Corporations pay hefty fees for the opportunity to
discuss policy with legislators at ALEC's conferences,
and they also host banquets, open-bar parties and
baseball games. Legislators, on the other hand, pay a
nominal membership fee, and can be eligible for
"scholarships" that pay for their conference attendance.
When the legislators bring the model bills back to their
state capitals, the role played by ALEC-or by the
corporations-seems to be rarely, if ever, disclosed.

Crucially, ALEC says it is not a lobbying organization,
and thus because of its nonprofit status, it does not
have to disclose its donors or the amount of their
donations. (The Times says Common Cause is trying to
challenge ALEC's nonprofit status.)

Perhaps the most striking example of this process is the
involvement of officials from the Corrections
Corporation of America, the nation's largest private
prison company, in the creation of Arizona's immigration

As NPR reported last year, officials from Corrections
Corporation were in the room when Arizona State Sen.
Russell Pearce discussed his ideas about immigration at
a 2009 ALEC conference.

Reports from Corrections Corporation reviewed by NPR
indicated that their executives saw immigrant detention
as their next big market, and that the company expected
to bring in a "significant portion" of their revenue
from Immigrations and Custom Enforcement.

What role the corporate officials played in the ALEC
discussion is not known, but the "model legislation"
that emerged from that session soon became the bill
itself-"almost word for word," according to NPR. The
influence the private prison industry may have had on
the law was not widely reported or discussed during the
heated nationwide debate over the bill. (An "In These
Times" reporter, whose early findings on the ALEC-
Arizona connection were consistent with NPR's later
reporting, recently provided a more detailed look at the
ALEC scholarships provided to Arizona legislators.)

Portions of the Arizona law are being challenged in
federal court and have never been implemented. But, as
NPR reported last year, similar bills were later
introduced in eight other states.

ALEC has been in the media spotlight this week because
the Center for Media and Democracy obtained and released
an archive of more than 800 of ALEC's model bills and
resolutions. Their wiki site, ALEC Exposed, encourages
readers to browse ALEC's model bills by topic and share
their findings about the documents using the hashtag

ProPublica intern Nicholas Kusnetz contributed to this


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