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Posts Tagged ‘Americans for Prosperity’

More on ALEC: Beware the influence of ALEC in Oklahoma

Sun ,03/08/2014

This article by the author  was first posted in the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s blog.  

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a great influence on our Oklahoma state politics, but many Oklahomans ALEC2have heard little about the organization. On the surface,  ALEC is an organization made up of corporations and state-level elected officials which meets three times a year to write “model legislation” for states. Officials can then take the model legislation back to their state for consideration. That sounds like a good process, except that what goes on under the surface of ALEC is kept secret.

In May of 2013, ALEC met in Oklahoma City. While corporate representatives from ALEC met with our legislators, a group of citizens protested across the street. The protesters, as well as members of the press, had been barred from attending by security guards. The agenda of the meeting was secret and an elaborate drop box system was created to avoid FOIA requests. Now, over a year later, there is still little known about the meeting or its influence on our legislators.

Rep. Gary Banz, who organized the 2013 event, described it as “a giant coaches clinic for legislators” and said that, though ALEC has been criticized for its secrecy, “The bottom line is if it’s not on our website, it’s not an issue or area that we have embraced.” That’s not quite right.  While ALEC’s website lists some of its policies and model laws, a part of the website is off limits for non-members. The public, journalists, and small business owners are excluded from ALEC membership by steep fees and by a screening process which insures new members are in harmony with ALEC’s mission. ALEC’s membership and funding sources are kept secret .

Much of what is known about ALEC has been discovered by leaked documents and by citizen’s watchdog groups, such as SourceWatch.  ALEC is a 501(c)(3) organization which is not required to reveal its donors or its funding. It has 300 corporate and 1,800 legislative members, but it will not release its membership lists. Rep. Banz said 70 Oklahoma legislators are members, but  SourceWatch lists only 38, leaving 32 members’ identities secret.

Because of the secrecy, it is hard to know what legislation comes from ALEC. Legislators can copy the bills, change them to disguise their source, and present them as their own. Most voters, the press, and even legislative colleagues often do not realize that the legislation came from ALEC. Sponsoring ALEC legislation ensures politicians they will receive support for their re-election campaigns. ALEC’s legislation is often supported by one-sided research, talking points, and op-ed articles designed to convince voters that the politicians are really looking after their best interests.

Many of ALEC’s model laws claim to promote freedom, fairness, and reform, but the end result is often that average citizens lose out in the process.  Citizen’s watchdog groups, such as Common Cause and SourceWatch, are critical of ALEC, saying its bills undercut health care reform, undermine environmental regulations, promote school and prison privatization, limit workers’ rights, restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes, and mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise some voters, among many other issues.

As Bill Moyers argues in his documentary, United States of ALEC, ALEC is undermining our system of democracy. The strength of the United States is its unity, but some corporations are working through ALEC to undermine that unity at the state level so they can escape regulation and avoid taxes. ALEC is designed to give more power to corporations, claiming that businesses making decisions in their self-interest will lead to the most good for everyone, but the reality is that it does the most good for the already wealthy. We live in a state with enough resources to ensure that every citizen has food, shelter, medical care, education, and an opportunity to contribute back to society. That won’t happen if our state legislature is unduly influenced by ALEC.

What to do about ALEC is the hard question. ALEC hides its members and its funding sources, and it operates as an educational organization to escape lobbying restrictions. There are apparently 32 ALEC members in our state legislature who have not been identified. My plan is to give ALEC as much publicity as possible and to make it a campaign issue by asking candidates to pledge they will not join any organization which will keep them from representing the best interests of Oklahoma citizens.

J.C. Moore is a retired science teacher, a member of the the American Geophysical Union, and co-founder of OKcitizensfirst.org.

More on ALEC

Tue ,25/02/2014

This is a continuation in the series  Who Is ALEC ? and Academic Freedom and Democracy – ALEC Style, as it is important to keep the light on ALEC. On the surface, the American Legislative Exchange Council provides model legislation for state and national legislatures. Its membership boasts 300 corporations and special interest groups, and about 2000 state legislators, governors, US Congressmen, and US Senators. ALEC sponsors meetings where corporations and their representatives entertain our legislators and help craft “model legislation”. From the corporation’s viewpoint, it is “dream legislation” – and ALEC is the organization that helps their dreams come true. What corporation wouldn’t want legislation designed to limit liability, provide subsidies, weaken regulations, criminalize whistleblowing, lower taxes, provide an edge over competing technologies, or to transfer public funds to them by privatizing education, health care, workers comp, public pensions, and prison systems?

About 1000 model bills are available from ALEC. Legislators can copy the bills, change them to disguise their source, and present them as their own. Most voters, the press, and even legislative colleagues often do not realize that the legislation came from ALEC. ALEC’s hidden hand was exposed when a Florida lawmaker introduced a resolution urging “Congress to Cut the Federal Corporate Tax Rate” that carelessly included ALEC’s mission statement. Sponsoring ALEC legislation insures politicians they will receive support for reelection campaigns. ALEC’s legislation is supported by biased research, talking points, and slick ads to convince voters that the politicians are really looking after their best interests. 

 The press, average citizens, and small business owners are excluded from ALEC by steep fees and screening to insure harmony with ALEC’s mission. An elaborate system insures that information cannot be obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests. Much of ALEC’s secret activity is coordinated through Americans for Prosperity, a Libertarian think tank, which now has offices in all 50 states. ALEC takes great pains to keep secrets, as several corporations have withdrawn when their participation was discovered. Clearly, transparency and full, honest disclosure is need.  However, ALEC has 401(C)3 status, which makes it tax exempt and allows it to hide its agenda and the identity of donors. Although ALEC claims it is not a lobbying group, it is hard to see how claiming they are “coaching” and “educating” legislators exempts them from laws requiring disclosure of lobbying activities.

ALEC’ s most shameful activity is attempts to suppress the votes of those not likely to support its agenda – the poor, the elderly, minorities, college students, and working people. Paul Weyrich, the founder of ALEC, once explained why, saying “our leverage in the elections goes up, quite candidly, as a number of voters go down.” One of ALEC’s favorite tactics is to accuse detractors of being leftists or liberals to discredit them with religious groups and Conservatives. However, the network of think tanks and donors that support ALEC are not Conservative, but Libertarian, and their low regard for the for the truth  or the poor or is hardly Christian.  Citizens United gave corporations a large voice with their money, but it could not give them a heart or a soul.

 According to  Bill Moyer , ALEC is undermining our democracy. The strength of the United States is its unity. Corporations, through ALEC , Libertarian think tanks, and the far right wing of the Republican Party, are working to destroy that unity so they can escape regulation and avoid taxes. We live in a country with enough resources to insure that every citizen has food, shelter, medical care, education, and an opportunity to contribute back to society. That won’t happen as long as our legislatures are willing to let some citizens go without so others can have more. The best situation is a balance in power between business, labor and government. However, modern-day Libertarians want to give all the power to businesses, claiming that businesses making decisions in their self interest will lead to the most good for everyone, but the reality is that it makes the most good for the already wealthy.

Who Is ALEC ?

Mon ,15/07/2013

On the surface, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that provides model legislation for our state and national legislatures. The membership of ALEC is composed of 300 corporations, a number of special interest groups, and many politicians including about 2000 state legislators, governors, US Congressmen, and US Senators. ALEC sponsors meetings where the corporations and their lobbyists entertain the legislators and help craft what they call “model legislation”. From the corporation’s viewpoint, it is “dream legislation” – and ALEC is the organization that helps their dreams come true. What corporation wouldn’t want legislation designed to limit their liability, give them subsidies, shield them from regulation, criminalize whistleblowing, lower their taxes, provide them an edge over competing technologies, or to transfer public funds to them by privatizing health care, workers comp, public pensions, and prison systems?

The press, average citizens, small business owners are excluded from ALEC’s membership and their meetings.  There are steep fees to join, except for legislators, and ther are requirements to insure that members are in harmony with ALEC’s mission. They try to keep keep their membership, agendas, and minutes of their meetings from public scrutiny and most information about them is gained from leaks. An elaborate system has been set up to see that information cannot be obtained from legislators by Freedom of Information Act requests. Often, legislators meet with CEOs and corporate representatives, while citizens gather across the street to protest corporate greed. Much of ALEC’s secret activities are coordinated through Americans for Prosperity, a Libertarian think tank that now has offices in all 50 states.

Over the years, about 1000 model bills have been written, primarily by corporate lawyers with some input from legislators. State legislators copy these bills, change them to disguise their source, and present them as their own. It is like plagiarism with the author’s permission or copying someone elses homework rather than doing the necessary research. The legislation does not arise out of the needs of the state or the nation, but from the need of the corporations to increase their profits. The members of ALEC take great pains to keep the process secret and a number of corporations have withdrawn from ALEC over bad publicity when their participation was discovered.

With so many lawmakers involved, it is hard to keep secrets, particularly when many legislators are proud of their corporate relationships. And then, Murphy’s Law sometimes exposes ALEC’s hidden hand. A Florida lawmaker, Rachel Bergen, introduced a resolution to lower corporate tax rates, but was rather embarrassed when she forgot to remove the mission statement of ALEC.

 

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Oops, the wording was hastily corrected, but the mistake alerted the press to the source of the proposal. Thom Hartmann took note of this error and proposed that all legislation that came from ALEC  should have a similar disclosure. How would it look if a House Bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline came with this disclosure?

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Would a law to gut Wall Street regulation and the Consumer Protection Act pass if it came with this disclosure?

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Congress has voted 37 times, at last count, to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Would that motion carry again if the bill had this disclaimer?

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Probably. Many politicians have more loyalty to those who fund their campaigns than to the citizens. Supporting ALEC legislation carries an understanding that by sponsoring their bills, politicians will receive support for their reelection campaigns. ALEC’s legislation is supported with biased but academic sounding research, talking points, and slick ads to convince voters that the politicians are really looking after their best interests. Most voters, the press, and even legislative colleagues often do not realize that the legislation came from ALEC.

Clealy,  transparency and full and honest disclosure is need.  However, ALEC has 401(C)3 status as a charity, which makes it tax exempt and hides its motives and the identity of its donors. Although ALEC claims it is not a lobbying group, it is directly lobbying our state and national legislatures while getting around laws that limit lobbying and require disclosures of lobbying activities. One of the most shameful of ALEC’ s activities are attempts to suppress the votes of those not likely to support their agenda. Paul Weyrich, the founder of ALEC was once captured on tape, as shown at 3:49 in this video, explaining that he didn’t want everyone to vote, saying “our leverage in the elections goes up, quite candidly, as a number of voters go down.” That was a long time ago, but Alec is still supporting voter suppression laws that make it more difficult for the poor, the elderly, minorities, college students, and working people to vote.

Though mainly supporting corporate interests, ALEC legislation often gives a nod to religious groups and to conservatives to win their support. One of its favorite tactics is to accuse detractors of being leftists or liberals to discredit them with conservatives and Christians. However, the network of think tanks and donors that support Alec are not Conservatives, but they are Libertarians . It is also hard to see how an organization that has such little regard for the poor or for the truth can be considered Christian.  Citizens United may have given corporations a large voice with their money, but it could not give them heart or a soul. Besides hiding their funding sources, their agenda, and the identity of those supporting them, ALEC, according to  Bill Moyer ,  is undermining the principles upon which the United States was founded.

The strength of the United States is through its unity. However, Libertarians have been working very hard lately, through ALEC , their think tanks, and the far right wing of the Republican Party, to destroy that unity so they can escape regulation and avoid taxes. We live in a country that has enough resources that we could make sure that every citizen has food, shelter, medical care, education, and an opportunity to contribute back to the society. But that won’t happen as long as Congress follows the wishes of those who are willing to let other citizens go without so they can have more. The best situation would be to have a balance in power between business, labor and government. The modern-day Libertarians want to give all the power to the businesses. Their overarching philosophy is that businesses who make decisions in their self interest will lead to the most good for everyone, but the reality seems to be that it makes the most good for the wealthy.

(c)  2013 J.C. Moore