Explaining the 'ALEC Exposed' Project

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PRWatch.org

Explaining the 'ALEC Exposed' Project

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

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.

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