The American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-funded group that generates nearly a thousand pro-business model bills per year and feeds them to state legislatures nationwide, is holding its annual policy summit in the nation’s capital this week to meet with new state lawmakers and “prepare the next generation of political leadership.” This coincides with the release of a report showing that ALEC’s economic prescriptions are not good for the economy.
Each year, ALEC ranks the states on how tightly they adhere to the group’s policy recommendations—from personal and corporate tax rates, to public sector employment levels, to right-to-work laws—as a predictor of their economic growth. The study released Wednesday, by the Iowa Policy Project and Good Jobs First, two policy groups that promote economic growth at the state level, introduces those rankings to reality. It concludes: “A hard look at the actual data finds that the ALEC…recommendations not only fail to predict positive results for state economies—the policies they endorse actually forecast worse state outcomes for job creation and paychecks.” (Though the report is careful to maintain that though ALEC policies are correlated with less prosperous state economies, that doesn’t necessarily mean the policies caused economic decline.)
Instead of boosting states’ fortunes, the report finds that ALEC’s preferred policies seem to provide “a recipe for economic inequality, wage suppression, and stagnant incomes, and for depriving state and local governments of the revenue needed to maintain the public infrastructure and education systems that are the true foundations of long term economic growth and shared prosperity.”
Two more large American companies, headquartered in the Midwest, have responded to their customers and cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): General Motors (GM) and Walgreens. This brings the total to 30 corporations and four non-profits — 34 total private sector members — that have cut ties to the right-wing corporate bill mill.
Although the full extent of GM’s ALEC membership is not known, it was a member in 1992. In 2011, it paid for a seat on both ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force and its Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The commerce task force is the primary source of anti-worker and anti-consumer legislation such as the “Paycheck Protection” and “Right to Work” Acts and other “model” bills that limit workers’ rights and drain labor unions of resources for protecting employees, undermine consumer protections, favor the Wall Street financial agenda, and limit the ability to cap exorbitant interest rates on credit cards and big bank fees.
One of Walgreens’ major competitors, CVS Caremark, announced earlier this month that it had discontinued its ALEC membership, as CMD has reported. Like CVS, Walgreens was a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force, which works to privatize Medicare, deregulate health insurers, protect negligent doctors, and cut holes in the safety net. These anti-patient “model” bills erode the rights and health of Americans. Walgreens was also a “Trustee” level sponsor of ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting. It is not known whether or not Walgreens has already funded ALEC’s 2012 annual meeting, where corporations and state legislators are meeting behind closed doors this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Rush to Dump ALEC
Corporations that have publicly cut ties to ALEC in recent weeks include EnergySolutions, Connections Education, Express Scripts/Medco, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard, MillerCoors, CVS Caremark, John Deere, Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, Medtronic, Amazon.com, Scantron Corporation, Kaplan Higher Education, Procter & Gamble, YUM! Brands, Blue Cross Blue Shield, American Traffic Solutions, Reed Elsevier, Arizona Public Service, Mars, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Intuit, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola. The addition of GM and Walgreens brings the total to 30. Four non-profits — Lumina Foundation for Education, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and the Gates Foundation — and 56 state legislators have also cut ties with ALEC.
The coalition trying to force corporations to disassociate from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group responsible for modeling and writing a substantial portion of the bills that come through the Republican side of state legislatures, has notched a couple more victories. First, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which hooked up with ALEC on “education reform” issues, dropped their support.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today became the latest backer to withdraw financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council.
A foundation spokesman told Roll Call that it does not plan to make future grants to the conservative nonprofit, which has come under fire from progressive activists for its support of voter identification laws and other contentious measures.
The Foundation claims that their only grant to ALEC was “narrowly and specifically focused on … teacher effectiveness and school finance.” The Foundation never paid annual dues to ALEC, they say. But this limited grant amounted to over $375,000 over two years, and the Gates Foundation will not withdraw the grant money earmarked for this year.
However, the latest corporate benefactor to drop ALEC was a dues-paying member: McDonald’s.
The fast food giant tells Mother Jones that it recently decided to cut ties with ALEC, the corporate-backed group that drafts pro-free-market legislation for state lawmakers around the country. “While [we] were a member of ALEC in 2011, we evaluate all professional memberships annually and made the business decision not to renew in 2012,” Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Yingling didn’t mention any specific campaign or outside pressure as playing a role in the company’s decision to leave ALEC.
But there was outside pressure. Just this week, the progressive coalition targeting ALEC, including Common Cause, Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, singled out McDonald’s and two other corporations (Johnson and Johnson, and State Farm) over their membership. “The funding of these and other corporations makes ALEC’s operations and agenda possible, including closed door meetings where corporate and special interest lobbyists actually vote as equals with elected officials on ‘model’ bills to change gun laws and make it more difficult for American citizens to vote,” according to Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, and the website ALECexposed.org. And just a couple days later, McDonald’s dropped its support. In fact, they were still planning on staying a member of ALEC as recently as February 29 of this year, according to a letter to the progressive group Color of Change.
So it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here. Corporations want to hide behind the maze of sub-groups within ALEC to claim that they only fund their core issues. But the money is fungible, and the ALEC model keeps pumping out pro-gun, anti-woman and voter suppression legislation. And these corporations are necessarily associated with that. So they are quietly responding to pressure by dropping out, being protective of their brands.
Color of Change’s next target is AT&T, one of the 21 corporate board members for ALEC. While I still believe that there’s enough money in the conservative ecosystem to keep ALEC going – or to perhaps pull the plug on ALEC and reinvent something else just like it – this is a very successful accountability campaign that has reaped some real rewards.
THE POWELL MEMO BEGAN THE 1% TAKEOVER OF AMERICA
Why New York’s Zuccotti Park is filled with people is no mystery. Reporters keep scratching their heads and asking, “Why are you here?” But it’s clear they are occupying Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied the country. And that’s why in public places across the nation workaday Americans are standing up in solidarity. Did you see the sign a woman was carrying at a fraternal march in Iowa the other day? It read, I Can’t Afford to Buy a Politician So I Bought This Sign. Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want. …
It’s heartbreaking to see what has become of that bargain [the American Social Contract]. Nowadays it’s every man for himself. How did this happen? The rise of the money power in our time goes back forty years. We can pinpoint the date. On August 23, 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell—a board member of the death-dealing tobacco giant Philip Morris and a future justice of the Supreme Court—released a confidential memorandum for his friends at the US Chamber of Commerce. We look back on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.
Recall the context of Powell’s memo. Big business was being forced to clean up its act. Even Republicans had signed on. In 1970 President Nixon put his signature on the National Environmental Policy Act and named a White House Council to promote environmental quality. A few months later millions of Americans turned out for Earth Day. Nixon then agreed to create the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress acted swiftly to pass tough amendments to the Clean Air Act, and the EPA announced the first air pollution standards. There were new regulations directed at lead paint and pesticides. Corporations were no longer getting away with murder.
Powell was shocked by what he called an “attack on the American free enterprise system.” Not just from a few “extremists of the left” but also from “perfectly respectable elements of society,” including the media, politicians and leading intellectuals. Fight back and fight back hard, he urged his compatriots. Build a movement. Set speakers loose across the country. Take on prominent institutions of public opinion—especially the universities, the media and the courts. Keep television programs “monitored the same way textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance.” And above all, recognize that political power must be “assiduously [sic] cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination” and “without embarrassment.”
Powell imagined the Chamber of Commerce as a council of war. Since business executives had “little stomach for hard-nosed contest with their critics” and “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate,” they should create think tanks, legal foundations and front groups of every stripe. These groups could, he said, be aligned into a united front through “careful long-range planning and implementation…consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations.”
The public wouldn’t learn of the memo until after Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court that same year, 1971. By then his document had circulated widely in corporate suites. Within two years the board of the Chamber of Commerce had formed a task force of forty business executives—from US Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, and ABC and CBS (two media companies, we should note). Their assignment was to coordinate the crusade, put Powell’s recommendations into effect and push the corporate agenda. Powell had set in motion a revolt of the rich. As historian Kim Phillips-Fein subsequently wrote, “Many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices.”
They chose swiftly. The National Association of Manufacturers announced that it was moving its main offices to Washington. In 1971 only 175 firms had registered lobbyists in the capital; by 1982 nearly 2,500 did. Corporate PACs increased from fewer than 300 in 1976 to more than 1,200 by the mid-’80s. From Powell’s impetus came the Business Roundtable, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy (precursor to what we now know as Americans for Prosperity) and other organizations united in pushing back against political equality and shared prosperity. They triggered an economic transformation that would in time touch every aspect of our lives.
The Chamber of Commerce, in response to the memo, doubled its membership, tripled its budget and stepped up its lobbying efforts. It’s going stronger than ever. Most recently, it called in its agents in Congress to kill a bill to provide healthcare to 9/11 first responders for illnesses linked to their duty on that day. The bill would have paid for their medical care by ending a special tax loophole exploited by foreign corporations with business interests in America. The Chamber, along with nearly 1,300 business and trade groups, urged Congress to pass the new tax bill, signed into law just before this past Christmas and filled with all kinds of stocking stuffers, including about fifty tax breaks for businesses. The bill gave some of our biggest banks, financial companies and insurance firms another year’s exemption to shield their foreign profits from being taxed here in the United States; among the beneficiaries were giants Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, all of which survived the financial debacle of their own making because taxpayers bailed them out in 2008.
The coalition got another powerful jolt of adrenaline in the late ’70s from the wealthy right-winger who had served as Nixon’s treasury secretary, William Simon. His book A Time for Truth argued that “funds generated by business” must “rush by multimillions” into conservative causes to uproot the institutions and the “heretical strategy” of the New Deal. He called on “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount “a veritable crusade” against progressive America. BusinessWeek (October 12, 1974) somberly explained that “it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.”
Those “men of action in the capitalist world” were not content with their wealth just to buy more homes, more cars, more planes, more vacations and more gizmos than anyone else. They were determined to buy more democracy than anyone else. And they succeeded beyond their expectations. After their forty-year “veritable crusade” against our institutions, laws and regulations—against the ideas, norms and beliefs that helped to create America’s iconic middle class—the Gilded Age is back with a vengeance.
Background info everyone should know. ~SarahLee
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 of the nonprofit—the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC—has grown, we’ve built both a guide and a searchable database 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 looked into an obscure ALEC-approved bill to tax chewing tobacco by weight rather than price. The ALEC model legislation 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 and a member of ALEC’s private enterprise board, sells pricier “premium” brands of chewing tobacco and stands to benefit from the tax change.ALEC-Related Contributions
ALEC and its members favor “federalism and conservative public policy solutions,” and ALEC representatives tell reporters that its mission is fundamentally “educational.” ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber told the Los Angeles Times, “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, 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 on the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” site. Using data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, you can also find out how much ALEC-affiliated companies and associations have donated 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.
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) as well as responding to questions in the comment thread.
ALEC is not the only one, not by a long shot. Other Koch-founded and funded groups include Citizens for a Sound Economy, Americans for Prosperity, the John Birch Society, CATO Institute, Heritage Foundation, Kansas Policy Institute, Reason Foundation, Institute for Justice, Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, American Legislative Exchange Council, Bill of Rights Institute, and others.
This column at the link above focuses on six of the more egregious ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) modeled bills that, magically and totally coincidentally, are sweeping the nation after the GOP/Tea Party flood of 2010:
- Disenfranchising American Citizens Through Voter ID
- Undoing Efforts to Address Climate Change
- Filling For-Profit Prisons Through Anti-Immigrant Bills
- Opposing Health Insurance Reform
- Privatizing K-12 Education
The whole piece is well worth reading, but I wanted to snip this little tidbit about voter suppression and intimidation through “voter ID acts” (especially in the wake of this debacle in Wisconsin):
In forty-seven states, legislation was introduced requiring specific kinds of identification to vote or making existing requirements more onerous. These laws have the effect of disenfranchising many of the elderly, people with disabilities, people of color, and students, among others who do not have driver’s licenses, but who typically have other proof where they live in a voting precinct (like a utility bill, which has traditionally been accepted for voter registration). In Wisconsin, for example, those without state-issued photo ID include 23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65, 17 percent of white men and women, 55 percent of all African American males and 49 percent of African American women, 46 percent of Hispanic men and 59% of Hispanic women, 78 percent of African American males age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24. Although Wisconsin’s voter ID law offers free IDs (just like the ALEC bill), Governor Scott Walker subsequently announced plans to close as many as 10 offices where people could obtain IDs, allegedly located in Democratic districts.
Out of the forty-seven states where Voter ID bills have been introduced, twenty states had no voter ID requirement at the beginning of 2011 but legislation to require it was introduced this year; it became law in three. Of the remainder, twenty-seven had voter ID (but not photo ID) requirements at the beginning of 2011; fourteen of these states saw legislation that would require photo ID at the polls, and the proposals became law in four states. This disproportionate focus on the specter of voter fraud belies the statistical reality that such fraud in the U.S. is exceedingly rare, even though such legislation will have a statistically significant effect of depriving many American citizens of their right to vote. The idea of limiting the number of people who vote is closely associated with ALEC’s founder, Paul Weyrich. Among the many statements of Weyrich over the years that were tailored to advance the agenda of white fundamentalists, in 1980 he gave a particularly illuminating and disturbing speech on voting. He expressly told a group of religious conservatives: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Brought into being by a legendary [right-winger] 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.
Fresh off last year’s successful defeat of federal climate legislation in the U.S. Senate, the oil baron Koch brothers and their dirty-energy buddies are now bent on dismantling one of the nation’s last hopes for doing anything about climate change in the near term: regional climate accords.
Today, a total of 32 states are active participants or observing members in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, or the Western Climate Initiative.
That number will get a lot smaller if the American Legislative Exchange Council—a D.C.-based conservative advocacy organization funded by Koch family foundations, ExxonMobil, and other oil companies and big corporations—gets its way.
ALEC offers legislative templates to state lawmakers who don’t want the hassle of writing their own conservative bills. Raegan Weber, ALEC’s senior director of public affairs, says the group has produced 800 to 1,000 pieces of so-called “model legislation.” Access to those templates is restricted to legislators who pay $100 for a two-year membership, which makes it difficult to trace a bill’s language back to ALEC.
But thanks to a blog post by a conservative states-rights activist in Florida (and a tidbit in one of ALEC’s own press releases), we can make out at least part of what’s in ALEC’s template for “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives,” one of the offerings on the group’s environment webpage. And it looks like the template has been getting a lot of use lately.
Language that regurgitates all of the right’s favorite—and in many cases fallacious—anti-cap-and-trade talking points has cropped up in nearly identical form in resolutions or bills in at least six states: […]