ALEC: Traditional values discover corporate funding
Joan Bokaer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 06:26:05 AM EST
ALEC, one of the least known and most influential corporate lobbying organizations, ties together Christian right social issues with corporate money. One way to understand the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is to look at the titles of articles written about it. Creating a Right-Wing Nation, State by State;  or Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States, or Ghostwriting the Law.

ALEC is the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money. ALEC is a public-policy mill that churns out "model legislation" for the states that are unfailingly pro-business. The organization fights against civil rights laws, as well as consumer, labor and environmental initiatives. ( Creating a Right-Wing Nation, State by State)
Sixth in a series on dominionism and the federal government

The brainchild of Paul Weyrich, ALEC was founded in 1973 as a national network of state legislators working on hot button social issues such as opposition to abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. Throughout the eighties those issues helped mobilize the newly formed Moral Majority

By the nineties ALEC became an influential pro-business lobbying organization with huge donations from corporations such as Philip Morris, Amoco, Chevron, Enron, and the American Energy Institute. Some of those corporations pay membership dues of $50,000 according to a report issued by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

ALEC is a blend of traditional values conservatives with corporate money.  The social conservatives have the ability to get legislators elected by mobilizing through the megachurches, and corporations supply big funding and gain the ability to actually draft the bills presented in state assemblies. Groups such as the former giant Christian Coalition built old-fashioned political machine's through evangelical churches. They have been surpassed by organizations such as The Family Research Council, or new organizations such as Ohio's Reformation Project, or James Dobson's Focus on the Family which recently launced a political campaign in eight swing states to mobilize members of evangelical churches for the 2006 elections.

How do corporations write the law?

From Ghostwriting the Law

With more than 2,400 state lawmakers as members -- roughly one third of the nation's total -- ALEC is a year-round clearinghouse for business-friendly legislation.

ALEC gives business a direct hand in writing bills that are considered in state assemblies nationwide. Funded primarily by large corporations, industry groups, and conservative foundations -- including R.J. Reynolds, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute -- the group takes a chain-restaurant approach to public policy, supplying precooked McBills to state lawmakers. Since most legislators are in session only part of the year and often have no staff to do independent research, they're quick to swallow what ALEC serves up. In 2000, according to the council, members introduced more than 3,100 bills based on its models, passing 450 into law. `


Corporations that support ALEC "pay to play." In addition to dues of up to $50,000 dollars per year, they also pay as much as $5,000 dollars to sit on the "task force" committees that draft ALEC's legislative templates. You pay, and you get to write state laws to your exquisite advantage.
ALEC's record of achievement makes it one of the most successful parts of the conservative movement, but many progressives aren't aware of it. They should be; ALEC claims as members 34 state Speakers of The House, 25 Senate Presidents, 31 Senate Leaders and 33 House Leaders.

Not surprisingly, many of the bills benefit the companies that helped write them. Consider ALEC's "Environmental Audit Privilege," a measure that relieves companies of legal responsibility for their own pollution. The bill got its start in 1992, when Colorado regulators fined the Coors Brewing Company for smog-inducing air emissions at several plants. ALEC was quick to respond, drafting a measure to prevent firms from being fined if they report environmental violations at their facilities, and to keep such disclosures secret. Coors is a corporate member of ALEC, and company executive Allan Auger is a past chairman of the group, to which the Coors family's Castle Rock Foundation is also a donor. Last year, Kentucky and Oregon passed audit-privilege laws like the one drawn up by ALEC.

In another instance of profitable policymaking, ALEC drafted a model "truth in sentencing" bill that restricts parole eligibility for prisoners, keeping inmates locked up longer. One of the members of the task force that drafted the bill was Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison company, which stands to cash in on longer sentences. By the late 1990s, similar sentencing measures had passed in 40 states. "There was never any mention that ALEC or anybody else had any involvement in this," Walter Dickey, the former head of Wisconsin's prison system, told reporters after his state passed a version of the measure.

From Creating A Right Wing Nation State, State by State:

Another go-to issue for ALEC's members is the environment. In 2002, the organization issued a widely read report, "Global Warming and the Kyoto Protocol: Paper Tiger, Economic Dragon" [PDF], written by the CATO institute's "climate skeptic" Patrick Michaels. Exxon - the leading funder of efforts to "debunk" climatology - donated almost one million dollars to ALEC since 1998, according to ExxonWatch. Dupont, Dow and Edison electric are among the other firms that have paid millions to write ALEC's model legislation.

Perhaps the most troubling of ALEC's environmental aims is criminalizing activism. Its model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" does just that. As Karen Charman wrote on TomPaine:

The Texas [version of the] bill defines an "animal rights or terrorist organization" as "two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or ... natural resources." The bill adds that "'Political motivation' means an intent to influence a government entity or the public to take a specific political action." Language in the New York bill is similarly broad.

The Center for Constitutional Rights' Michael Ratner told Charman, "The definitional sections of this legislation are so broad that they sweep within them basically every environmental and animal-rights organization in the country."


Why are state legislators so important?  Because state governments are laboratories for laws that then work their way up to the U.S. Congress.

... states do by far the largest share of governing in America. They write most law and give content to even more through interpretation and administration. Most government that affects us in our everyday social roles--as workers, consumers, taxpayers, owners and citizens--tends first or finally to run through states. Economic development, healthcare and abortion access, privacy rights, marriage and the family, wage standards, public safety, criminal justice, prisons, air and water quality, education and training, consumer protection, transportation, libraries and other community public goods--these are just a few examples. In many of these critical areas, in fact, states shoulder primary responsibility. (The Nation, Desolve This 8/30/04)

Progressives Fight Back

From   Creating a Right-Wing Nation, State by State

ALICE (the American Legislative Issue Campaign Exchange) is trying to create a similarly broad network at the local level. A collaboration of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, the Economic Analysis and Research Network and several other progressive groups, ALICE is a clearinghouse of information and legislation that's trying to back up tens of thousands of progressives in local government.

Another organization that's promising -perhaps the most ambitious of its kind -- is the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN). Launched with much fanfare in August and co-chaired by the Center for American Progress' David Sirota and former Montana legislator Steve Doherty, PLAN most resembles the structure of ALEC. It not only provides model legislation across state and issue lines, it also helps push those bills by joining grass-roots activists and state lawmakers with the "strategic advocacy tools" they need to advance "progressive economic and social policies."


Sources

Creating a Right-Wing Nation, State by State Joshua Holland, AlterNet, November 16, 2005

Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council,  Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States: The Untold Story Behind the American Legislative Exchange Council

Ghostwriting the Law,  Mother Jones, Sept.Oct. 2002

The Nation Magazine , Desolve This, Joel Rogers, August 30, 2004 (on progressive state legislation)

George W. Bush   Speech to American Legislative Exchange Council, August 3, 2005

Previous articles in the series on Dominionism and The Role of The Federal Government

Dominionism and The Constitution in Exile Movement

House Bill Would Eliminate Most Regulatory Functions Of Federal Government

A Culture of Life or Death?

Follow The Votes

Paul Weyrich: The Man Who Framed the Republican Party (How he succeeded in getting a huge constituency to vote against their economic interests)




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