About ALEC Exposed

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. This article has been updated. For press inquiries, please contact Nikolina Lazic at 608-260-9713 or lisa@prwatch.org.

About ALEC Exposed

ALEC Exposed - a project of CMDAn open letter from CMD's Executive Director, Lisa Graves

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.")

On ALEC Task Forces, unelected corporate lobbyists and elected state legislators act as "equals" and both get "a VOICE and a VOTE" on bills or templates to change U.S. law in countless ways. And ALEC's state legislative leaders are tasked with a "duty" under ALEC's public by-laws to get ALEC "model" bills introduced and passed in their home states.

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.

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With CMD's revelation and detailed analysis 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 the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, a national watchdog group. CMD's niche is investigating and exposing the undue influence of corporations on public policy. She previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice and in other posts.

Comments

They don't manufacturer Coca Cola, but their name sound like the word Coke, feel free to start drinking Coca Cola again.

Is Norquist a member of ALEC? His organization seems to link both the anti-tax pledge project among national politicians and the effort to place cookie-cutter tax reform legislation in all the states, thus playing into the hands of any conservatives who wish to pander to the libertarian-tea party base.

Grover Norquist's organization, "Americans for Tax Reform," is indeed a private sector member of ALEC, according to the current National Chairman, Rep. Noble Ellington of Louisiana, in a recent NPR interview. Please see the SourceWatch list of [[ALEC Corporations]] for an incomplete list of these members. We're discovering more members every day, so check back frequently, and please let us know if you find out any other corporate members.

I recently sent the following letter to my state legislators, and urge you to do the same. This organization has been effective because it has been allowed to fly under the public's radar for many decades. The more state policy makers are questioned about there affiliation with this group, the less influence they will have on policy. ____________ Dear Senator ____________, I am writing to respectfully request that you disclose whether or not you are affiliated in any way with or are a member of the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC). If you are a member of this organization, I further request that you disclose the number of meetings sponsored by this organization that you have attended within the past two years, a list of corporate members who attended such meetings, and a summary of legislative topics addressed at said meetings. I am requesting this information because I believe that constituents have a right to know the extent to which law and policy makers may be influence by corporate interests. Further, I am interested in becoming a member of ALEC as a private individual so that I might also attend meetings where such matters are discussed. Unfortunately, the current membership fees for public sector members are cost prohibitive. If you are a member of ALEC, please encourage its governing members to create a mechanism by which private individuals might also become members, at a reasonable cost, and participate in its activities. I await your reply. Respectfully,

I also sent the following e-mail to ALEC figuring that, if this organization is really what it claims to be, then is shouldn't mind allowing imput from private individuals on the drafting of proposed legislation: ________________________________________ Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing to inquire how I might become a member of your organization as a private individual. I have a great interest in the drafting of legislation in the state of Indiana, and would like to be allowed to attend meetings with other members to discuss the public policy implications of such legislation. Unfortunately, your current fees for private sector members are cost prohibitive. Please advise as to how I might be able to attain membership in your organization, at a cost that is reasonable for a private individuals, so that I might attend meetings/discussions on topics of proposed model legislation. I await your reply. Respectfully, ______________________________________

Great letter. It's spelled "council" though, and I've also asked for more information: a list of fellow legislature members attending, and a list of all submitted bills that originated from these meetings. In my state, we've just had a law passed that restrains our environmental regulations to being no more restrictive than the national regulations, and I think this came from this group (ALEC).

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