Hypocrisy and Trumpism on the Agenda as ALEC Meets in Washington, D.C.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its offshoot the American City and County Exchange (ACCE) are meeting in Washington, D.C., today to strategize on how to advance a far-right agenda under a Trump presidency.

Trump Transition leader, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, is an ALEC booster. Not surprisingly the Trump team has been picking many with Koch and ALEC ties to fill key positions in government including Koch Congressman Mike Pompeo, school privatizer and ALEC funder Betsy DeVos, and South Carolina Governor and ALEC stalwart Nikki Halley.

The ALEC agenda for this year's State and Policy Summit contains the usual potpourri of anti-worker, anti-government proposals along with quite a few important pay-to-play measures for big telecom, health care companies, and nuclear utilities. But much of the agenda will be taken up with speculation on opportunities presented by a new Trump presidency to advance ALEC's corporatist agenda and its politicians.

Transparency for Unions and School Teachers, but not for Billionaires or Corporations Bankrolling ALEC

ALEC's offshoot for local governments, ACCE, is taking a page from the ALEC play book and advancing a measure to harass public sector workers.

ACCE's "Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Ordinance" targets public sector workers by opening up public sector collective bargaining negotiations to public scrutiny and participation. The bill is nothing but an effort to advance the harassment of a targeted group of public-sector workers. There are no ALEC bills opening closed partisan caucuses or opening up economic development loan negotiations, other areas of state government where millions are spent with no public participation.

Similarly, ALEC's bill "Substantive Transparency in Education Act" is up for renewal vote by special interest lobbyists and legislators in the Education and Workforce Development Task Force. The bill requires public schools to open up their instructional materials for review by any parent or guardian. Note that the bill does not apply to private schools and many private charters refuse to abide by state open meetings and open records laws.

ALEC, however, is for secrecy when it benefits itself and its donors.

It is notable that another ALEC bill under consideration at this week's meeting "Resolution in Support of Nonprofit Donor Privacy" recommends that the public be kept in the dark when it comes to finding out which millionaires or corporate interests are bankrolling ALEC, because the poor souls might be subject to public criticism or public pressure to drop their ALEC membership.

The resolution highlights 501(c)(3) organizations like ALEC, but the operative language also protects 501(c)(4) dark money groups like the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity. ALEC along with the State Policy Network, the Wall Street Journal, and leaders of dark money groups have been fighting donor disclosure for dark money non-profits active in campaigns and elections. Wrapping dark money in the American flag and the Federalist Papers, they argue in endless articles, books, and speeches, that "anonymous speech" goes back to the founding fathers. But back then no Supreme Court had embraced the deeply flawed and corrosive concept that money is speech. They are sparing no effort to promote the idea that secrecy of donors is essential to protect First Amendment rights, despite the hundreds of millions now being secretly spent in elections without the disclosures the public supports to guard against corruption.

It comes as no surprise that Wall Street Journal editorial writer Kim Strassel, who has become the key proponent of this propagandistic effort to shield the billionaire class from scrutiny with her fact deficient new book "The Intimidation Game," will be addressing the ALEC meeting. Her book attempts to smear concerned citizens and small community organizations across the country that have successfully convinced over 100 ALEC firms to stop funding ALEC's extreme agenda.

Hostility to Raise the Wage Efforts

ALEC's offshoot organization for local officials ACCE is advancing a series of muddled measures geared toward keeping wages low and handicapping activist federal agencies.

The "Local Resolution in Support of a State Minimum Wage Law" sounds like ACCE is in support of raising wages, but the cookie-cutter ordinance instructs local governments not to raise the minimum wage and to embrace preemption of local control by state legislatures. This is a rather odd position for a group whose model "Founding Philosophy and Principals Act" teaches American school children government "as close to the people as possible" is best.

But ALEC and its key funders like the billionaire Koch Brothers have long opposed any measure to raise the wage, including living wages and prevailing wages, and the Kochs have even characterized the federal minimum wage as an "obstacle to prosperity." ALEC opposes even having a minimum wage for workers.

While ACCE favors state preemption of localities on some issues, on others it seeks unconstitutional local preemption of federal policy making. ACCE's draft "Ordinance for Local Coordination on Federal Regulations" suggests that any local government — from a city or county to a school or water district — or even an NGO can invoke a theory of "coordination" to "force" the federal government to meet with them on an equal basis to work out their differences. "Coordination" is defined as "the process by which an agency of the federal government brings its regulations, whether proposed or established, into consistency with the public policy of [the local jurisdiction."

So for instance if Superior, Wisconsin, thinks that the federal mercury standards for walleye and perch are too strict, ACCE thinks they should be able to impose their own notions on the federal government. In truth, ALEC has no consistent position on federalism or local control and simply attempts to hamstring any policy it or its funders don't like.

ALEC's Extreme Education Agenda Advances with Trump Pick of Betsy DeVos

ALEC education bills were not publicly available at the time of this writing, but the nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary is a big win for the ALEC crowd and will be a hot topic at the ALEC meeting.

DeVos and her husband of the AmWay fortune have long bankrolled the dark money group, American Federation for Children (AFC), which spends big each election cycle on politicians advancing her agenda to transform Americas public education system into a for-profit "cash for kids" enterprise. As CMD reported recently, AFC aggressively promotes school vouchers for private schools, religious schools, and even sham virtual schools through ALEC where DeVos lobbyist Scott Jensen, the disgraced former Speaker of the Assembly, has played a leadership role.

CMD has also documented how charter schools promoted by DeVos in her home state of Michigan have been embroiled in fraud and scandal, and how the state has even received federal tax dollars for charters that never opened. The New York Times has covered in depth how they are failing the state's children. Even charter advocates acknowledge that her efforts in Detroit represent "the biggest school reform disaster in the country."

Pay-to-Play for Telecommunications Companies

ALEC's Communications and Technology Committee is looking at a number of bills written by big telecom and cable companies to keep prices high for consumers and undermine local control.

ALEC's "Broadband Deployment Resolution" is deregulatory bill aimed at taking authority away from local municipalities to control and deploy broadband in ways that put the public interest ahead of corporate profits. The bill limits the deployment of municipality-owned broadband networks and also limits the ability of the state and local government to identify and combat corporate broadband monopolies. This is an effort by major telecom companies and ALEC funders like ATT, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon to gut municipality broadband, protect their local monopolies, and pad their already enormous profits.

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ALEC's proposed "Resolution Encouraging the Support of Infrastructure Buildout to Pave the Pathway for Next Generation Networks" advances uniform broadband deployment ("streamlining") instead of letting municipalities control how broadband is deployed locally. This is part of an attack on municipal broadband, environmental regulations regarding locations of telecom poles, and other local government ordinances.

ALEC's "Act Relating to Unmanned Aircraft Systems" or drones is written to prevent cities and other municipalities from regulating drone usage by police or other actors within their jurisdictions. Some localities like Charlottesville, Virginia, regulated drones in part due to civil liberties concerns regarding drone surveillance by law enforcement.

In addition, the proposed "Privacy and Encryption Protection Act" comes in response to the Apple versus FBI fight from last year and the ongoing cell-phone encryption debate. This bill authorizes government hacking of cell phones and mandates disclosure of a person's cryptographic keys after a warrant has been issued. The bill would also require a company to decrypt a device subject to a warrant. Companies like Apple are now building products that the company cannot decrypt even if they wanted to. Civil libertarians have argued that mandating disclosure for some may be a violation of the 5th amendment prohibition on self-incrimination (see US v. Doe).

Energy, Environment, and Our Public Lands

ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force will review a raft of old policies to see if they should be renewed as well as a brand new resolution calling on the President and Congress complete the review of the Yucca Mountain license application for nuclear waste disposal halted by Obama in 2010. Edison Electric Institute, which represents companies that operate nuclear energy plants like Exelon and Southern, is a member of ALEC and the Nuclear Energy Institute has given ALEC money in the past. It's lobbying efforts are lead by a former ALEC staffer.

ALEC has long relied on funding from its coal and oil industry members such as Exxon Mobil and Peabody Energy. It is also a key cog in the climate science denial machine. ALEC has battled the Obama Clean Power Plan every step of the way and has encouraged state Attorneys General to sue to block the implementation of the plan. ALEC also recently attacked new EPA rules to protect American streams—and along with them American families and wildlife—from dangerous pollution caused by surface coal mining.

ALEC has stated that it is not a climate change denial organization, but its raft of pro-carbon policies and its "Energy Principles" statement, which falsely suggests that there is some debate about the "significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions," puts the group firmly in the denial camp.

ALEC's Free Trade and Federalism task force is looking at a draft bill to "Clarify State Jurisdiction Over Public Lands" to encourage states to review federal designations of national monuments and battle such designations in court. The bill further feeds the "reclaim our public lands movement" that has embroiled seven Western states in "unconstitutional and quixotic battles" to force the federal government to turn over protected public lands to the states.

Health and Human Services Bills

In addition to a number of bills intended to reduce opioid abuse, the Health and Human Service Committee will discuss the "Site Neutral Payment Policy Act" essentially undermines hospitals financially by reimbursing out-patient facilities with much less over head at the same right for same services, a type of facility especially favored by for-profit operators.

The American Hospital Association has stated that this policy will "freeze the progress of hospital-based health care in its tracks."

ALEC's draft "Medicaid Narcotic Prescription Abuse Act" will make it unlawful to use Medicaid funds to pay for prescription narcotic drugs under DEA Schedules II, III, and IV, unless the drugs are administered in an emergency medical facility, hospital, or outpatient medical facility. The goal of the bill is to reduce the usage of narcotics nationally, but in doing so it unfairly targets the poor, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Notably, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a favorite of the Kochs, appears interested in advancing ALEC's hostility to Medicaid in Congress. With multiple bills, ALEC has fought Medicaid expansions in the states as part of its tactics to weaken the Affordable Care Act and aid insurance companies.

Anti-Tax and Anti-Government Agenda

ALEC's Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee will also consider a draft proposal to establish a "tax and expenditure limit" or TEL. ALEC claims that a TEL "is simply an institutionalized restriction on the growth of tax revenue and/or government spending with a goal of restraining budget growth to a level that can fund essential government services." This type of arbitrary limit shows that ALEC is less interested in fiscal restraint than tax bashing PR stunts.

Similarly, ALEC's gratuitous anti-government proposals include a bill being considered by the Commerce Insurance and Economic Development Task Force to establish an arbitrary cap on all state regulatory policies with a goal of creating and sustaining a zero net increase after a specific date.

Echoing its big brother ALEC, ACCE also has on the agenda two tax-bashing measures an "Ordinance to Repeal Personal Property Tax Collection" (small taxes levied by local government on items like boats, cars, trailers) and a proclamation to recognizing "Tax Freedom Day."

Free Trade Uber Alles

ALEC and its corporate funders including Koch Industries have never seen a trade bill they did not like, so it comes as no surprise that ALEC is trying to find a way forward on trade in the face of the recent "Brexit" vote in the U.K. and with the collapse of the Trans Pacific Partnership (which it had embraced) and the election of an anti-free trade president.

ALEC has two new bills, one proposing a free trade agreement with Great Britain made possible by "Brexit" and a proposal to normalize trade with Cuba made possible by the United State's recent moves to normalize relations.

ALEC-promoted "free trade" agreements, such as the 2000 agreement to normalize trading relations with China, have been a disaster for American workers, but a boon to ALEC corporations.

No word yet on if ALEC will temper its free trade fanaticism in deference to the President-elect.


CMD's David Armiak and Gaurav Laroia of Free Press contributed to this article.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is the Deputy Director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation in 2011 and is a recipient of the Hillman Prize for investigative journalism.