ALEC Task Forces Gather in Grand Rapids to Draft Bills for Its Corporate Sponsors

By David Armiak and Mary Bottari

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will hold its annual Spring Task Force Summit on April 27 at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There is no word yet on whether Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a Michigander married to Amway heir Richard DeVos, will be joining the gathering at the swank four-star hotel as ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists vote on cookie-cutter bills behind closed doors. ALEC has long embraced DeVos and her school privatization agenda, even though the failure of the charter school system she helped create in Michigan has been the topic of devastating reports in the New York Times and 60 Minutes.

Further education privatization is on the agenda in Grand Rapids along with measures to please fossil fuel companies, marijuana companies, and more.

CATERING TO FOSSIL FUEL FUNDERS

While over 100 mainstream American companies have fled the controversial organization, a 2017 Annual Meeting registration list shows that ALEC is still chock full of fossil fuel companies.

Peabody Energy and Koch Industries serve on ALEC's Private Enterprise Advisory Council and ExxonMobil, Chevron, Duke Energy, Marathon Petroleum, the Edison Electric Institute, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Gas Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are ALEC members.

One piece of priority legislation for the companies is ALEC's Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. The bill, a punitive measure designed to frighten protestors with stiff penalties and discourage large-scale demonstrations like the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, was adopted by ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force in 2017. Similar bills have been signed into law in Oklahoma and Iowa and introduced in Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio. Wyoming's bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Matt Mead.

"Over the last couple of years, we've seen a number of powerful examples of people publicly coming together to raise their voices and push for change—from water protectors and their allies challenging pipeline construction near Standing Rock and elsewhere, to racial justice advocates taking to the streets to protest police shooting deaths," said Vera Eidelman, Legal Fellow with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "And yet, rather than respond to the protesters' substantive messages…many elected representatives are instead introducing bills that would label them 'terrorists' or 'saboteurs,' chill their speech, and discourage others from associating with them."

In Michigan, ALEC politicians will be asked to vote on new bills that advance the interests of the industry, including the Resolution Supporting States Ability to Permit and Regulate Oil and Gas Development on Federal Lands within their Borders and the Gas Tax Transparency Act.

The oil and gas permitting bill is the latest from ALEC in its push to hand over America's public lands to the fossil fuel companies that started almost 20 years ago. The latest resolution calls on Trump and Congress to hand over the power to regulate and permit fossil fuel development on public lands to the states, where the industry has its greatest power and influence over government.

The Gas Tax Transparency Act requires fuel tax stickers to be placed on gas pumps detailing state and federal taxes to promote "transparency." ALEC hopes that voters will be up in arms about the taxes and will pressure their representatives to lower them.

Donate to CMD!

ALEC is for transparency only when it aids their benefactors. The organization is better known for its efforts to undermine reporting when it comes to campaigns and elections. ALEC is aggressively pushing a model resolution designed to stop states and municipalities from requiring dark-money groups that spend millions to influence elections to disclose their donors, and has launched the misnamed Center to Protect Free Speech to lobby for it.

GREENWASHING CHARTER SCHOOLS

Ironically, while the ALEC energy task force is working hard to advance the polluter agenda, the ALEC education task force will discuss an education bill that promotes itself as a means to crack down on air pollution. The Environmentally Sustainable Charter School Admissions Act gives enrollment preference in charter schools to children who live near the school or if a parent works near the school in order to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

ALEC has worked hand-in-hand with the DeVos group, American Federation for Children to advance a "cash for kids" model of school privatization including dozens of bills promoting school vouchers. For decades, ALEC billed vouchers as a civil rights ticket for low-income kids, but then ALEC's Education Savings Account Act created a "universal" system that siphons off public education dollars to private school parents of any income. Now ALEC is entertaining a new bill, the Economic Development Zone ESA Act, to give preference to kids who live within economic development zones.

A series of recent studies have shown poor results for voucher programs. For instance, a major study of Louisiana's voucher program found that public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped, on average, to the 26th percentile in just one school year. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the negative effects in Louisiana were "as large as any I've seen" in the history of American education research.

The Amendments to the Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act would amend an earlier ALEC bill to correct a drafting error that apparently resulted in some corporations getting a tax benefit more than the amount of a scholarship donation.

MARIJUANA MONOPOLIES

In a rather surprising move, ALEC will be considering a legislative proposal for a Closed-Loop Payment Processing System for Marijuana Taxation and Sales. The bill would require a State Treasurer to devise a financial system that will put it in charge of processing all marijuana financial transactions in the state. Yes, it is true that some states are having issues processing medical marijuana related payments, but a state-sponsored financial monopoly? The whole idea seems counter to ALEC's usual stance on "free" markets.

The impetus for this bill may be from the fact that the multi billion-dollar cannabis industry is struggling to find financial partners with cannabis still being illegal at the federal level. The 2017 ALEC Annual Meeting in Denver saw a number of marijuana entities join up, including Weedmaps, a "Chairman Level" sponsor, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

EMBRACING TRUMPISM

In the era of Trump, the Koch machine, including ALEC, has fully embraced Trumpism. Shortly after the November 2016 election, ALEC's Executive Director Lisa Nelson told funders and members that she was thrilled to report that the Trump administration "does have the potential to be an ALEC administration. It is full of the people and ideas we've advanced since 1973…Now is our time. And ALEC is ready." Since then over 40 Koch political operatives have signed on to work for the the Trump White House and administration, according to a recent report by Public Citizen.

This week, as ALEC meets in Michigan, the Koch takeover of the administration will be the topic of floor speeches in the U.S. Senate and educational events. The Intercept exposed the Koch political network's secret laundry list of policy changes that it has pursued and won the administration, including the federal tax overhaul giving massive tax breaks for corporations and the rich that will balloon the deficit.

Resources: The list of ALEC legislative members can be accessed here and the list of ALEC corporate funders can be accessed here. Follow @ALECexposed.

David Armiak

David Armiak is a researcher and writer at the Center for Media and Democracy.