CMD Submits Testimony on Right to Work

The Center for Media and Democracy submitted the following testimony on Wisconsin's right to work bill to the Assembly's Committee on Labor:

The Center for Media and Democracy was asked by Representative Christine Sinicki to address the close connections between the American Legislative Exchange Council, or “ALEC,” and the right-to-work bill being considered today.

ALEC has been described as a conduit for corporate interests to access and influence state legislators. ALEC is a way for global corporations to push their preferred policies on the state level, away from public view.

It was not until a whistleblower came to the Center for Media and Democracy in 2011 with ALEC’s previously-secret model bills that some sunlight began to shine on the organization. CMD published the website, and the public could finally begin to connect the dots between ALEC “models” and legislation moving in their states.

Although described as a membership organization, ALEC is in fact almost entirely funded by corporate interests: 98 percent of ALEC’s funding comes from sources other than legislative dues.

In closed-door, out-of-state ALEC meetings, corporate lobbyists get an equal vote with legislators on approving “model legislation” that benefits the same corporate interests that fund ALEC.

One example of that model legislation is the ALEC model Right to Work Act. Wisconsin’s Assembly Bill 61 tracks the ALEC model Right to Work Act word-for-word. This was also the case when ALEC legislators in Michigan and Indiana enacted right to work legislation: bills in those states also mirrored ALEC model legislation, word for word.

ALEC members in Wisconsin are apparently claiming that AB 61/SB 44 was lifted from Michigan’s right-to-work law, yet that bill was also lifted directly from ALEC model legislation. And at ALEC’s August 2013 meeting in Chicago, ALEC legislators were handed a toolkit for enacting right to work titled “You Can Too!” The toolkit described how Michigan passed right-to-work using ALEC model legislation, and urged legislators in Wisconsin and elsewhere to enact right-to-work in their state.

And indeed, that is exactly what is happening today.

In December 2010, Senator Scott Fitzgerald, who was previously the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin, told WisPolitics that he had just returned from an ALEC meeting, and there was nearly unprecedented energy around right-to-work, like nothing he had seen before.

A few months later, Governor Walker, who himself is an ALEC alumnus, called for Act 10, which was effectively right to work for public-sector unions. It was the first step in what Governor Walker himself described as a “divide and conquer” strategy.

According to documents obtained by The Guardian, ALEC claims 43 members in the Wisconsin legislature, as of August 2013. This includes the leadership of the Senate, the Assembly, and the Joint Finance Committee. In the 2011-2012 legislative session, Governor Walker signed 19 ALEC bills into law, according to a Center for Media and Democracy analysis.

In Spring of 2013, Wisconsin legislators attending the ALEC’s States and Nation Policy Summit held in Oklahoma City attended a session discussing right to work. And as mentioned previously, at ALEC’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, legislators also discussed right to work.

And at ALEC’s most recent meeting in Washington DC, ALEC described its plans to push for right to work on the local level. James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation, who is scheduled to speak today, was one of the presenters at that event. Sherk and ALEC’s legally-dubious effort to enact local right to work was the subject of a front-page New York Times story.

In addition to Mr. Sherk, the ALEC model legislation being considered today is supported by a cadre of ALEC-tied organizations and interests. Richard Vedder, a member of the ALEC “Board of Scholars” and the 2008 recipient of the ALEC “Adam Smith Award,” wrote a report for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute purporting to show the benefits of right to work for Wisconsin. Michigan’s Mackinac Center is an ALEC member, and its director of Labor Policy testified in favor of Wisconsin’s ALEC right-to-work bill. Americans for Prosperity is an ALEC member and is spending over $1 million on ads supporting the right to work bill. Together, these groups and others supporting Wisconsin’s ALEC right to work bill have received millions from the Koch and Bradley foundations.

The issue here is not just the fact that Wisconsin’s right-to-work bill reflects ALEC model legislation. The issue is that ALEC creates an environment where elected officials can become more responsive to out-of-state corporate interests than to the Wisconsinites that they represent.

One example of this is Wisconsin legislators attending ALEC meetings with their flights, hotel rooms, and meals paid for by the same corporate interests that stand to benefit from the passage of ALEC’s Right to Work Act or other ALEC model bills. These costs can be significant, because ALEC meetings are often held in resort locations and high-end hotels. For example, the next ALEC meeting is in Savannah Georgia; the one after that is in San Diego, California.

The fact that some Wisconsin legislators, including at least three members of this Committee, are getting all-expenses paid trips funded by the same corporate interests that benefit from the introduction of ALEC model legislation should raise serious questions about improper influence.

Special interests already hold sway in the capitol by way of lobbying and campaign contributions. But what ALEC does is take this influence peddling to another level. It creates the impression of a “shadow government” where laws and public policy priorities are determined by a small cadre of out-of-state interests. Average citizens can have nowhere near the same level of influence or access.

ALEC has previously claimed that the public has a chance for input once an ALEC bill is introduced in the state. But as we are seeing with the debate over AB 61 and SB 44, this is hardly the case when bills are fast-tracked during an extraordinary session.

In sum, it apparently doesn’t matter how many Wisconsinites sign up to testify against a bill, or how many people protest outside the capitol building, or how many letters elected officials receive in opposition to the legislation. Wisconsin legislators are returning from ALEC meetings, with lobbyist-drafted ALEC legislation and toolkits at the ready, and with a commitment to pass the ALEC bill into law--regardless of what the people of Wisconsin have to say.

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