The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has launched a new website, ALECExposed.org, to help consumers understand more about the secretive business group that is helping craft industry-friendly legislation. CMD has obtained more than 800 model bills that were crafted by ALEC for state governments across the country. From a CMD press release:
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.
Before getting into the nuts and bolts of ALEC, it’s important to understand where they came from. ALEC was founded by conservative operative Paul Weyrich. After receiving a healthy dose of cash from conservative Joseph Coors to create the Heritage Foundation, Weyrich decided that a normal think tank like Heritage wasn’t enough to turn congress into a pro-business, anti-consumer organization. Heritage served as Weyrich’s machine to help develop and pass out talking points, but Heritage could only provide words – words that could easily be ignored. Weyrich knew that in order to make these words become actions, he would need the money to be able to convince Congress to vote how he and his corporate allies wanted them to. To do this, he would have to merge business and politics, literally. This merging gave birth to ALEC.
Through his connections at the Heritage Foundation, and the burgeoning “Moral Majority” he was in the process of creating, Weyrich pulled together politicians from around the country along with some of the wealthiest businessmen in America to form ALEC. Their purpose was simple – promote their view of what a “free market” should look like, while at the same time diminishing the role of government in corporate America’s business. To give his new organization an air of exclusivity, he decided that it should be a “members only” club, where those who wanted to be a part of the group would have to pay a nominal fee. Businesses have to pay a minimum of $5,000, but elected officials are able to buy themselves a two year membership for no more than $50. In addition to a few handfuls of state legislators, ALEC immediately attracted the attention of all sorts of businesses, and quickly added to its member roster Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, VISA, Exxon, Texaco, Coors, and the American Petroleum Institute.
A report by People for The American Way exposed some of ALEC’s main funders:
“ALEC’s major funders include Exxon Mobil, the Scaife family (Allegheny Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation), the Coors family (Castle Rock Foundation), Charles Koch (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation), the Bradley family (The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation) and the Olin family (John M. Olin Foundation). These organizations consistently finance right-wing think tanks and political groups.
Members of ALEC’s board represent major corporations such as Altria, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft, PhRMA, Wal-Mart, Peabody Energy, and State Farm. Such corporations represent just a fraction of ALEC’s approximately three hundred corporate partners. According to the American Association for Justice, over eighty percent of ALEC’s finances come from corporate contributions.”
They were now armed with money, members, and talking points. ALEC was ready to make its voice heard.
And when ALEC speaks, Congress listens. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) has compiled a great report on how ALEC has succeeded in helping corporate America fulfill their laundry list of requests from the federal government for their members. To assist their members in the oil industry, ALEC has successfully fought to role back environmental protections. For the pharmaceutical industry, they successfully fought to ban the importation of drugs from other countries. And they’ve helped push broad deregulation, which has benefited every one of their members.
But the AAJ report says that the activities of ALEC go far beyond lobbying – they say that the group is essentially ghost writing favorable laws for corporate America. For example, on behalf of Exxon, ALEC has written legislation that would prevent schools from teaching children about what they deem “non-verified” science theories. Thanks to groups like Weyrich’s own Heritage Foundation, the Right has successfully managed to convince Americans that the science on climate change is still in question, which would mean that schools will no longer be able to teach students about the impacts, or even the causes, of climate change.
A major ALEC project over the years has been their assault on the environment. ALECExposed.org lays out the numerous ways in which ALEC has worked to undo environmental progress as follows:
Limiting the ability of people to use their local governmental power to protect their towns and neighborhoods from pollution and other hazards.
Undermining environmental regulations through novel, aggressive legal theories that claim regulations limiting pollution, for example, constitute a “taking” of the right to pollute and thus require compensation under the Constitution.
Protecting polluting corporations from civil and criminal liability by making a company’s internal audit or assessments of its pollution “privileged” and thus inadmissible in legal proceedings.
Hindering state-level regulation of groundwater contaminants by establishing EPA standards as a ceiling, rather than a floor, giving an agribusiness-dominated agency a regulatory veto, and adding other burdens.
Giving states the power to appropriate national parks and other federal public land, possibly to allow greater oil, gas, and coal extraction.
Additionally, the “Limited Immunity for Persons Responding to Oil Spills Act” is available through the Heartland Institute website; it would free corporations from liability when they cause injury using toxic chemical dispersants to clean oil spills (as happened with the BP-funded cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon spill).
This assault on the environment comes as no surprise when you take a look at the organization’s funders mentioned above. But it is the Koch brothers who have received the lion’s share of benefits from ALEC’s anti-environment efforts. From Lisa Graves, CMD’s Executive Director, writing in The Nation:
The Kochs have a penchant for paying their way out of serious violations and coming out ahead. Helped by Koch Industries’ lobbying efforts, one of the first measures George W. Bush signed into law as governor of Texas was an ALEC model bill giving corporations immunity from penalties if they tell regulators about their own violation of environmental rules. Dozens of other ALEC bills would limit environmental regulations or litigation in ways that would benefit Koch.
ALEC has managed to operate for decades in the dark. It wasn’t until this year that news stories about the group began making headlines, and groups like PFAW and the AAJ began looking into their activities. The resources that CMD’s ALECExposed.org provides are among the most extensive and valuable of any information that has come out about the group. With a fierce 2012 presidential election battle looming in the United States, stories about ALEC and their activities are going to become more important as voters prepare to vote in 15 months.