Thanks to the work from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), investigative journalists like Beau Hodai and The Nation's exposé, we now know that ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a front group for major corporations, the Koch brothers and right-wing lobbying groups, actively disseminated model bills promoting its agenda to state leaders.
ALEC creates plausible deniability for state legislators by claiming it's not lobbying, of course, but merely making friendly suggestions and, in turn, the legislators ultimately reap the rewards of being extra nice to ALEC's corporate clients.
Though many of ALEC's activities are still only recently coming to light, we can already see the group has widespread influence in national politics.
Using its hilariously titled bills (one called "Economy Civil Rights Act" openly wages war on regulation and public services), the right-wing group aims to distribute its propaganda in all 50 states.
In one of their models, the group outlines its opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) regulation of greenhouse gases. ALEC claims the rise in carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases is not linked to a decline in welfare or public health. "Indeed," ALEC's bill remarks, "quite the opposite is true."
The model bill continues in an attempt to refute other overwhelming evidence of global warming: rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, retreating mountain glaciers, warming temperatures etc.
Therefore, be it resolved that because of the aforementioned lack of evidence that human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases will "endanger public health or welfare" as required by §202 of the Clean Air Act, the American Legislative Exchange Council urges EPA to not make an endangerment finding under §202 of the Clean Air Act and regulate greenhouse gases from mobile sources.
Be it further resolved that that until and unless Congress enacts new statutory language clarifying and specifying EPA's legal and regulatory obligations with respect to carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, EPA should refrain from further deliberations on a possible endangerment finding regarding carbon dioxide regulation under §202 of the Clean Air Act.
ALEC offers specific instructions - er, sorry - helpful suggestions to the attentive Republican representative. In a model bill entitled "Conditioning Regulation of Non-Pollutant Emissions on Science," ALEC states:
The following language may be used as a freestanding bill or amendment to a bill, (e.g., a bill to regulate carbon dioxide). It requires [the State EPA] Administrator to perform an assessment that considers certain criteria prior to formally proposing or implementing regulation of any emission not listed as a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act.
A press release on ALEC's site brags that at least 13 other states have passed resolutions based on their model language.
Republicans have always been extremely receptive to ALEC's propaganda on the environment. One of the first measures George W. Bush signed into law as governor of Texas was a model that gave corporations immunity from penalties if they tell regulators about their own violation of environmental rules.
This is like a serial killer being let out of jail for good behavior if he tells investigators where he buried the bodies.
Attack on Voters
ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force approved a piece of model legislation called the "Voter ID Act," that calls for voters to have IDs with both a photo and expiration date, which, of course, rules out college IDs from young voters who historically vote overwhelmingly Democrat. These types of bills also discriminate against poor and minority voters, who again, tend to vote for Republicans' ideological opponents.
States like Ohio and South Carolina have now adopted new, stringent voter ID requirements. Ohio's HB 159 requires voters to show one of five forms of ID to vote in person: a driver's license, state ID, military ID, US passport or a "new, free photo ID that State Bureau of Motor Vehicles would dispense to indigent citizens who qualify."
The law replaces the former rule that required a photo ID or utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government document with a current name and address. However, HB 159 does not allow students to use IDs issued by state colleges. Thus, Ohio effectively disenfranchised 900,000 Ohioans for the negligible and entirely overreported handful of voter fraud instances that occur during elections.
Of course, it's not clear that the Ohio and South Carolina Legislatures were directly influenced by ALEC, or whether they ever saw the model bills. The state Legislatures and ALEC might simply be ideological soulmates. In fact, the group's secretive nature makes assessing the exact scope of ALEC's influence a daunting task.
First, one would need to submit a public records request to the office of a lawmaker in order to request copies of documents, including emails, to see if ALEC had any kind of direct contact with the lawmaker. Hodai warned me that it would be difficult to do this, since 25 of 50 states exempt legislative records in one form or another.
The example he supplies is the case of Indiana's Sen. Jim Buck, a public-sector chair of the ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force, who recently introduced a piece of model legislation aimed at aligning public employee pay with workers in the private sector. "There was no legal way for me to get hold of these records, due to the state's legislative public records exemption," says Hodai.
Other reporters have also tried to get to the bottom of ALEC's shady practices. Wisconsin journalist Shawn Doherty noted a striking similarity between the governor and Republican legislators' health care agenda and ALEC's "The State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare."
Republicans have also proposed a pair of bills that allow insurance policies in Wisconsin to throw out state mandates requiring coverage for a broad variety of medical treatments and conditions, Doherty reports.
This legislation, dubbed "Health Choices and Opportunities" by authors Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, is similar to what the ALEC guide calls the "Health Care Choice Act for States," which allows people to purchase health insurance across state lines. In 2010, according to the guide, 19 states introduced such legislation and Wyoming enacted it.
When Doherty confronted Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who admits to being a "proud member" of ALEC since 1994, about the mirror language, Fitzgerald shrugged off his questioning.
State lawmakers have always turned to such national organizations for help brainstorming ideas and crafting legislation, Fitzgerald says. "These groups are about exchanging ideas between different state legislators from around the country to be sure we're not isolating ourselves in Wisconsin."
Then there's Michigan's HB 4453, a bill that prohibits governmental entities from competing commercially against the private sector, which would effectively privatize all public services, including schools.
Eagle-eyed citizens noticed HB 4453 bears an uncanny resemblance to a bill that was made available through CMD's document dump. When they confronted Rep. Tom McMillin about the similarities (McMillin had said in the past it didn't matter whether he was a member of ALEC or not), the lawmaker attempted to distance himself from the group.
McMillin had told The Rochester Citizen at a town hall meeting at the Older Persons Commission that he would allow The Rochester Citizen to come to his office in Lansing and he would log in to his ALEC account and let us compare bills on the ALEC member-only part of the web site to some of the legislation he has introduced. McMillin never made good on his promise.
While the group's influence with health care legislation remains speculative in Wisconsin and Michigan, ALEC's manipulation of public policy has been conclusively proven in other areas. The group itself claims that in each legislature cycle, members in all 50 states introduce 1,000 pieces of legislation based on its work and 17 percent of these bills become law.
Assault on Workers
Flipping through the pages of ALEC's model bills is like reading "The Simpsons'" Mr. Burns' wish list for torturing his employees.
An ALEC model called "Prevailing Wage Repeal Act" would repeal all laws requiring administratively determined employee compensation rates, including wages, salaries and benefits. CMD notes that paying the prevailing wage is designed to ensure quality work is done on public projects and also helps keep wage standards in the construction industry.
"The Employer Standing Act" gives an employer preferential standing before the appropriate boards or commission to dispose of a workers' compensation claim if they can convince the board the claim was filed fraudulently. This bill gives rights to corporations and employers at the expense of workers, notes CMD.
But this isn't just a fantasy diary. Many state leaders have actually adopted the anti-worker, anti-union language of the ALEC model bills. Wisconsin-style assaults on labor have now been introduced in Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Vermont.
ALEC's war on public employees fell under a trilogy of bills in the "Paycheck Protection bundle," first reported by Hodai. The Employee Rights Reform Act, the Labor Organizations Deductions Act and the Political Funding Reform Act were all penned by ALEC as a way to kill unions by defunding them and making the collection of unions dues a cumbersome process.
In its original version, the "Prohibition of Negative Check-off Act" was designed to prevent any "arrangements that are not entered into by the payer," the ALEC model reads. "The Act declares that nonvoluntary payments and negative check-off plans are void as against public policy." Basically, it's a mechanism to defund unions.
The anti-union language was adopted by Florida's Representative Dorworth in the form of HB 102, but the bill died in chamber following pressure from union members. (Near identical language was also referred to committee by Georgia lawmakers, though substantiating ALEC's direct connection proves difficult given a 1975 State Supreme Court decision to exempt the legislature from the Georgia Open Records Act under a separation of powers argument.)
The group was also directly involved in Arizona's "Show Me Your Papers" SB 1070, having disseminated the model legislations among state lawmakers. ALEC currently represents corporations that include Corrections Corporation of America (the nation's largest private jailer), the Geo Group (the second largest private jailer) and Sodexho Marriott (the nation's leading food services provider to private correctional institutions), all companies that would obviously directly profit from more people being locked up in Arizona's prison system.
The secretive nature of ALEC's operations makes it difficult for journalists and citizens alike to know the group's exact level of influence on state legislatures. CMD's ALEC Exposed web site (alecexposed.org) asks individuals to spread the word about the group and for citizens to demand the truth about which politicians in their states are members of the group. Visitors can also cross-check their states' bills with the ALEC models to see if there are similarities.
"These bills and resolutions 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," CMD states. "Only by seeing the depth and breadth and language of the bills can one fully understand the power and sweep of corporate influence behind the scenes on bills affecting the rights and future of every American in every single state."