Front and center at the New York Times today is a report on the extent to which corporations control state legislatures through the”non-profit” American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which has been weaving its web for years and gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere for at least two years, is now the focus of mainstream media thanks to the depredations of Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, the Trayvon Martin case, and the increasing prominence of the Koch Brothers. Until now, the Kochs’ names were mentioned in the Times when they contributed such huge sums to major New York arts institutions that their money was finally buying them a kind of respectability. Now we’re more apt to come across them in their important role as anti-American subversives — transferring political power from we-the-people to we-the-corporations.
…. A review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues. ...NYT
The Times is working with documents provided by Common Cause which, in turn, is using the information to bring the attention of government to ALEC’s abuse of its IRS-granted,non-profit status.
… “We know its mission is to bring together corporations and state legislators to draft profit-driven, anti-public-interest legislation, and then help those elected officials pass the bills in statehouses from coast to coast,” said the president of Common Cause, Bob Edgar. “If that’s not lobbying, what is?” …NYT
One ALEC spokesman accuses Common Cause of being jealous. Common Cause is a legitimate non-profit because it doesn’t profit from its work on citizens’ behalf. Moreover, its records are open. ALEC is a big-time actor in the interest of big money. It simply refuses access to information about its donors who, the documents show, see ALEC as a “good investment.”
… Although its board is made up of legislators, who pay $50 a year to belong, ALEC is primarily financed by more than 200 private-sector members, whose annual dues of $7,000 to $25,000 accounted for most of its $7 million budget in 2010.
Some companies give much more, all of it tax deductible: AT&T, Pfizer and Reynolds American each contributed $130,000 to $398,000, according to a copy of ALEC’s 2010 tax returns, obtained by The Times, that included donors’ names, which are normally withheld from public inspection. The returns show that corporate members pay stipends — it calls them “scholarships” — for lawmakers to travel to annual conferences, including a four-day retreat where ALEC spends as much as $250,000 on child care for members’ families. …NYT
Those conferences are where the dirty work of corporate influence on state law-making gets done. Just how it all works is now coming to light because Common Cause and the Times have managed to obtain the records of meetings. Take the issue of fracking and how Exxon Mobil got the exemptions it wanted.
…Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.
A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home. …NYT
Examination of the process that led that bill clearly shows that the oil companies, not the legislators, had the final say on the content of the bill.
Suppose you are “just” citizens worried about corporate control over your state’s schools, its environment, its political leadership? Just as the federal government is increasingly ruled by corporate interests so the states are ceding power to the corporations who fund ALEC.
ALEC’s pressure on Texas on behalf of energy companies is one example among fifty. Ohio is another powerful example, as is clearly shown in this report on the people of the state of Ohio vs. fracking.
Cross posted from Prairie Weather