The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) strategy of corporations enact favorable legislation at the state level across the country by wining and dining state legislators at fancy conferences and then presenting them with model bills to shepherd into law is well documented. Apparently, ALEC also sees value in currying favor at the federal level as well.
Common Cause’s Nick Surgey reports that ALEC gave a cash award of $1,350 to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) in 2009 as part of their Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award, according to an investigation of ALEC’s tax filings. This presents a potential breach of ethics because House members are prohibited by law from receiving any cash gift.
While ALEC’s main focus is on pro-corporate state legislation, common cause notes that ALEC’s influence extends far into the realm of the federal government:
Although ALEC’s primary focus is in promoting corporate-friendly state legislation, the group also has a clear federal agenda. A 2005 ALEC document obtained by Common Cause outlines 42 distinct ALEC model bills that attempt to influence federal policy. Those bills include resolutions calling for lower corporate taxes and supporting construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. In effect, corporations working through ALEC are using state legislators to lobby Congress on their behalf. ALEC boasts of the 91 “ALEC alumni” currently serving in the US House, including both Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
As Rep. Cantor graciously accepts his award in this 2009 video, it’s not difficult to imagine how flattery and cash gifts can go a long way in winning the favor of powerful people.
Rep. Cantor’s office subsequently released a statement denying that he took the cash and that the engraved bust he received was legal. This still doesn’t explain, as Common Cause notes, why ALEC considered the bust to be a cash gift on their tax filings, unless the value of the bust was high enough that disclosure was required.
Regardless, it smells fishy.
This summer, an organization called Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) finds itself the target of dozens of baseless public records requests instigated by an anonymous right wing entity apparently seeking to intimidate and harass the organization.
LAANE has long fought for policies to raise wages, protect the environment, and enhance community input on new box stores. In other words, they have gotten in the way when giant corporations have put profit maximization over the rights of workers, consumers, and communities. Perhaps that is why they now find themselves the subject of an extensive fishing expedition for public records that can be taken out of context and demagogued ad nauseam.
An opposition research company that has worked with conservative candidates and causes in California has sent dozens of letters to public officials across the state demanding all communications between LAANE and more than 70 public officials going back a number of years.
So who hired the opposition research firm? Who is it that is apparently hoping to use public disclosure laws to do a hatchet job on LAANE?
Good question, since they refuse to identify themselves.
At least when conservatives in Wisconsin and Michigan used baseless public records requests to intimidate and harass academics at public universities, we knew which far right pro-corporate entities were doing it (ALEC and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy).
In light of the numerous deceptive actions designed to destroy Planned Parenthood, ACORN, NPR, and Shirley Sherrod, it is more important than ever to fight right wing efforts to smear people and organizations who they see as standing in the way of their agenda.
People For the American Way stands with LAANE in demanding an end to the anonymous attack, and you can, too, by signing this petition calling on those who are behind the attack on LAANE to reveal their identities. Democracy is strengthened by the free and robust exchange of ideas and arguments, not by anonymous efforts to intimidate and discredit those who disagree with you.
The recall process is finally over with, but the fight for middle class families continues.
This all started when Wisconsin's governor Walker and the Republican legislature tried to ram through extremist legislation ending or reversing 50 years of collective bargaining rights. This after never having campaigned on that platform in the 2010 elections.
14 courageous Democrats fled the state to prevent quorum in the State Senate, delaying a vote on the measure, but the Republicans forced it through anyway. Then came more pieces of ALEC-supported, right-wing legislation, like a vote-suppressing voter ID law.
All of this activated voters and we beat back the Right Wing with two resounding victories for the Democrats in both of today’s State Senate races. Bob Wirch defeated Republican Jonathan Steitz with 58% to 42%. In the 12th District, Holperin, who won with 54% to challenger Kim Simac's 46%.
I went door-to-door to help get out the vote with PFAW's Political Director Randy Borntrager. Enthusiasm was high, with most we spoke to having already voted. Having met the voters who are affected by Walker's policies, we've come to realize even more how important it was to send this message in these elections, to show Walker that Wisconsinites won't sit back and let Republicans threaten their children's future. More importantly, though, it reminded us that the road beyond the elections is the most crucial one. We are thrilled to have been involved in the recall elections, but the fight doesn't stop here. The fight only stops when extreme Republicans can no longer jeopardize Wisconsinites' – and ALL Americans’ – futures for the benefit of their friends at big corporations.
The Koch brothers have had a piece of the right-wing anti-public education franchise for some time, through their sponsorship of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The corporate-funded think tank has churned out all sorts of model legislation for right-wing state legislators aimed at undermining and defunding public education.
Now, through the Koch-created and funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers have taken their attacks on public education to a new level: attempting to reinstitute school segregation.
A brand new video from our friends at Brave New Foundation -- a part of their "Koch Brothers Exposed" series -- details the disturbing rise of racial resegregation in one award-winning North Carolina school district. The story goes like this: AFP supported a slate of right-wing school board candidates who ran on a platform that echoed those of 1960's southern segregationists like George Wallace almost verbatim ... they won, and now they are using their power to hurt the public school system by not only erasing the district's commendable achievements of diversity, but hurting the quality of public education received by all the district's students.
People For the American Way and PFAW's African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) program are both incredibly proud to cosponsor the release of this video, and we're hopeful that we can help shine a light on this latest right-wing attack on public education, racial equality and civil rights.
Watch the video, and help spread the word by sharing this post.
After you watch the video, please call David Koch at his Manhattan office at 212-319-1100 and tell him to "stop funding school resegregation now."
Last night, voters sent a message to Scott Walker and his corporate, right-wing allies. They told him that Wisconsinites won’t sit back and let him attack working families to score political points. They told him they’re not going to swallow his misleading claims about wanting to balance the budget when he gives tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest individuals- while cutting funds for those that need them most. And most of all, they told him that his actions will have consequences. Four incumbent Republicans may have survived this election, but there’s no way they or Scott Walker slept soundly last night, knowing that when they betray the needs of their constituents, the people notice--even in the Republican-leaning districts we won last night.
To round up the results, four districts saw the Republican incumbent fend off their challengers: Luther Olsen in SD-14 (by only 2000 votes), Robert Cowles in SD-02, Sheila Harsdorf in SD-10 and Alberta Darling in SD-08. Two districts will see new Democratic State Senators: Jessica King in SD-18 and Jennifer Shilling in SD-32. That narrows the Republican majority to 17-16 in the State Senate, in the biggest win in Wisconsin recall history. We Are Wisconsin built an amazing field operation which will be crucial in future elections: with the capability to knock on over 90,000 doors on Election Day alone, the groundwork laid by their campaign is impressive enough even beside our two gains.
Today, I didn’t wake up feeling disappointed or hopeless because we didn’t take back the State Senate. I woke up thinking of the threat to collective bargaining rights in Ohio and extreme anti-choice legislation in Kansas; I woke up thinking of the corporate ALEC agenda being pushed across the country; and I woke up thinking of struggling Americans with no health insurance, couples without equal rights and millions of unemployed workers who need jobs.
Last night, we won two new seats for the Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate and showed that the people have a voice. Next Tuesday, we’re working in SD 12 and 22 to defend Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch. I don’t know about you, but we’re not done fighting yet.
As the American Legislative Exchange Council wraps up its summer conference in New Orleans this week, and the group maintains its usual modus operandi: presenting legislators with pre-written bills designed to increase corporate profits – in secret – then sitting back and watching elected officials enact those bills into law.
Earlier this week, PFAW teamed up with other progressive allies to hold a press conference across the street from the ALEC convention and highlight the negative affects that ALEC-sponsored legislation has on real Americans. Yet it would have been nice to have a first-hand account of what was happening inside.
Eric Carlson, a journalist with the Center for Media and Democracy, tried to gain access to ALEC’s events, but was repeatedly kicked out and threatened with arrest, even though the CMD did not violate ALEC’s press guidelines. According to Carlson,
After filling out my registration form to receive press credentials, I was told by an alarmed ALEC intern to wait while she fetched her boss. While I did not think she had ever heard my name, the look on her face made me think that perhaps she had heard of our new project ALEC Exposed.org. A very stern looking gentleman -- Ted Wagnon of Vox Global Communications -- arrived and told me my application would be denied on the grounds that the Center for Media and Democracy was an "advocacy organization." I asked Wagnon for a written explanation, and he handed me ALEC's Media Policy, which bears no mention of "advocacy organizations." Instead, news outlets funded by a "think-tank, political party, lobbying organization, trade association, or corporation" are forbidden from registering. CMD complies with this criteria even though most media outlets (owned by major corporations) do not…
Marriott security guards swarmed to where I was standing, demanding again that I leave the hotel or "face arrest." I escaped before they could follow through on their other promise of taking my picture for their permanent records. My only comfort? Al Jazeera English was also denied credentials on the grounds that ALEC was not an “international” conference -- even though it has an International Relations Task Force whose priority results in the offshoring of U.S. jobs and even though international politicians were addressing the conference.
You can read the rest of Carlson’s account here.
Politico’s Mike Allen publishes a daily run-down on the happenings in Washington called the “Playbook,” in which he boils down the news of the day into salient tidbits that fit easily on your smartphone screen. However, he missed the call on a Bloomberg article sounding the drumbeat against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive organization that facilitates meetings between corporate executives and state legislatures to help shepherd corporate-written bills into law.
The “seat at the legislative drafting table” is in fact exactly what it sounds like, and the process is detailed in a PFAW report. Corporate representatives, or “task-force members,” sit down with state legislators and hand them “model bills” to introduce in their respective statehouses. The result is myriad, nearly identical, extremely specialized and pro-corporate bills being introduced in legislatures around the country that carry serious repercussions for the environment, consumer safety, and working families – all for the sake of these corporations’ bottom line. Needless to say, ALEC member companies pay handsomely for this privilege.
BEHIND THE CURTAIN – “Koch, Exxon Mobil Among Corporations Helping Write State Laws,” by Bloomberg’s Alison Fitzgerald: “Koch Industries Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. are among companies that would benefit from almost identical energy legislation introduced in state capitals from Oregon to New Mexico … The energy companies helped write the legislation at a meeting organized by a group they finance, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a [state government] policy institute known as ALEC. The corporations, both ALEC members, took a seat at the legislative drafting table beside elected officials and policy analysts by paying a fee between $3,000 and $10,000.” The legislation pressures govs to leave the Western Climate Initiative, a regional carbon cap and trade program. http://bloom.bg/prxOw4
--PLAYBOOK TRANSLATION: The collusion turns out to be a think tank’s model legislation, called up on the web by like-minded legislators. The “seat at the legislative drafting table” turns out to be foundation donations or annual-meeting sponsorships.
ALEC is perhaps one of the gravest threats facing our democracy today – and sugarcoating their secretive workings does no favor to the American people.
Justin wrote earlier today about the trove of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that the Center for Media and Democracy released today. ALEC, which is funded largely by corporate interests, is a driving force behind a whole lot of state-level legislation that helps out big business at the expense of individual citizens – legislation that curtails workers’ rights, undercuts public education and other essential government services and, most importantly, and big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.
The agenda that ALEC helps to spread to state legislatures doesn’t just help give the group’s corporate funders a leg up – it also helps them keep American voters from wresting away any power they have in the electoral process.
The Nation’s John Nichols went through the ALEC legislation and found not only model Voter ID language – variations of which have been introduced in 33 states this year -- but various attempts to keep voters from imposing campaign finance limits:
Beyond barriers to voting, ALEC is also committed to building barriers to direct democracy. Horrified by the success of living-wage referendums and other projects that have allowed voters to enact protections for workers and regulations for businesses, ALEC’s corporate sponsors have pushed to toughen the rules for voter initiatives. “The legislative process should be the principal policy-making vehicle for developing state law,” declares one 2006 resolution, which specifically mentions concerns about state minimum wage laws, taxation and “the funding of other government programs and services.” ALEC’s Resolution to Reform the Ballot Initiatives Process recommends making it harder to qualify referendum language and suggests that proposals on fiscal issues should require supermajorities to become law.
ALEC is also determined to ensure that citizens do not have the final say on who is elected president, an agenda outlined in such documents as its Resolution in Support of the Electoral College and its ardent opposition to the National Popular Vote project (which it has warned would “nationalize elections and unravel Federalism”). A related resolution encourages state legislatures to formally complain that an interstate compact to defer to the popular will “would allow a candidate with a plurality—however small—to become President.” While ALEC worries about the candidate with the most votes winning, it has no problem with policies that increase the likelihood that the candidate with the most money and corporate support will prevail. Its 2009 Resolution Supporting Citizen Involvement in Elections bluntly “opposes all efforts to limit [citizen] involvement by limiting campaign contributions.” A resolution approved last year expresses support for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. ALEC even opposes moves to give shareholders a say in the expenditure of corporate funds on campaigning. At the same time, ALEC urges legislators to fight the “federal takeover” of state election procedures, objecting in particular to universal standards for voting procedures.
Today, the Center for Media & Democracy and The Nation unveiled www.ALECexposed.org, an important resource that provides key insight into the workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy organization that shepherds corporate-crafted bills through state legislatures, as detailed in this PFAW Foundation report. This new wiki-style website allows you view the actual legislation ALEC is pushing, including bills affecting:
These “model bills” are extraordinarily influential – they reach almost every state, and give incredible advantages to big corporations by carving special loopholes into environmental, tax and safety regulations and slashing worker and consumer protections. Below is a clip of PFAW’s Andrew Gillum discussing ALEC’s work with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell:
Last night, People For’s Andrew Gillum went on the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss PFAW Foundation's new report on ALEC, the group that helps corporate donors get legislation they like placed in statehouses.
ALEC, a little known but enormously influential shadow right-wing policy organization, will be holding a summit in Cincinnati, Ohio today. Don’t be surprised that you didn’t know about it—unless you’re a top representative of a deep-pocketed corporation, you probably weren’t invited.
ALEC’s primary function is to ghostwrite bills for state legislators. Corporations pay a pretty penny for the access ALEC provides to elected officials, making this organization the epitome of pay-to-pay backroom politics.
It’s no wonder that Ohio policymakers are pursuing such an extreme pro-corporate agenda. If it requires millions of dollars to buy a ticket to the smoke-filled backroom, there’s just no way the middle class can compete.
In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.
Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.
Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.
Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.
It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.
This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.
Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.
People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.
Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.
That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.
So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.
The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."
That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:
The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.
We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.
That is the American Way.