May 9, 2013
By Bob Sloan
SIOUX FALLS, SD –
Over the past five years, South Dakota taxpayers have spent more than $360,000 for lawmakers to attend out-of-state meetings.
The latest trip was this weekend. More than a dozen Republicans traveled to Oklahoma City for a summit hosted by the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council known as ALEC.
One of the state co-chairs of ALEC says no tax dollars will be spent on the latest meeting because it’s considered a task force meeting and paid through fundraisers.
However, Democrats are still criticizing the recent approval of tax dollars to pay for ALEC dues and trips even though the state has spent much more on travel expenses for other organizations.
RALEIGH — One bill protects a Fortune 500 company from costly asbestos lawsuits. Another shields food companies from obesity-related liability claims.
North Carolina lawmakers advocating the measures during a recent committee meeting touted how many other states had approved or considered similar measures. It’s good public policy, they argued, and now it’s North Carolina’s turn.
What didn’t get mentioned is the organization that helped coordinate the effort and draft the bills: the American Legislative Exchange Council, a largely private conservative group backed by major corporations that proposes model legislation for like-minded lawmakers to introduce across the country.
Despite being shunned by many of its members amid controversy a year ago, ALEC continues to exert substantial influence in North Carolina. House Speaker Thom Tillis is a national board member, and former Rep. Fred Steen, the past state ALEC chairman, is Gov. Pat McCrory’s legislative lobbyist.
A handful of bills filed by N.C. lawmakers include passages with identical language to model legislation supported by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization criticized for its close ties to businesses that help write the measures. Here are a few examples:
• Charter schools: Senate Bill 337 creates an independent board to manage charter schools and includes paragraphs near-verbatim to ALEC’s Charter School Growth with Quality Act. It goes for a full Senate vote Tuesday.
• Asbestos: The measure is designed to insulate one company, Philadelphia-based Crown Holdings, from asbestos exposure lawsuits related to a former subsidiary. An ALEC measure pushed by the company matches North Carolina’s House Bill 415 and efforts in other states. A House Judiciary committee heard testimony Wednesday but did not take a vote.
• Obesity lawsuits: The Commonsense Consumption Act is much like an ALEC measure by the same name. It shields food companies from lawsuits related to obesity and weight gain. A House Judiciary committee heard the bill Wednesday but took no action.
• State sovereignty: House Resolution 617 to express support for the state’s rights under the 10th Amendment includes large portions verbatim from an ALEC resolution to “restate state sovereignty.” The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Larry Pittman, a Concord Republican, and others, is sitting in the House Rules committee.
• Anti-union: North Carolina law restricts unions, but lawmakers want to put it in the state constitution. House Bill 6 sponsored by Speaker Thom Tillis is similar to an ALEC “Right to Work” measure and includes some of the same language. The bill is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday.
I recently watched: The United States of ALEC.
This film, featuring Bill Moyers, does a masterful job of explaining how the closed-door manipulations of the American Legislative Exchange Council and its corporate lobbyists affect public policy in every realm of our society — including education.
Our nation spends about $500 billion in local, state and federal funds on public schools from kindergarten through high school. Most Americans view this as a wise investment in our nation’s future. Throughout the 20th century the U.S. was the clear leader in public education. We created the most vibrant economy the world has ever known. The record speaks for itself — public education is a great investment.
Media coverage of renewable energy developments at the state level continued to center on the efforts led by the Koch Brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to try and weaken, repeal, or “repeal-by-weaken” renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) in a couple dozen of the 29 states plus Washington, D.C. that have them.
There are several, perhaps less well known, positive developments too.
The figure below from a recent report by Justin Barnes and Chelsea Barnes of Keyes, Fox & Wiedman, LLP, categorizing active legislative proposals as either ‘strengthening’ or ‘weakening’ state RPSs, provides what I think is a more accurate and more complete picture of what is going on with clean energy in state legislatures. (The starred states denote the four states with in-depth reviews further down this posting.)
Curious, it seems. N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis headed off recently to the spring conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Oklahoma City. It’s a national group funded mainly by large corporations that advocates for conservative causes and even takes the step of helping lawmakers of a like mind in various states draft laws.
ALEC, as it’s known, has provided language for bills that’s even been used this session in North Carolina, ranging from creating an independent board to take charter school governance away from the State Board of Education to protecting a Philadelphia-based company from lawsuits involving asbestos exposure to installing an anti-union amendment in the state constitution. Closer to home, the Civitas Institute, a conservative group, used ALEC literature in an indoctrination…er, training…session for freshman lawmakers.
There’s a gun pointed at the heart of representative democracy, and your Congressperson has their finger on the trigger.
It’s called the American Legislative Exchange Council-or ALEC for short.
And while its name may sound perfectly harmless, it’s the single reason why your vote no longer matters.
You see, due to the influence wielded by this mysterious group, elected officials have become little more than high-paid rubber stamps.
As for representation, thanks to ALEC, you don’t really have any.
“In statehouses and cities across the country, battles are raging over the direction of education policy—from the standards that will shape what students learn to how test results will be used to judge a teacher’s performance…
“…Even as antipathy to the common core fosters some otherwise unlikely alignments, support for charter schools and so-called “parent trigger” laws brings together many Democrats and Republicans in the name of more choice and power for parents.
The lineup on the side of such proposals includes long-standing and new advocacy groups like Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, and StudentsFirst(founded by former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee). And it features such influential conservative groups as the American Legislative Exchange Council.