ALEC and SPN – “Charities” That Just Keeps on “Taking” Citizens Rights

by Bob Sloan

A compilation of news, views and articles related to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for the week of 11/18/2013.

Click on the headline to read the entire article, letter or document referenced below…  At the top of this week’s important news, is the launch of www.stinktanks.org by the Center for Media and Democracy and ProgressNow which worked tirelessly to expose the connections to and from the conservative State Policy Network (SPN) operating like ALEC, as a “Charity”.  Stinktanks.org allows readers to clink on links to each state and discover the various SPN affiliates working to promote a conservative agenda in their particular state.  Informative and well researched data found at this site and I urge everyone to visit and learn about previously unknown efforts involving lobbying, legislation and ongoing in your area.

“Something STINKS In Our Statehouses”

“THE STATE POLICY NETWORK “What Is The State Policy Network? “The State Policy Network (SPN) is a web of so-called “think tanks” that push a right-wing agenda in every state across the country. Although many of SPN’s member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, an in-depth investigation by non-profit, non-partisan investigative reporting groups the Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now reveals that SPN and its affiliates are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to theKoch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.”

Of course, as soon as the press release on the SPN “stink tank” site hit, News Busters quickly responded, attempting to justify the SPN agenda and accuse supporters like George Soros and Bill Moyers of being behind the “attacks” (revelations):

Soros-funded Media Group Attacks Conservative ‘Stink Tanks’

“Two left-wing groups, the Center for Media and Democracy and ProgressNow, launched a coordinated attack against the pro-free market State Policy Network. This attack came six months after the liberal Media Consortium was launching its own series of articles bashing SPN. The accusations that this Center for Media and Democracy report made were completely hypocritical, and misleading. “According to this report, the Center for Media and Democracy has a problem when conservative think tanks are funded by conservative donors and push a conservative agenda. They seem ignorant to the hypocrisy in this, since CMD is a liberal think tank, funded by liberal donors like George Soros, Bill Moyers and the Tides Foundation and pushing a decidedly liberal agenda. “This isn’t the first time CMD has attacked conservatives. In 2012, CMD joined with five other left-wing groups to launch a coordinated attack on the American Legislative Exchange Council. The CMD run “Source Watch” proudly claims that this attack led to 56 former ALEC members cutting ties with the group. CMD’s Lisa Graves, who headed up the attack on ALEC, was also involved with the attack on SPN. In both of these attacks, CMD and its allies try to demonize groups that support free market principles. “The hit job, labeled “Stink Tanks,” says that “SPN and its affiliates push an extreme right-wing agenda that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental protections, and create a tax system that benefits most those at the very top level of income.” The “about” page of the SPN website, describes SPN as “dedicated solely to improving the practical effectiveness of independent, non-profit, market-oriented, state-focused think tanks.”

Of course, the information provided to readers by Mike Ciandella and a similar argument of “not so” advanced by SPN President, Tracie Sharp were both found to be seriously lacking in facts as pointed out by Jane Mayer with the New Yorker in her article:

IS IKEA THE NEW MODEL FOR THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT?

“In every state in the country, there is at least one ostensibly independent “free-market” think tank that is part of something called the State Policy Network— there are sixty-four in all, ranging from the Pelican Institute, in Louisiana, to the Freedom Foundation, in Washington State. According to a new investigative report by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group, however, the think tanks are less free actors than a coordinated collection of corporate front groups—branch stores, so to speak—funded and steered by cash from undisclosed conservative and corporate players. Although the think tanks have largely operated under the radar, the cumulative enterprise is impressively large, according to the report. In 2011, the network funneled seventy-nine million dollars into promoting conservative policies at the state level.

“Tracie Sharp, the president of the S.P.N., promptly dismissed the report as “baseless allegations.” She told Politico, “There is no governing organization dictating what free market think tanks research or how they educate the public about good public policy.”

“But notes provided to The New Yorker on what was said during the S.P.N.’s recent twenty-first-annual meeting raise doubts about Sharp’s insistence that each of the think tanks is, as she told me, “fiercely independent.” The notes show that, behind closed doors, meeting with some eight hundred people from the affiliated state think tanks, Sharp compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA.

“At the annual meeting, which took place in Oklahoma City this past September 24th through 27th, Sharp explained what she called The IKEA Model. She said that it starts with what she described as a “catalogue” showing “what success would look like.” Instead of pictures of furniture arranged in rooms, she said, S.P.N.’s catalogue displays visions of state policy projects that align with the group’s agenda. That agenda includes opposing President Obama’s health-care program and climate-change regulations, reducing union protections and minimum wages, cutting taxes and business regulations, tightening voting restrictions, and privatizing education. “The success we show is you guys,” she told the assembled state members. “Here’s how we win in your state.”…

Also included in this week’s list is ALEC’s pursuit of doing away with voters electing their state Senators.  In their eyes state lawmakers (especially in “Red” states are better suited for choosing “our” Senate representatives…and no doubt, we know those chosen by predominantly GOP controlled states would be GOP controlled candidates for those offices.

ALEC Mulls Assault On Constitution’s 17th Amendment — The Direct Election Of Senators

“In an agenda for a December meeting posted on ALEC’s website, one of the items up for review is language for a bill, called the Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act, that would allow state legislatures to add a candidate’s name to the ballot for a U.S. senate seat, along with the names of those nominated by voters. “A nomination petition stating that the United States Senate is the office to be filled, the name and residence of the candidate and other information required by this section shall be filed with each Presiding Officer of the legislature of the state of __________,” the model legislation states. “The petition shall be filed at the same time as primary nomination papers and petitions are required to be filed.” The language also adds that at least 20 percent of the “then-sitting members of the legislature” must sign onto the nomination. “If ALEC’s members decide to further pursue this act and manage to get it passed in any state, it would be an assault to the 17th Amendment of the Constitution. “For over a century, Senators were elected by state legislatures. This often led to stalemates, leaving Senate seats open for months at a time. But in 1913, the country ratified the 17th Amendment, which stipulates that Americans are to directly elect their senators:

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislatures…”

ALEC Floats Legislation Chipping Away At The 17th Amendment

“WASHINGTON — The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council is wading back into election issues, as it considers supporting a bill that would increase the role of state legislatures in the election of U.S. senators, chipping away at the powers vested directly in the people under the 17th Amendment. “ALEC circulates model legislation to state legislators, and its bills have resulted in states passing laws related to voter ID, so-called Stand Your Ground issues and the elimination or reduction of state income taxes. “In early December, a group of ALEC members are scheduled to consider supporting a range of potential new model legislation, including the “Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act,” according to a memo posted on the group’s website. The bill would significantly increase the role of the state legislature in the election of U.S. senators, inching back toward the process used prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913. The 17th Amendment established the direct election of U.S. senators. Before this amendment, senators were chosen by state legislators…”

ALEC’s voting bill threatens democracy

“In several of my previous columns, I have made reference to the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is an organization composed of corporations, interest groups and legislators at the state and federal levels. Corporate members of ALEC include AOL, Comcast, Exxon Mobil and dozens of other large corporations. A number of prominent politicians from across the country are former members of ALEC.

‘In addition, more than two dozen members of the Florida Legislature have either claimed ALEC membership or attended an ALEC annual meeting since 2011.

According to its website, the organization seeks to “advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level.” In practice, this means ALEC promotes state legislation like massive tax cuts for the wealthy and reduced government regulations that benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the middle class and the poor. ALEC has also supported voter ID laws, which require citizens to present certain types of ID in order to register to vote. In addition, its members have supported reducing early voting hours in states around the country. These laws have the purpose of reducing voter turnout, particularly among groups that are least likely to support ALEC’s agenda. These demographic groups include African-Americans, Hispanics and college students….

The Campaign Against Net Metering: ALEC and Utility Interests’ Next Attack on Clean Energy Surfaces in Arizona

“On Thursday, the Arizona Corporate Commission (ACC), the state entity responsible for regulating utilities, voted to charge ratepayers a monthly fee of 70 cents per kilowatt of solar energy installed on their roof. Arizona Public Service (APS) had proposed charging customers who install rooftop solar panels an additional $50-100 on their monthly bills.

APS is an investor-owned utility that serves over 1 million customers and generates the majority of its electricity from coal, nuclear, gas and oil. Ultimately, the ACC’s accepted a compromise struck between the solar industry and the Residential Utility Consumers Office (RUCO) to charge solar system owners a much smaller fee per month. According to solar companies operating in the state, APS was attempting to “tax the sun,” and APS’s proposed changes would have “erase[d] the financial incentive for using solar.” The ACC decision was a blow to APS, and while the fee will slightly impact the Arizona solar industry, it will not be the deathblow APS had proposed. The newly adopted fee would translate into approximately $5 for the average homeowner with a solar power installation.

“APS appears to be leading the first assault of a national campaign by the utility industry trade association, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and fossil fuel interests like APS, to weaken net metering policies. This year, ALEC failed to eliminate Renewable Portfolio Standards in 16 states across the country, and now, this new attack on clean energy policies could benefit members of ALEC who have an interest in coal and other fossil fuels. In the latest attempt to rollback pro-clean energy policies, fossil fuel and utility interests operating through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are proposing new model legislation to slow the rise of the clean energy industry by weakening net metering policies. ALEC released the new model language on their website prior to the group’s “States and Nation Policy Summit” scheduled for early December. If passed, the “Updating Net Metering Policies Resolution” would be sent to nearly 2,000 state legislator members of ALEC around the country.”

‘Stealth Business Lobbyist’ Plans 2014 Offensive Against Solar Net Metering

“The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a “stealth business lobbyist” that writes legislation favoring the interests of its corporate members, is moving into the intense debate on net metering for solar.

“In early December, ALEC will be holding a task force meeting on energy and environmental issues in Washington, D.C. It has now included net metering on its list of priorities for “model legislation” in 2014.

“ALEC recently put together a draft resolution on net metering that will set up discussions at next month’s task force meeting on writing laws changing net metering policies…”

Look for similar bold moves like this in your state…

EDF Steps Up to Protect Ohio’s Clean Energy Standards 

“Ohio’s clean energy standards have helped jumpstart an industry that is spurring economic development, creating jobs, boosting energy independence and cutting the state’s carbon footprint.  Recently, these standards have come under attack and EDF’s own Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President of Smart Power, stepped up to defend them by testifying before the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Commission on Senate Bill 58 (S.B. 58).  As a former Ohio Public Utility Commissioner herself, Roberto made it clear that S.B. 58 would destroy Ohio’s clean energy standards and unjustly enrich the state’s electric utilities.

“The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of conservative state legislators, is leading a nationwide effort to repeal state clean energy standards, including S.B. 58 in Ohio.  ALEC has previously supported controversial “stand your ground” laws as well as laws classifying environmental civil disobedience as terrorism.  To date, ALEC has failed to repeal clean energy standards in any state.

Explaining To Grist Why Facebook And Google Belong To ALEC 

“You might think this a little odd, that purportedly green and progressive companies like GoogleGOOG -0.2% and Facebook will belong to a lobbying organisation with a reputation as backwoods conservative as something like ALEC. That’s certainly what has they guys over at Grist scratching their heads. The answer is really quite simple: government, governance, at all levels is now so entwined with the business world that it’s simply necessary to, as a large company, join all of these organisations…

“So, why be a part of something like ALEC? For the same reason that they’re both part of any lobbying organisation at all. Sadly, the way that the modern economy works is that government, at all levels, has a great deal of influence over how business works. This is as true of my native UK as it is of the US. So, it is necessary for a large business to flash the cash around to both sides, to join lobby groups from all sides of the political compass. Simply because they have to be there to influence the politicians: no, not so much to get them to do what the corporation desires but to stop them doing something stupid which will screw over the corporation…”

Corporate America: ‘Have You No Sense of Decency?’

“Today the Teamsters and American workers face a moment of reckoning. The time has come where people must stand up and say enough is enough to companies that seek to take advantage of employees and taxpayers.

“Anyone who has followed the U.S. economy in recent years can tell you while corporate America and their wealthy executives have recovered from the last recession, middle-class families have not. About 95 percent of income gains between 2009 and 2012 went to the top one percent. Big business has used the opportunity to increase its bottom line even more. Yet it still asks for more…

“…It is nothing short of a disgrace that those struggling to make ends meet are shelling out their hard-earned dollars to help raise Wall Street stock prices for these companies.

“Sometimes that still isn’t enough. In Washington State, for example, the state government offered airplane manufacturer Boeing $8.7 billion in tax breaks from now through 2040 so it would agree to build its new 777x jetliner in state instead of moving production to its non-union South Carolina plant and overseas. But the company, which recently recorded record profits, said that wasn’t enough and sought union concessions. The future of the deal is now in doubt.

“The Teamsters, too, have taken a stand against businesses seeking to increase profits on the back of workers. Whether its Chicago funeral directors who went on strike more than four months ago and have been locked out of their jobs by funeral home giant Service Corporate International or port truck drivers who just this week stood up to employers that want them to work as contract workers instead of employees even though they work full-time hours, hard-working Americans are pushing back on the anti-worker agenda being pressed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and others.