ALEC in the News – Update on ALEC Activities…

by Bob Sloan

Been a hectic month since I last posted, so I have to apologize to readers and followers for the lack of material offered during the past thirty or so days.  Not that there wasn’t plenty of ALEC articles and material making the news circuits, I have simply been swamped with research and conferring with multiple government agencies inquiring about ALEC’s tax exempt and “charity” status.  I will write more on these conversations in the future – for right now, mum’s the word for obvious reasons.

Click on the headline for a link to the material, articles or documents posted below…

Sallie Mae drawing all-around fire

Written by Wade Malcolm
The News Journal

“In late May, Sallie Mae held its annual shareholders meeting, a routine, uneventful affair for most companies.

But not for the nation’s largest student lender. About 150 protesters gathered outside the meeting, and some managed to gain entry and the right to speak.

They demanded a meeting with company leaders to talk about student debt problems and questioned the company’s participation in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial free market group that helps businesses lobby state lawmakers and is despised roundly by liberals.

CEO John F. “Jack” Remondi agreed to meet with the students in June, and last month, the company quietly withdrew its ALEC membership…

…Sallie Mae says it joined ALEC to promote a different part of its business, separate from student loans, which collects unpaid debts on behalf of states and municipalities.

The company quit ALEC because, “the noise level was distracting from the original business purpose,” said Martha Holler, a senior vice president at Sallie Mae. “We will pursue other venues in which to share our collections expertise with state and local governments, and hopefully now our discussions with students … can focus on what matters most to us all, the success of our education loan customers.”

The same group of student activists that leveraged a meeting with the CEO and pressured the company to end its ALEC membership recently started circulating a petition asking the U.S. Department of Education to terminate a contact it has with Sallie Mae to providecustomer service for government-issued student loans…”

After Student Protests, Sallie Mae Becomes 50th Corporation to Dump ALEC – From PRWatch…

Sallie Mae has dropped its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after a student-led campaign demanding that the nation’s largest student loan lender cut ties with the controversial organization. Sallie Mae is the 50th corporation to publicly drop its ALEC membership in the past year-and-a-half as the organization has come under increasing public scrutiny.

Many students and young people were outraged that a company that profits from student debt would use their loan payments to fund ALEC, which (among other things) works to make the education system a for-profit endeavor and advances laws that make it harder for many college students to vote.

In August, at ALEC’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, organizers with the Student Labor Action Project and the United States Students Association gathered nearly 14,000 signatures on a petition demanding Sallie Mae drop its ALEC membership. A few months earlier, in May, at least 200 student activists protested outside Sallie Mae’s annual shareholder meeting, demanding that it end its relationship with ALEC and increase transparency about its other lobbying and political activities.

The announcement that Sallie Mae dumped ALEC came quietly, in a September 7 article in the Delaware News-Journal.

Colorado Republicans Are Out Of Step With Their Constituents On Climate Change

Coloradans overwhelmingly believe in climate change and acknowledge its impact on drought, wildfires, and their lives, according to new research by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Specifically, the report found that most Coloradans — 70 percent — believe global warming is happening. Relatively few — only 19 percent — believe it is not. Of the Coloradans polled, nearly half believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities and three in four say the issue of global warming is very or somewhat important to them personally.

While a large majority of Colorado residents recognize climate change is occurring, they’re less sure of the cause. The research revealed that while “virtually all climate scientists agree human-caused global warming is happening, many Coloradans, like most Americans, are unaware of this fact. Fully half (50 percent) believe that ‘there is a lot of disagreement among scientists’ about whether or not global warming is happening…”

…The state’s Republican politicians, on the other hand, are singing a very different tune. Last month, unsuccessful 2010 Senate candidate Ken Buck announced he would once again run for a U.S. Senate seat, this time against Sen. Mark Udall (D). Touring the state with climate denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Buck endorsedInhofe’s conspiracy theory: “Sen. Inhofe was the first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated. The evidence just keeps supporting his view, and more and more people’s view, of what’s going on.”

And Buck isn’t alone in his refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus — and the opinion of Colorado voters — regarding climate change. All four of the state’s GOP Congressmen are on the record questioning the existence of climate change or whether or not human activity has any bearing. Rep. Mike Coffman in particular has come under fire from the League of Conservation Voters, with the group launching multiple ads against the Congressman for ignoring the scientific facts regarding climate change.

Buck is running against two state senators, Randy Baumgardner and Owen Hill, in the Republican Senate primary. Sen. Baumgardner was opposed to the recently-passed bill increasing Colorado’s renewable energy standard, telling the Colorado Statesman, “It’s a slap in the face of rural Colorado.”

“I know it’s been said that we need ‘all of the above’ [in terms of energy sources] but the prime agenda from Washington, D.C. seems to be that renewable is the answer to everything,” Baumgardner told the Daily Caller. “People don’t like to be mandated that they have to meet certain renewable standards which seems to be another push not only at the state level but at the federal level.”

In addition to working to slash the carbon pollution that fuels climate change, the state’s renewable energy laws have been effective economic drivers. Between 2005 and 2010, the clean technology sector in Colorado grew by 32.7 percent and the state now has over 1,600 clean technology companies employing over 19,000 workers — fourth nationwide.

As for Sen. Hill, earlier this year he co-sponsored a so-called ‘academic freedom’ bill that would have permitted the teaching of antievolution and climate change denial in schools. While the measure died in committee, DeSmog blog notes that the language in the bill closely matched model legislation pushed by the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The Other NRA: How the Insidiously Powerful Restaurant Lobby Makes Sure Fast-Food Workers Get Poverty Wages and Have to Work While Sick

From PRWatch by Steven Rosenfeld (click on above link to read the entire informative article)

“While thousands of fast-food workers were preparing to walk off their jobs earlier this summer to seek raises to $15 an hour, the industry’s corporate lobbyist, the National Restaurant Association, was celebrating a string of political victories blocking state minimum wage increases and preempting local sick day laws.

“In June, the NRA boasted that its lobbyists had stopped minimum wage increases in 27 out of 29 states in 2013. In Connecticut, which increased its state minimum wage, a raise in the base pay for tipped workers such as waitresses and bartenders vanished in the final bill. A similar scenario unfolded in New York State: It increased its minimum wage, but the NRA’s last-minute lobbying derailed raising the pre-tip wage at restaurants and bars. The deals came despite polls showing 80 percent support for raising the minimum wage…

…“These are horrible things, but there are amazing things that are happening to change it,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director and co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), which has been working a dozen years to slowly change the industry’s exploitive business model and labor practices. “And there will be increasingly important stuff coming up…”

“…Most tellingly, almost every national chain—from fast-food outfits such as Yum! Brands Inc. (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC) and McDonald’s to full-service dining such as Darden Restaurants Inc. (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille)—have reported higher revenues, profits, margins and cash holdings to Wall Street analysts despite the recession, according to the National Employment Law Project. Giants like McDonalds had 7.8 percent revenue growth over the past decade, according to Gurufocus.com, a financial reporting site. Yum had 10-year revenues of 8.7 percent, and Darden’s 10-year revenues grew 9.1 percent.

“The NRA is the worst employer lobby in the U.S.,” Jayaraman said, speaking about its lobbying and PR operation that pretends it is not an industry dominated by Fortune 500 companies, but instead a rickety mom-and-pop operation teetering on the brink of ruin. “The [earnings] data does not bear any resemblance to what they say is true.”

“The business model—where almost everyone except for top management earns an average of slightly morethan $11 per hour—is premised on paying workers the lowest legal salary and has not changed in decades. AsThe New Yorker’s James Surowiecki recently explained, many of today’s largest service-sector companies, particularly restaurants and big-box retailers, were founded decades ago and sought to hire young people and housewives as low-wage, part-time employees, to give them work experience and spending money. “The reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have…”

“…New York’s passage of sick leave legislation grabbed headlines, especially as it became law when the city council overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto. But in the past two years, NRA lobbyists have pushedeight states to preempt or repeal local labor laws that include requiring paid sick leave. The industry—helped by prominent Democrats such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter—also beat proposed sick leave laws in Denver and Philadelphia.

“This trend started in Wisconsin and shows how right-wing alliances spread anti-labor legislation. In 2011, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker backed an industry-led effort to ban paid sick leave laws, like the one Milwaukee’s voters adopted as a ballot measure in 2008 while Walker was county executive — its top elected official. Seventy percent of voters had backed paid sick leave. That spring, the passage of Wisconsin’s bill preempting local laws was touted as a model by the NRA at meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the pro-corporate lobbying mill. ALEC members, almost all Republicans, introduced copycat bills in their states, Wellstone Action’s Goldfarb said, saying this was how the NRA’s priority spread and “scaled.” These were passed by GOP-majority statehouses, sometimes using strongarm tactics that dismayed labor organizers.

“This summer, for example, Republicans in Florida’s Orange County—near Walt Disney World—were lobbiedby fast-food giants, including Darden, which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Capital Grille, and Disney, and intentionally delayed acting on another sick leave ballot measure that had 80 percent support in polls. That tactic gave the restaurant lobby time to push its preemption bill through its legislature, which GOP Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in July. Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and Tennessee have all passed bans on local sick leave laws. Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering it.”

National Civil Rights Coalition Launches Campaign to End For-Profit Private Prison System

Corporate Investors and Board Members Urged to Drop Exploitative Business

“NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–September 4, 2013 – Today, ColorOfChange, in partnership with Grassroots Leadership, launched a national campaignto put an end to the for-profit private prison system. Through extensive and direct outreach, the campaign is asking investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to divest themselves of that business practice — or face being held publicly accountable…

“…Federal agencies and state governments contract with three main companies to lock people up: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The top two prison companies, CCA and GEO, are publicly traded and financed by investors, major banks and corporations, who hold shares in the industry. CCA and GEO Group make money by charging a daily rate per body that is sent to them — costing taxpayers billions for dangerous, ineffective facilities. The industry also makes money by avoiding tax payments. CCA will dodge $70 million in tax payments this year by becoming a real estate investment trust (REIT) and designating their prisons as “residential”.

“In order to maximize profits, prison companies cut back on staff training, medical care, and rehabilitative services — causing assault rates to double in some private prisons as well as by lobbying for and benefiting from laws that put more people in jail. In the 1990’s CCA chaired the Criminal Justice Task force of shadowy corporate bill-mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which passed “3 strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws that continue to send thousands of people to prison on very harsh sentences…”

Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas Files Brief in Opposition to ALEC’s Effort to Evade Open Records Law

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

“The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas has filed a brief with state Attorney General Greg Abbott in support of the Center for Media and Democracy’s request for records pertaining to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and further refuting ALEC’s effort to declare its communications immune from the state public records law.

ALEC’s arguments reflect a dangerous trend of claiming a constitutional right to close the public off from governmental body deliberations,” says attorney Joe Larsen, a member of FOIFT’s Board of Directors. “However, the real purpose of the First Amendment is to further the ‘free trade in ideas.’ That’s done through transparency, not behind closed doors.”

“As ALEC has come under increasing public scrutiny in recent years, they’ve taken new steps to cover their tracks and escape public accountability. In recent months, they’ve begun stamping documents with a “disclaimer” asserting that materials like meeting agendas and model legislation are not subject to any state’s open records law. In late July, Texas became the first state where ALEC formally asked the Attorney General for an exemption from sunshine-in-government laws.

“On August 15, CMD filed a brief with the Texas Attorney General asking his office to reject arguments by ALEC and Texas State Rep. Stephanie Klick that the lobbying organization’s communications with lawmakers should be kept secret from the public.

“FOIFT’s brief, filed last week, supports CMD’s position and adds additional arguments countering claims by Rep. Klick and ALEC — noting, among other things, that the arguments made by each are “mutually inconsistent…”

From the Sunbelt to Capitol Hill, Students Mass for Racial Justice

“As Sallie Mae Sits, Arne Duncan Gets Mailed

“Since late August, Jobs with Justice and the Student Labor Action Project have sent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan more than 25,000 e-mails demanding that the Department of Education end its contract with Sallie Mae. Dating back to February, Jobs with Justice has raised concerns over Sallie Mae’s membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council and violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that led to lawsuits, which are now resurfacing due to accusations from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that Sallie Mae violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and other “unfair or deceptive” practices. On May 9, students from the US Student Association, Student Labor Action Project and Jobs with Justice met with Duncan to raise these concerns about Sallie Mae and were told by the secretary to “hold him accountable.” Now, we’re holding Secretary Duncan accountable as the calls to put an end to this $300 million dollar contract scandal grow louder.

—Chris Hicks

Shareholder Activists: ‘We’re No Angels’ Edition

Among the activist initiatives pursued by the Community Church and Walden are:

UPS (United Parcel Service) – Community Church co-filed a resolution to UPS “seeking lobby disclosure, as the company still refuses to reveal its lobbying through trade associations. UPS also continues to support ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council], which is [sic] works to challenge renewable energy regulations at state levels.”

City Cable Channel Isn’t So Basic

State law could leave viewers in the dark

“WTMJ-4 is the current casualty in the dust-up between Journal Broadcast Group and Time Warner Cable.

“But Milwaukee’s City Channel could be the next to go dark, thanks to a 2007 bill pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its corporate member AT&T, former Democratic Sen. Jeff Plale, now working for the Walker administration, and former Republican state Rep. Phil Montgomery, Walker’s appointee to head the Public Service Commission… 

“…The Video Competition Act of 2007 took cable franchise agreements out of the hands of municipalities and gave them to the state. So when Time Warner warned its customers recently that 11 of its basic cable channels—including the City Channel—would no longer be included for free in its analog cable packages, it didn’t need to inform the Milwaukee City Council about that change. Time Warner will give a free digital to analog converter box to customers who request it by Nov. 11. But these customers will have to pay an extra $.99 for the formerly free service a year from now…

“…According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the Wisconsin law is modeled on ALEC’s Cable and Video Competition Act, a model bill written by its corporate members for use in statehouses around the country. Supporters promised it would lead to more competition, better customer service and lower cable rates.

“Bohl scoffed at those promises.

“I can only tell you it’s gotten worse,” he said.

“Time Warner could not be reached for comment.”

 

The Stranglehold on Our Politics

 

“Most of the electorate can’t be bothered with midterm elections, and this has had large consequences—none of them good—for our political system and our country. Voting for a president might be exciting or dutiful, worth troubling ourselves for. But the midterms, in which a varying number of governorships are up for election, as well as the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate, just don’t seem worth as much effort. Such inaction is a political act in itself, with major effects…”

“…The Republicans who took over the states following the 2010 elections arrived with an agenda strongly based on model laws supplied by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), heavily funded by the Koch brothers along with some other big corporations. The other group that benefited most from the 2010 elections was the passionately anti-abortion Christian right—which is not only an essential part of the national Republican Party’s base but also dominates the Republican Party in about twenty states, and has a substantial influence in more than a dozen other state parties. The Christian right is tremendously effective in motivating its followers to go to the polls—and then threaten a loss of support if their agenda isn’t adopted.

“The overall result of the new Republican domination has been that these states have cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations and moved toward a more comprehensive sales tax; slashed unemployment benefits; cut money for education and various public services; and sought to break the remaining power of the unions. Not only did Republican officials in these states manipulate the constitutionally guaranteed right to vote in their effort to win the presidency in 2012 and preserve their own power by keeping Democratic supporters from voting, but they are at it again. The constitutional right to abortion granted under Roe v. Wade has been flouted. The new strategy among anti-abortion forces is to limit legal abortions to the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Several states have adopted this measure and others are in the process of doing so…”

Gun Fanatics Score Big Victory in North Carolina

“For years, police officers in North Carolina had a choice when it came to confiscated guns. They could use them for law enforcement purposes—training, testing, examining—or they could destroy them.

“But a new law (PDF) passed by Republican lawmakers in the state changes that. Police officers can still use confiscated guns, but as of this week, they can’t destroy them. Instead, if a department wants to get rid of a gun, it has to sell it or auction it. Effectively, men and women who once worked to keep guns off of the streets must now moonlight as gun dealers.

Crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and passed at the urging of the National Rifle Association, the specifics of the “Save the Gun” law are straightforward. When faced with confiscated guns, law enforcement agencies must either donate, keep, or sell the items to licensed firearm dealers. The only guns that can legally be destroyed are those that are damaged or missing serial numbers, the latter an indication the gun was stolen. (In practical terms, that group doesn’t add up to many weapons; nationwide, stolen guns account for just 10 to 15 percent of those used in crimes.)

“As for what law enforcement thinks? After ALEC developed this proposal in 2011, the Fraternal Order of the Police, a national labor union, said that it preferred discretion when it came to dealing with confiscated weapons—a reasonable position. In North Carolina, the Sheriff’s Association, a trade group, declined to comment on the measure while it faced debate in the legislature. Still, it’s hard to imagine that local police are happy with a law that not only limits their options but also blocks judges from ordering the destruction of weapons used in a crime. Indeed, there’s something perverse about forcing a police department to sell guns that may have been used for assault or murder.”

All these laws come from individual concerns

“There ought to be a law. How many times have you heard that said?

“There’s also the common refrain: “We have too many laws…”

“…Every year, hundreds of bills are filed in Nashville by legislators who deal with issues brought to them by constituents, public officials and business interests. Every one of these bills addresses a specific concern of these individuals.

“In some cases the bills are actually drafted by lobbyists representing business or special interest groups. There’s also the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is responsible for drafting many of the “model” bills that are sponsored by Republicans in Tennessee and elsewhere. One of ALEC’s most popular is the voter ID law that is now facing a legal challenge here (and in North Carolina).

Plain Talk: Wisconsin’s school vouchers are a scam

“The recent news release from the State Department of Public Instruction revealing that 67 percent of the applicants to the Walker administration’s expanded school voucher program are already attending private schools elicited cries of “scam” from many quarters.

“And well it should have.

“That two-thirds of the voucher applicants had their children already enrolled in private schools lays waste the argument by Wisconsin legislative Republicans and the governor that vouchers are needed so poor families can rescue their children from poorly performing public schools.

“Not only was it a scheme to avoid the messy constitutional issue of sending tax dollars to private schools often run by churches, but in reality it was a foot in the door for a well-funded extreme conservative movement to weaken public education.

“The Koch brothers, the Heritage Foundation, the DeVos (Amway) family, the Walton family (Walmart) and right-wing front groups have been behind the push for so-called choice schools. Now that several states, like Wisconsin, are controlled by the new far-right Republican Party, they are pushing vouchers as never before.  And the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), of course, has provided the model legislation…