Ethics in Government

ALEC v. Clean Energy – ALEC’s Assault On The Future Of Energy

ALEC v. Clean Energy – ALEC’s Assault On The Future Of Energy

A new and especially informative report on ALEC’s influence and interference with America’s energy standards and pursuit of renewable energy sources was just released by ProgressNow.org.

This in-depth analysis and reporting is critical of ALEC and completely connects all dots between oil and energy conglomerates, ALEC and the legislation developed by both to keep the oil industry enriched at the expense of our environment and unnecessary expenditures of tax dollars in subsidies.

Because of ALEC’s support for the XL Keystone Pipeline (issuing a resolution in support and providing “academies” that provides legislators free trips to Canada) and their influence internationally through their International Relations Task Force (IRTF), their activities regarding energy have worldwide implications.

Anyone with concern for America’s future must read and study this report.  By doing so you will become clear on the companies, corporations, organizations and think tanks involved and provides us with how they accomplish deregulation and muddy the waters on renewable energy standards.

Here are the “Report Highlights” taken from the full 36 page study:

Report Highlights

ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture (EEA) Task Force puts foxes in charge of the henhouse. Buoyed by oil giants, coal conglomerates and electric utilities, the task force is a pantheon to pollution interests. Its agenda is written, funded and supported by fossil fuel interests, and boasts of achievements nationwide. The crony capitalist polices of the EEA Task Force include:

  • In 2013 Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards came under attack across the states. With encouragement from ALEC and various utilities, the attacks came close to rolling back these job-creating policies in various states. While ALEC’s 2013 attack failed, at its annual convention in Chicago, ALEC regrouped and set its sights again on the standards for 2014.
  • ALEC and its oil interest members promulgate a hollow disclosure bill. The bill was an Exxon Mobil model, giving oil corporations exactly what they asked for on hydraulic fracturing regulations. Based off Texas law, ALEC’s model bill has been dispersed and enacted as a law in at least five states, with additional states enacting the language by administrative rule.
  • Like Renewable Portfolio Standards in 2013, ALEC had originally failed to stop Greenhouse Gas Accords, and after regrouping in 2010, with the aid of Tea-Party legislators, ALEC’s agenda killed the accords in the Midwest and West.
  • ALEC’s EEA Task Force seems willing to work on niche issues, if the price is right. ALEC’s supposedly nation-wide report on Uranium mining appears to have been, specifically tailored for Virginia, to provide cover for ALEC legislators attempting to pass legislation to benefit an ALEC member.
  • Continuing its tradition of corporate authored legislation, ALEC’s resolution on the Keystone XL Pipeline is derived directly from the talking points issued by ALEC-Member TransCanada, the company seeking to build the Keystone XL. From Maine to Hawaii, legislators have proposed the resolution, parroting TransCanada’s arguments. TransCanada has used ALEC to promote its interests through unethical and legally suspect “scholarship” programs.

Please take the time to read the full ProgressNow report -> HERE <-

ALEC Seeks New Revenue Streams: MDU Welcoming Corrupt ALEC Organization To Bismarck

ALEC Seeks New Revenue Streams: MDU Welcoming Corrupt ALEC Organization To Bismarck

Of late, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been searching for new revenue streams.  With more than 50 corporations and non-profits abandoning ALEC and their agenda over the past couple of years, ALEC has lost a considerable amount of “dues, fees” and “event sponsorship” financing.

Facing such losses, ALEC now seeks to expand their search for funding to supplement what they now receive from their corporate and non-profit members…and believe it or not, they are now reaching out to deceased conservatives through a new “Legacy Membership” program that allows individuals to remember ALEC in their will…name ALEC as insurance beneficiaries or name ALEC in a “life income plan!”

Another new program is to open membership to former legislators from the U.S. and elsewhere through their “Alumni Membership” program.

Another revenue stream is being sought through fundraisers held state by state, promoted, sponsored and paid for by ALEC corporate companies – and used to further ALEC’s agenda while generating income through “ticket sales”.  In ND, legislators will pay $250.00 to attend the latest ALEC fund raiser sponsored and paid for by Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU).  MDU is ALEC’s North Dakota private sector chair.

As you will find, ALEC is no stranger to North Dakota – and the illegal tactics they have used to promote legislation beneficial to corporate interests:

From North Decoder.com

The corrupt ALEC organization is coming to North Dakota next week. And your public utility company is paying for it with money you are required to pay to the MDU monopoly if you want electricty. (Unless you’re served by a cooperative or are in the eastern part of the state.) A lot of people don’t know what “ALEC” is, so I’m going to tell you. I’ve written about ALEC a few times before, but I’ll do it again.  ALEC is a corrupt organization that lobbies legislators in North Dakota and other states on behalf of polluters, oil companies (but I repeat myself), private for-profit prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies and big pharma.  If you see a proposed law that will take accountability away for polluters, oil companies, private prisons, big banks, bad insurance companies or negligent pharmaceutical companies, you can bet the legislation is the handiwork of some ALEC minion.

Back during the 2009 North Dakota legislative session, ALEC sent two of its operatives into North Dakota to lobby to protect one specific asbestos company from liability when that company’s product hurt or killed someone.  After I busted them for lobbying illegally (without registering), those two lobbyists promptly filed the proper paperwork with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office.  (You can read all about that by clicking here.)  Of course, neither the Secretary of State nor the Attorney General nor any State’s Attorney ever prosecuted those lobbyists for illegally lobbying. They are not in the business of enforcing the laws against their corporate masters and owners.

Then, in July of 2010, when its operatives filed its IRS form 990 (non-profit tax return), ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return. Non-profits are required — under federal tax law — to disclose whether they “engage in lobbying activities” on their tax return. When ALEC filled out its 2009 return, they lied to the IRS and said they had not engaged in lobbying activities in 2009, despite the irrefutable fact that two of its operatives registered as lobbyists in North Dakota, and they lobbied here, during the 2009 legislative session.  They checked the box that says “No” in response to the question “Did the organization engage in lobbying activities?”  (See my blog post about this, with a copy of their Form 990, here.)  This was a big enough deal, nationally, so that it raised the attention of a top IRS administrator — Marcus Owens, “who for a decade directed the [IRS] division responsible for approving organizations’ charity status.”  (RollCall.com)  Here’s what RollCall.com wrote about it after one group filed an IRS complaint about it at the time:

The complaint, filed on behalf of Clergy Voice, a group of Christian clergy in Ohio, notes that ALEC denied engaging in lobbying activity in its federal tax filings covering the years 2008 and 2009. At the same time, two of its lawyers were registered to lobby in at least one state, North Dakota. False reporting on these forms has been found to be a criminal offense considered perjury in at least four recent cases, Owens said.

RollCall.com (emphasis added) (go read the whole story)

Let’s be clear about something: You’ve never read, heard or seen anything about any of this in any North Dakota mainstream media outlet. That’s because they are all bought-and-paid-for by ALEC and its owners.

So yesterday’s Bismarck Teabune had a nice little story in it by one of its cub half-journalists, Nick Smith; someone who obviously knows nothing about ALEC, or doesn’t care about publishing the whole story. His fluff piece reads like something from any small town social register. “Mary Lou Hindsworth hosting a ladies tea party next Friday.”  Here’s part of his unhelpful, half-story drivel.

A social event will be held next week in Bismarck for lawmakers to meet and raise money for a legislative organization that pushes for free-market legislation.

MDU Resources will be hosting a beer and wine tasting for lawmakers Wednesday at its corporate campus in Bismarck. The event is to promote and raise money for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a corporate-funded organization that works with conservative legislators as well as businesses and foundations to create models for state legislatures to pass.

The group on its website lists its main legislative principles as free-market enterprise, limited government and federalism. Policies the group has pushed in several states in the past include reducing corporate taxation and regulations, promoting gun rights and minimizing environmental regulations.

Bismarck Teabune

This award-winning, passes-for-journalism-in-North-Dakota mush reminds me of something in the Farewell Column written by past-editor Lee Morris of the Valley City Times Record back in 2011.  Remember that?  Morris snuck his good-bye column into the newspaper by putting a fake title and author at the top, but then wrote an honest piece about how his corporate masters were demanding that the paper produce “more coverage on events such as Chamber of Commerce luncheons and ribbon-cutting ceremonies” (more here) and that he couldn’t continue to pretend he was producing real journalism under those circumstances. Then Morris promptly resigned. Today we get to watch the Bismarck Tribune’s “reporters” write about social events hosted by MDU that pretend to be “fundraisers” for ALEC.

So what’s the truth?  The truth is that ALEC is — and should be — scared to death to come back into North Dakota to do more lobbying, like it always does, because it accidentally admitted it was lobbying in 2009. The truth is ALEC lied on its 2009 tax return.  The truth is they haven’t been prosecuted — to my knowledge — and that’s probably because the IRS and/or the Justice Department is afraid of being accused of engaging in politics. Legislators won’t be paying $250 to attend this fundraiser.  They just won’t. The truth is the corrupt ALEC organization is trying to recover from its “rough spot” in North Dakota. The truth is that we’re not getting the news from our “newspapers.”  And we should all be upset by this.

But we’re not.

We’re too busy listening to knuckleheads on the radio complaining about how the Democrats think even poor people should have access to health care. We’re too busy focusing on hater(s) in Leith. We’re all mad that the federal government’s website isn’t able to enroll in private health insurance the people Republicans don’t want enrolling anyway.

Benghazi!

Maybe we don’t deserve anything better than the nonsense we get from the Bismarck Tribune.  Maybe Nick Smith is serving us the crap sandwich we deserve.

Someone on DailyKos suggests North Dakotans ought to organize a protest.  What are you going to do about it?

(For more on ALEC, read this report from the American Association for Justice. NorthDecoder is cited in several endnotes (e.g. 1, 36, 37, 47). That’s because we sniffed out (some of) ALEC’s corruption in North Dakota and broke the illegal-lobbying story.)

ALEC Posts Legislative Agendas while Hiding Its Very Special Interests

ALEC Posts Legislative Agendas while Hiding Its Very Special Interests

From Center for Media and Democracy, by Nick Surgey

A reminder from VLTP Executive Director to protesters, activists and organized labor…ALEC’s “States and Nation Policy Summit” will be in DC this year in less than a month.  VLTP is hopeful that there will be another anti-ALEC organized demonstration, teach-in and a rally similar to those held in Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Chicago.  Due to the pressures exerted by numerous watchdog groups, legislative activists and researchers, ALEC has scheduled this last 2013 event close to their headquarters in DC – possibly in the hope many will find traveling to the Capital in December difficult.  However, the fact that DC is ALEC’s “Home Turf” we can once again bring protests literally to their doorstep, in the media spotlight that is our Nation’s capital.

bush_alec_rect-460x307Boehner at ALEC

These “Summits” are events attended by key GOP members who speak to the entire membership, encouraging them to “keep up the good work” advancing ALEC’s narrow and oppressive conservative agenda.  This year Senator Ted Cruz is reportedly one such high profile attendee.  Indiana Governor Mike Pence is to speak as well.

 

 

 

Cantor at ALECCheney Jefferson Award at alecPast speakers and influential attendees include, Former President, George W. Bush, former VP, Dick Cheney, House Speaker Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Presidential hopefuls such as Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Herman Cain.

Together these high ranking GOP members, elected members of Congress and presidential candidates serve up marching orders for ALEC’s conservative legislative membership for the upcoming year.

This time, PRWatch has once again secured critical ALEC material for us to read and review.  Through such work, ALEC is no longer able to hide in the shadows, scripting legislative pursuits sought by corporate interests and pursued by your elected state representatives and unknown to voters until the legislation sweeps through their statehouses, becoming law.

Below is an excerpt from Nick Surgey’s excellent article about the materials, proposed legislation and activities that will take place in December:

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has quietly published some agenda details of its corporate-legislator task forces for its upcoming meeting, while keeping the identities of the corporate lobbyists or special interest groups that drafted any of the bills secret.

ALEC Exposed - A project of CMDThe conference in Washington, DC, in December will include a raft of proposed “model” bills to rollback the clock, including limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, undermining the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and cutting federal funding of the states.

Without fanfare, ALEC has posted slimmed-down versions of the agenda material for its task forces, providing the names of new model bills, and language for some bills in full, as well as the title of presentations at ALEC’s closed-door task force meetings where corporate lobbyists secretly vote as equals with state legislators. The documents provide some insight into some of the items that may be on ALEC’s legislative agenda for when state legislative sessions resume in January 2014. CMD recently filed hundreds of public record requests with state legislators in six states, specifically asking for these materials and ALEC’s emails to lawmakers, a tactic CMD has successfully deployed to obtain materials ALEC has sent to legislators as part of its efforts to get laws changed. This latest release by ALEC is likely a response to this success, but the materials released this past week omit key details compared with past materials obtained by CMD…

…Although ALEC has launched a new charm offensive touting its supposed transparency, as CMD’s General Counsel Brendan Fischer has noted, “transparency laws are not premised on permitting a group or legislator to pick and choose which communications to legislators will or will not be made public.” ALEC has also reportedly claimed recently that only legislators will “sponsor” bills voted on at ALEC task forces; however, that sort of window dressing does not actually mean the bills were not pre-written by corporate lobbyists and special interest groups. It also does not negate the powerful role that unelected private sector representatives play in ALEC task forces as equals to lawmakers elected to represent their own constituents back home…

Read the full Surgey article -> HERE <- which includes links to past articles on this topic and to the actual material distributed by ALEC in preparation for the December States and Nation Summit held at the Grand Hyatt hotel, 1000 H Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20001 

 

U.S. Senate Holds Hearing on ALEC, Corporate Involvement and Stand Your Ground Laws

U.S. Senate Holds Hearing on ALEC, Corporate Involvement and Stand Your Ground Laws

Today the long awaited Senate hearing on Stand Your Ground laws and the involvement of the “bill mill”; American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in adopting, proposing and disseminating model legislation such as the SYG laws, was held in Washington.  This hearing is remarkable – not just because the Senate is holding discussions about this legislation which is now the law in many states – but because it is the first ever acknowledgement of the existence of ALEC and their legislative activities and influences by any government body.

Whether Congress realized it or not at the core of the “need” for this hearing, are the existence and acts of an organization that until recently has remained hidden from the view of government and citizens alike.  An organization that has had possibly the largest influence upon enactment of state and federal law since the mid 1970’s.  Creating laws that specifically benefit corporations and business interests to the detriment of the public and constituents of lawmakers owned by ALEC through loyal membership in that organization – and a “duty” to advance all legislation proposed by it.

_________________

ALEC’s corporate member representatives did not take part in the hearing and offered no testimony – but certain Senators seemingly “owned” by corporate money spoke on their behalf.  Chief among those speaking favorably for corporate interests and in favor of SYG laws?  GOP Senators Cruz, Graham and Gohmert.  Senator Cruz voiced his opinion that Senator Durbin’s request made of ALEC corporate members or supporters, to respond and state their position in support or opposition of ALEC’s Stand Your Ground model legislation…was nothing more than a witch hunt being used to “chill” the first amendment rights of corporations.  

(How far corporate person-hood has advanced since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.  Today corporations enjoy the same rights as human citizens…except for the ability to be held accountable, arrested, incarcerated and imprisoned for criminal acts committed behind a convenient corporate veil.)

Cruz voiced sympathy for the family of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by George Zimmerman in the highly publicized Florida case last year, then went on to proclaim that many organizations and others were using that case to advance arguments of “perceived” racial prejudice and for “political gain”.

However, Senator Durbin made clear that of the 140 corporate members contacted and asked if they supported or opposed ALEC’s SYG model legislation, only 1 responded in support of it.

The following excerpts are from the Center for Media and Democracy.  This was published by CMD today and due to the article’s relevance to this important issue should be read in its entirety…

CMD Submits Testimony to U.S. Senate on ALEC and “Stand Your Ground

by Lisa Graves, Executive Director, at the Center for Media and Democracy

Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Committee, my name is Lisa Graves, and I am the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the publisher of PRWatch.org, ALECexposed.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. The organization I lead is a national investigative watchdog group based in Madison, Wisconsin, that has more than 150,000 supporters.

I previously served as the Chief Counsel for Nominations for the Chairman and then Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy. I also served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy/Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Justice and as the Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, in addition to other posts in the non-profit sector on national security issues.

I commend the Committee, and its Chairman, for holding this hearing to examine the deadly consequences of so-called “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws that have proliferated in the states since 2005, at the urging of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

SYG laws were peddled by the NRA and ALEC alongside bills to expand the number of people carrying concealed firearms, creating a volatile combination that puts more and more American children and adults at risk of being shot and killed. This Committee has held countless hearings over the years on both federal and state crime policies that affect the rights of Americans, and it is fitting that the Senate examine SYG and the organizations that have urged that SYG become binding law.

I am especially concerned about the activities of ALEC to push the NRA’s agenda into law because ALEC has routinely filed tax returns with the IRS claiming it engages in no lobbying, zero. Yet, ALEC and its agents have routinely bragged about getting SYG introduced and passed – the very definition of lobbying – while claiming to the IRS and the public that it spends not a single dollar on lobbying. Today, I will describe the evidence that shows that ALEC is no ordinary non-profit and the ways in which it has misled the public about the true nature of its activities.

I will also detail the role of the NRA in ALEC and ALEC’s role in pushing for SYG laws. I will also discuss the effect of the three main parts of that law, and how that law affected the initial treatment of George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin; how it affected the trial; and how it may affect a civil suit.

In an accompanying appendix to the statement I am submitting for the record, I also describe the role of corporations, such as Koch Industries, and numerous other grantees of the Koch family fortune in advancing the ALEC corporate agenda, along with other aspects of ALEC’s legacy, such as efforts to make it harder for American citizens to vote, as well as its current legislative agenda…

…ALEC describes itself as the largest voluntary group of state legislators in the country, but it is really a corporate-financed lobby that facilitates getting special interest legislation into the hands of lawmakers from every state in the country. In the words of Bill Moyers, ALEC is “the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of” as noted in the “United States of ALEC…”

…ALEC is the epitome of a pay-to-play operation that gives special interests special access, but the way it conducts its operations is very unusual and troubling. That is why ALEC is subject to no fewer than three separate tax fraud complaints to the IRS, with supporting evidence provided by four groups: Common Cause, Clergy Voice, the Voters Legislative Transparency Project, and my organization, CMD…

ALEC Is Subject to Three Complaints Alleging Tax Fraud

  1. ALEC is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which means that corporations can theoretically deduct the thousands of dollars they pay ALEC to get their legislative wish lists in the hands of lawmakers. ALEC has routinely told the IRS that it engages in zero lobbying, even though numerous communications have been obtained through open records requests and other sources that show ALEC asking for legislation to be introduced, urging that specific legislation be adopted, and taking credit when its legislation becomes law. ALEC is no “charity” – it is a lobby that has routinely boasted to its corporate members that each year nearly 1,000 ALEC bills are introduced in state legislatures and nearly 20% become law…
  2. A review of ALEC task forces by CMD revealed that almost all of the for-profit corporations that participate in ALEC task forces are represented by their registered lobbyists or are described by their employers as their “government affairs” staffer within the corporation’s internal lobbying shop. CMD and Common Cause have also obtained documents showing that corporations have secretly and routinely sponsored bills at ALEC Task Force meetings and then voted on those bills with legislators at ALEC meetings. Under ALEC’s published bylaws, its state legislative leaders are tasked with a “duty” to get ALEC bills “introduced,” and they do. Some ALEC corporations then lobby for them without disclosing they pre-voted on them.

ALEC has repeatedly claimed to the IRS that it spends no money on travel for federal or state officials, but CMD has extensively documented that these claims are also contrary to the evidence. DBA Press and CMD obtained a three-year spreadsheet of corporate funding for trips by lawmakers along with the names of every corporation that funded the trips and all of the lawmakers who took them…

 …VLTP’s Bob Sloan has filed an IRS whistleblower complaint against ALEC based primarily on its scholarship program. Clergy Voice also complained about ALEC’s non-disclosed lobbying and how donations bring lawmakers to meet with corporate lobbyists and ALEC meetings while giving the corporations a tax write-off.

Additionally, CMD and Common Cause recently submitted supplemental evidence to the IRS in support of the initial complaint filed by Common Cause’s Mr. Edgar after CMD launched ALECexposed in July 2013. The supplemental filing last month provided the IRS with numerous documents obtained by DBA Press, CMD, and Common Cause in a number of states that show that ALEC has spent a projected $2 million for lawmaker travel in recent years on the state “scholarship” travel alone – in addition to more sums for lawmaker travel via the ALEC task forces. CMD and Common Cause have also asked each state Attorney General to examine whether ALEC is operating in violation of state law.

ALEC’s Corporate Funders Were Well Known before this Hearing

Accordingly, it is astonishing ALEC and a small number of its legislators – many of whom get their trips to ALEC resort meetings paid for by corporations, whose identities are well known to them – are taking umbrage at this Committee for inquiring about ALEC’s legislative agenda and which corporations have bankrolled it. The lawmakers know who funds ALEC’s bill machine and their trips, but until we launched ALECexposed two years ago, the public was largely in the dark about these special interests and the one-stop shopping ALEC provides for corporations and trade groups to secretly advance the same cookie-cutter bills in nearly every state.

Despite the hoopla trumped up over Senator Durbin’s letter, quite frankly, every single for-profit and non-profit corporation this Committee asked about its support for ALEC and its long-standing gun agenda is a corporation that is publicly known to have funded ALEC or participated in its meetings about bills, based on the investigative research of CMD, along with others like Common Cause, DBA Press, VLTP, CAP, Greenpeace, bloggers at Daily Kos, and many, many ordinary citizen sleuths…

Please take the time to read the full CMD testimony provided to the U.S. Senate by Lisa Graves and CMD -> HERE <-

 

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

The Siege on Michigan Public Education – By the Numbers

By Amy Kerr Hardin at Democracy Tree

Democracy Tree reported late last week that the effects of anti-union laws directed at Michigan teachers, including the ban on payroll deduction of dues and right-to-work, had a miniscule impact on the voluntary payment of dues among Michigan Education Association members.

MEA president Steve Cook said a mere 1 percent didn’t pay. The GOP scheme was a flop.

While that number by itself speaks of the utter failure of bullying tactics employed by the Michigan legislature, it says even more when put in a larger context. Here are some more numbers that make that 1 percent non-payment truly astounding.

Let’s start with the soft numbers.

Although it’s difficult to pin down, somewhere between 41 and 51 percent of MEA and NEA members are Democrats. The results vary by study and by year (and possibly who’s reporting them). Similarly, about 25 percent, more or less, identify as Republicans and the rest as Independents. Without citing or clinging to any particular study or survey here, if those numbers are even remotely close to accurate, they say plenty about how teachers place the importance of their union membership over political affiliation.  And, even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate, it is safe to say that the Democrat to Republican ratio among Michigan teachers is certainly not 99 to 1.

Now, here are some hard numbers to gnaw on.

  • MEA union dues are currently set at 1.5 percent of the previous year’s salary, with an annual cap of $635 — a figure 99 percent are willingly to pay for representation they value– even under the GOP assault.
  • Average beginning pay for Michigan K-12 teachers is $34,100. Average overall salary for Michigan teachers is $55,541.
  • Lawmakers in Michigan earn $71,685, which is among the highest nationwide. Their expense account offers another $10,800 a year, with additional generous allowances for transportation costs and staff.
  • Nearly all public school teachers spend heavily out-of-pocket to supply their classroom — a National School Supply and Equipment Association Survey found that 99.5 percent spent on average $485 a year for classroom materials. That dollar number reflects 1.4 percent of an entry-level teacher’s salary in Michigan.

There are additional hard numbers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the siege on Michigan’s educators.

Some very disturbing trends were uncovered in a recent analysis conducted by the Citizens Research Council. Their report titled Michigan’s Single-State Recession and its Effects on Public Employment, spurred them to conduct a comparative state-by-state analysis of public sector employment trends since the 2007 “Great Recession”, with Michigan public education numbers in focus. They drew from data found in another report from The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. They found the following trends (emphasis mine):

Over the nearly four and one-half year period examined by the Rockefeller Institute, Michigan had the third largest slide in public sector employment (7.4 percent), behind Nevada (10.1 percent) and Rhode Island (8.3 percent).  In percentage terms, Michigan’s decline was nearly three times as large as the total U.S. public sector employment decline over this period (2.7 percent).  As documented in the CRC report, and confirmed by the Rockefeller Institute, job losses in the local government sector (11.4 percent – second largest decline behind Nevada) fueled the overall public sector decline in Michigan, as was the case for the nation as a whole (3.2 percent).

The job losses they cite in the “local government sector” are primarily from one subset — K-12 education.

Michigan’s job losses in this sector have been much more severe (more than a factor of four) compared to the U.S. total during the Great Recession…the losses have been fueled by the consistent plunge in education jobs (primarily K-12 education).  Education employment for the U.S. declined more than non-education, but the difference between the two sub-sectors was not as significant as the decline in Michigan.  For the U.S., education lost about 3.5 percent of the jobs in existence in December 2007, compared to a loss of about 2.0 percent of the non-education jobs.  Michigan, in stark contrast, shed over 17.8 percent of the jobs in education compared to the December 2007 level.  Non-education local government employment, which is dominated by public safety, is 6.8 percent below the December 2007.  This job loss is nearly three times as large as the loss in the U.S. for this sector.

The CRC drives the point home with the following observation:

What is striking from analyzing the data is the fact that Michigan’s employment contraction in [the public] sector has well exceeded the contraction experienced in the U.S. overall.   The job losses have been most acute in the local government sector, especially education.

Numbers don’t lie — Michigan public education is in great peril.

Amy Kerr Hardin

Case Study on Alpine Steel: Prison Industry Subsidized by Taxpayers to Compete with Local Businesses Fails Spectacularly

Case Study on Alpine Steel: Prison Industry Subsidized by Taxpayers to Compete with Local Businesses Fails Spectacularly

by Bob Sloan – Cross-Posted from PRWatch

“The taxpayers have been left holding the bag…. As a result of this I think there is going to be a lot more oversight.”

Private prison profitsThose were statements made by Nevada Assemblyman James Ohrenschall in an interview on Vegas Inc. September 21. Mr. Ohrenschall is the former chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs. At the time of that interview, the IFC Committee was meeting to investigate facts that prompted his concerns.

Ohrenschall was speaking of prison labor and Nevada prison industry’s partnership with Alpine Steel, LLC, that has resulted in nearly half a million dollars of debt owed to the state and a legislative reform of the state’s prison industry program.

When Vegas Inc. anchor Dana Gentry asked the Assemblyman if Nevada’s Department of Corrections (NDOC) or prison industry officials were being held accountable in any way, he responded, “I believe that they will be held accountable…” The oversight authority for prison industries is the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs (IFC-IP). Critics had accused the committee of not providing sufficient oversight or vetting of NDOC contracts with private companies and not enforcing compliance with key statutory duties of the committee. The Committee served, more or less, to “rubber stamp” proposals brought before it by the NDOC without fully determining the impact a new proposed industry would have on Nevada workers and competing businesses.

The Nevada labor force is now represented by two members on the IFC: Robbie Conway of Ironworkers Local 433 and Mike Magnani of Teamsters Local 986. With their dedication to protecting the rights and jobs of Nevada’s workers, it is likely that situations similar to the one involving Alpine will not reoccur.

After the investigation of Alpine Steel, members of the IFC appear to realize that prison labor competing for jobs needed by Nevada’s unemployed is a serious issue that needs constant vigilance. Doubling the number of labor representatives on the committee overseeing prison industries is expected to improve oversight.

With the addition of Conway to the Committee and a new Chairman, the current IFC appears to be a genuine “oversight” body now. They asked key questions, probed for responsive answers and asked IFC member Cox and Deputy Director Connett to provide materials to them supporting answers they provided to the Committee at the initial meeting on the 20th.

Despite Huge Subsidies (and Prison Labor) Alpine Steel Incurs Big Debt

The sad saga of prisoners being used for their labor by private contractors in Nevada continues to amaze the citizens of this state.

Randy Bulloch, CEO of Alpine Steel

Alpine Steel, LLC owner, Randy Bulloch

The story began late last year when steel companies began protesting to NDOC and legislative authorities saying they were being unfairly forced to compete against a local company using inmate labor. Business owners asserted they had lost bids on projects and thus were unable to expand their businesses or hire more workers due to interference from Nevada’s prison industry operations.

Claims were made that dozens of Las Vegas steel workers were being denied jobs and others possibly displaced due to the use of prisoners as a slave-labor force by Alpine Steel, LLC. The NDOC had given Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch, a “sweetheart deal” consisting of inmate wage scale set at or below minimum wage (less than 1/2 of the current prevailing wage for Nevada’s steel workers), manufacturing facility leases (set at 66% below the going rate for such space outside prison), and utility costs at NDOC’s reduced rates.

Such state subsidies provided Alpine with a definite advantage over competitors when bids were sought for new projects in and around Las Vegas. Bids won by Alpine due to reduced overhead costs provided by the NDOC included: the “SkyVue Observation Wheel“, the Wet ‘n’ Wild water theme park, bridge work on an overpass over I-15, and the expansion of a mental hospital, among dozens more since 2006.

5th St. bridge over I-15, Las Vegas

5th St. bridge over I-15, Las Vegas

As this story unfolded earlier this year, it was discovered that in spite of receiving the huge financial benefits mentioned above, Alpine was in arrears on payments for inmate wages, staff salaries, utility costs, leases, and workers compensation premiums. In essence, the evidence suggested that the bulk of Alpine’s Las Vegas operation was being quietly financed by the NDOC with state tax dollars.

In addition, prison industry critics learned the IRS had recorded a lien of more than $600,000 dollars against the company; a tax lien had also been filed by the state DOR and several steel suppliers had placed liens against Alpine for failing to pay for materials. (These liens continue to pile up: last month, the IRS recorded a second tax lien upon the company for more than $30,000.)

The story became public through the media and in December 2012 — under pressure from the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) and an order from Governor Sandoval — NDOC Director Greg Cox closed down Alpine’s steel fabrication operation at the High Desert State Prison complex. Members of the BPC and the IFC-IP called for some form of personal guarantee from Bulloch to ensure the taxpayers were not left on the hook for nearly half a million dollars owed by Alpine.

Estate of Alpine Steel CEO Randy Bulloch

Randall Bulloch’s estate in Summerlin

In January, Connett and Bulloch reached an agreement on repaying the money Alpine owed to the state. Connett negotiated through Deputy Attorney General Carrie Parker on AG Catherine Cortez Masto’s staff and got her to approve a proposed forbearance agreement setting the Alpine debt at $438,000+ with no interest, penalties or additional fines.

Incredibly, the terms of the agreement failed to include any personal guarantee from Alpine’s owner Bulloch — who resides in a multi-million dollar, 9,400 square foot, guarded and gated estate — while owing millions in state, federal and personal liens — much of that owed to taxpayers.

Though many including the Interim Finance Committee and Secretary of State had demanded such a provision, the final document left any personal guarantee out of the agreement. If a default occurred, Randy Bulloch’s personal property and other assets would be untouchable — and the debt likely uncollectable. The substantial IRS lien precedes and takes precedence over the newly filed NDOC summary judgment, making it less likely the state will be able to recover any of the outstanding debt until the IRS lien is satisfied.

It is incomprehensible to most that in the face of more than a million dollars owed to the IRS, creditors and the state of Nevada, the NDOC would negotiate an agreement on additional debt owed by Alpine without seeking any form of personal guarantee from the company’s owner. Similarly it defied belief that a member of the AG’s staff failed to demand such a personal guarantee for the debt, knowing the repayment plan was being sought for a company that was already in deep financial trouble.

The Alpine contract is at the core of this problematic situation involving the use of state owned facilities and prisoner labor. The NDOC failed to take appropriate action to cure Alpine’s continued default for more than three years. Incredibly, Connett issued a new contract to Alpine in 2011 while the company was in serious default — without requiring the company to come current on its debt — and the IFC-IP approved the contract without knowing of the default(s).

Allowing a contractor to operate for more than four years without making required payments and taking no steps to stop the bleeding of tax dollars before renewing a contract, demonstrates a total lack of responsibility to the state administration and the taxpayers.

Only after the story broke in the media was the Governor, the IFC members and the BPC made aware of the full amount owed due to nonpayment(s). With Attorney General Cortez-Masto sitting on the BPC, the absence of any personal guarantee from Bulloch in the forbearance agreement signed off on by her agency is puzzling.

The NDOC Defends Alpine and Dodges Questions about the Money Due

NDOC Director James "Greg" Cox

NDOC Director James “Greg” Cox

The NDOC’s Director Cox was contacted about details of this debt and any related negotiations. His office forwarded the query to NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett, who is also the NDOC Public Information Officer. Connett is also the current chairman of the board of the “National Correctional Industries Association” (NCIA), which oversees the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP).

As of press time, both the Director and Deputy Director have declined to respond. In the discussion at the IFC meeting on the 20th, Connett and Cox specifically directed the members and public to address questions to the AG’s office for a response.

Due to the costly default by Alpine, the state Senate proposed legislation — SB 478 — to amend the rules governing the IFC (NRS 209.461). In addition to adding a second labor representative to the IFC, the bill created a new provision requiring any company wishing to contract with the prison industry program to post a personal guarantee, surety or bond of not less than 100% of the pro-rated annual amount of the contract.

The measure passed and became effective July1, 2013. The NDOC was told to propose new administrative regulations to comply with the changes at the upcoming October 15 meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC).

The NDOC’s prison industries (PI) accounts receivable increased rapidly in 2009 to nearly $900,000.

In 2010, the prison industry turned over more than $800,000 in accounts receivable to a collection agency and, for fiscal year 2012, it claimed an additional outstanding accounts receivable balance of $614,200 for a combined potential loss of $1.4 million in revenue in just two years of operations.

On September 20th, the new IFC-IP held its first meeting following the end of the biennial session. One of the main items on that agenda was the discussion of Alpine Steel and the debt owed to the state and state taxpayers.

NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett

NDOC Deputy Director of Prison Industries, Brian Connett

NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett read a prepared statement regarding Alpine Steel to the Committee:

“I will read the statement that we have in regards to addressing Alpine Steel…”

“The prison industry has been working very closely with our deputy attorney general and the attorney general’s office on the Alpine Steel situation through our counsel. PI entered into a forbearance agreement with Alpine Steel in January. Basically the terms were that Alpine would make $5,000 monthly payments with balloon payments of a minimum of $20,000 due at the end of June and at the end of December. Alpine made their monthly payments for February through June. Those payments totaled $25,000. Alpine could not make their balloon payment due at the end of June.”

“Again, working with our DAG [Deputy Attorney General], an amendment to the forbearance agreement was created. It amended the balloon payment due to a minimum payment of $10,000 that was due no later than August 30th and an additional minimum payment of $10,000 that was due no later than October 15th.”

“Alpine defaulted on their $5,000 payment due July 15th [and] our DAG and the prison industries quickly filed a summary judgment against Alpine Steel as a result of the breach. The state has been awarded a summary judgment against the Alpine Steel for $428,208 plus post judgment interest growing at the rate of 1/2 percent per month. So being a state agency, this judgment creates a lean on the Alpine’s real and personal property. The collection of these has been turned over to the state controller’s office for the collection process. Thank you.”

Under questioning from Committee members, NDOC’s Deputy Director Connett and NDOC’s Director Cox at times gave somewhat evasive answers.

For example, when asked point blank if any of Nevada’s prisoner-made products were “exported” out of state, Connett responded that state services were the prison industry’s largest customer.

On another matter, they admitted that Alpine’s equipment was still in place at the “High Desert State Prison” (HDSP), saying Alpine had been “locked out” of the facility since December and the NDOC was actively attempting to rent the space to another contractor. Apparently these officials are comfortable with losing a potential $5,000 per month in lease income by keeping the space filled with Alpine’s equipment.

Connett’s new demeanor concerning Alpine has done an about-face of late. Previously, Deputy Director Connett had appeared at several hearings and meetings in support of Alpine, advocating that the company and its prison labor program be kept open, even in the face of the increasing debt. Connett was the sole defender of Alpine in the media and before the BPC and IFC hearings. He now no longer speaks favorably of Alpine in public.

The newest IFC member, Robbie Conway, asked how long it had been since Alpine had been at the prison shop. Director Cox indicated he’d shut the operation down on December 23, 2012, but he did not confirm that Alpine had not been there after that date. Conway went on to ask, “Are we certain that Alpine’s equipment is wholly owned by them or is there is a chance that it is in debt also?”

Connett answered: “There may be some questions on the ownership of some of that property out there.”

Director Cox quickly added: “It is clear and it’s my understanding there is property out there that does not belong to Alpine. So before anything is released, it will go though the attorney general’s office and go through the process.”

Connett added he had inventoried Alpine’s equipment but had failed to secure an appraisal of it.

In a situation such as this where a substantial debt has been incurred, with an ongoing default on a contract and equipment has been seized and being held as collateral against that debt, an evaluation of the “collateral” should be secured quickly to determine the actual financial risk at stake if a judgment results.

Alpine had been in arrears for several years when the NDOC closed down the prison project last December due to the outstanding debt. It is more than odd under those circumstances that since December the NDOC failed to determine the value of the collateral they hold against a $428,000 debt. Now finding that some of the equipment seized and held is not even owned by Bulloch or Alpine puts the state in an even more untenable position to recover the debt.

Key Questions about the Debt Owed Taxpayers Remain Unanswered

Unfinished Alpine Steel SkyVue Observation Wheel

View of stalled SkyVue Observation Wheel project

In response, the Deputy Attorney General — with whom the NDOC has been working on the Alpine case, as noted by Connett’s statement — was asked the following questions that NDOC had failed to answer:

  1. Did the Deputy Director of the NDOC, Mr. Connett and Alpine owner, Mr. Bulloch, negotiate the terms and conditions of the forbearance agreement and then seek approval from the AG’s office?
  2. If the answer is no, that the AG’s office negotiated the terms, did your office seek a personal guarantee from Mr. Bulloch on the debt owed?
  3. In the face of multiple ongoing liens, defaults and creditor/vendor litigation(s) against Alpine Steel, did you suggest a condition that a personal guarantee from Mr. Bulloch be included to ensure repayment should a default occur?
  4. Has anyone come forth and filed a claim of ownership on any of the equipment held by the NDOC at HDSP? [S]ome of the equipment seized by the NDOC as collateral on the debt owed by Alpine has been determined to be the property of a third party. If this is factual, will your office release any Alpine equipment that is claimed by another individual or company?
  5. With IRS and other liens pre-dating the summary judgment awarded to the state last month, will any assets owned by Alpine and held as collateral by the NDOC first go to satisfy those preexisting liens? If so how does the state intend to recover the loss of the $428,000+ debt of Alpine?

The official response from the AG’s office came from its Public Information Officer, Jennifer Lopez:

“My colleague Carrie L. Parker, Deputy Attorney General, Bureau of Government Affairs, mentioned you had questions about Alpine Steel, LLC, Randall Bulloch and the Nevada Dept. of Corrections. We have discussed your question and think because you are seeking attorney-client privileged information, it is best for you to direct this inquiry to Silver State Industries,” which is part of NDOC.

So the “official” response redirects inquiries back to the NDOC which has already directed questions to the AG’s office. Between the two agencies, it appears that in the Alpine matter transparency is non-existent and deliberately so.

During the meeting Connett stated that the PI’s accounts receivable is now $119,567.66 — which would represent a serious decrease from 2012. However, the debt owed by Alpine has been not been collected.

Although the past due account shows a marked recovery, that may be an illusion. Alpine’s $428,208 has merely been transferred from one state department to another state department creating the appearance that PI is recovering financially. The loss of nearly half a million tax dollars still exists but is no longer on PI’s books. Adding Alpine’s default amount to the AR figure provided by Connett shows that without transferring Alpine’s debt, PI’s accounts receivable would be $547,775.66, not significantly different from 2012’s levels.

Earlier this year, Alpine’s license with the Nevada State Contractors Board (NSCB) was reduced to $500,000, but the NSCB allowed Alpine to remain in business.

Despite multiple defaults to the IRS, Nevada’s Department of Taxation, the NDOC contract, vendor invoices and payments on worker’s compensation payments, Alpine has continued to operate, putting out bids on new projects even as Bulloch lays off Alpine employees. Some of those let go have stated that they worked for the company at reduced wages and without receiving overtime due them.

Will Alpine Steel’s License Be Revoked on October 9?

NSCB was asked if that agency is considering revocation of Alpine’s license. NSCB’s Public Information Officer, Jennifer Turner  responded:

“Alpine Steel is scheduled to come before the Board October 9, at which time it is requested they voluntarily surrender their license.”

The NCSB appears to be the sole state agency/department that has decided enough is enough and has taken less than eight months to “cure” Alpine’s non-compliance with state law and hold the company and its owner personally responsible for their actions in some way.

Had the NDOC and the Attorney General’s office adopted the same position months ago, perhaps the amount of the debt owed by Alpine would be guaranteed by Bulloch, providing some hope to taxpayers that the more than half a million dollars owed would be recovered.

It remains to be seen if members of the BPC will ask tough questions — similar to those previously posed to the NDOC and AG’s office — at the upcoming meeting on the 15th. Perhaps they will get complete answers to important questions regarding how and when the state can recover the Alpine debt.

After the Board of Prison Commissioners meeting on the 15th of October, a follow-on article will be published. With the introduction of the new regulations and the removal of Alpine from the prison industry program, perhaps the Alpine saga will finally be put to rest.

Cyber Schools Fleece Taxpayers for Phantom Students and Failing Grades

Cyber Schools Fleece Taxpayers for Phantom Students and Failing Grades

Many times we’ve written about attacks upon our public school system by corporate interests wishing to capitalize off of public tax dollars spent on education.  Cyber schools are some of the most misunderstood programs by parents.  Journalist Mary Bottari at PRWatch has done an excellent job of ferreting through the data – ciphering information from dis-information – to give parents and students a more complete understanding of why Cyber School programs are failing.  Not only failing to achieve the results promised, but companies like K-12, Inc. are amassing huge profits from tax dollars as our children’s education is set back decades.

The full article is a must read for parents, teachers and those trying to decide whether long distance learning and charter schools are the future of America’s education program.

__________________________________

by Mary Bottari at PRWatch

“The data is in and K12 Inc.’s brand of full-time public “cyber school” is garbage. Not surprising for an educational model kicked off with a $10 million investment from junk-bond king Michael Milken.

“Milken was the Wall Street financier who virtually invented junk-bonds — high-risk securities that were used to leverage hostile buyouts in the “go-go” 1980s. Milken came to symbolize Wall Street excess, serving as inspiration for the Michael Douglas character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movieWall Street. Milken spent almost two years in a federal penitentiary for securities fraud.

“After he was released from prison, Milken set his sights on the $600 billion public education “market,” forming new companies including Knowledge Universe and Knowledge Learning, parent company of the KinderCare child care chain. With his $10 million stake in K12 Inc., Milken aided one of his Vice Presidents and another junk dealer, Ron Packard, who specialized in mergers and acquisitions for Goldman Sachs back in the ’80s.

“The duo prepped to exploit the public education sector, and boy, have they. His various educational ventures have made Milken one of the richest men in America, and Packard ra

Explosion of For-Profit “Virtual Schools” Linked to ALEC

In recent years, there has been an explosion of full-time “virtual” charter schools paid for by the taxpayer. From 2008 to 2012, 157 bills passed in 39 states and territories (including the District of Columbia) that expand online schooling or modify existing regulations. Many of these bills are attributable to American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) politicians.

ALEC approved a “model” Virtual Public Schools Act in 2005 at a time when both K12 Inc. and Connections Academy (the second largest for-profit) were corporate sponsors and helped craft the measure, according to ALEC’s website at the time. Connections Academy quit ALEC under pressure, but K12 Inc. remains on the ALEC Education Task Force and helped sponsor the organization’s recent 40th anniversary shindig in Chicago…”

Read Mary’s full, informative article at PRWatch -> HERE <- or at Truthout -> HERE <-

Koch Bros Retainer to PRWatch: “Bring It!”

Koch Bros Retainer to PRWatch: “Bring It!”

mary bottariby Mary Bottari at PRWatch

“Some interesting emails were released as part of theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel’s ongoing investigation of a $500,000 taxpayer grant awarded to the Koch-tied United Sportsmen’s group. The grant was tailor-made for United Sportsmen and slipped into the budget by State Representative Scott Suder as one of his last acts as a state legislator. (Suder, who also served as ALEC’s Wisconsin State Chair, was given a new job at the Public Utilities Commission and a $45,000 pay raise by Governor Scott Walker.)

“United Sportsmen of Wisconsin (USW) is a relatively new group that spent more money defending Scott Walker in the recall election than on deer licenses, and more money lobbying for a four mile, open-pit iron ore mine that threatens to shut down a large swath of state forest, than educating people about hunting.

“After the Journal Sentinel reported on the sweetheart deal for this little-known group, CMD/PRwatch uncovered the organization’s deep ties to David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party. United Sportsmen’s website was registered by an AFP staffer, the group coordinated with AFP to send misleading mailers in advance of the 2011 recall elections, and AFP and United Sportsmen co-sponsored a “Freedom Fest” party in advance of the 2012 elections featuring Republican politicians and right-wing personalities. Luke Hilgemann, Suder’s former Chief of Staff, until recently headed the Wisconsin chapter of AFP and now is #2 at the national organization. CMD also uncovered how the United Sportsmen Board was populated by right-wing apparatchicks, including John Keegan, head of the Sauk County Tea Party, and Annette Olson, the Americans for Prosperity “Activist of the Year” for 2012 and leader of the Tea Party groups Women United for Liberty and Uninfringed Liberty.

“The Journal Sentinel also reported that the group “misled” law makers about its non-profit charitable status. The ensuing outrage over the blatant cronyism prompted Walker to rescind the grant September 5th, but Suder still has his plum job…”

Read the full PRWatch article -> HERE <-

Latest ALEC Material, Articles and Activities…

Latest ALEC Material, Articles and Activities…

Click on headline to read the entire article(s)…

Texas Attorney General Rebuffs ALEC’s Effort to Declare Itself Immune From Open Records Law

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

“MADISON — Texas Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued an Open Records Letter Ruling rejecting an effort by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to declare itself immune from the state’s public records law, after the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas filed briefs in the matter. Texas is the first known state where ALEC has formally asked an Attorney General for an exemption from sunshine-in-government laws. ALEC’s extreme efforts to evade public records laws have relevance in every state in the country, including Wisconsin, where CMD is separately litigating a case against Sen. Leah Vukmir, ALEC’s Treasurer, for her failure to disclose documents sent from ALEC to legislators.

“We applaud Texas’ commitment to open government and for rejecting ALEC’s astounding scheme to keep its communications with legislators secret,” said Brendan Fischer, CMD’s General Counsel. “We hope that Attorneys General in states across the country will similarly put the interests of the public and its right to know ahead of the interests of special interest lobbying organizations.”

“The Open Records Letter Ruling from the Attorney General’s office rejected the claim from ALEC’s Washington, D.C.-based attorneys that disclosure of the organization’s communications with legislators would burden its “freedom of association” rights. The Ruling was issued September 25 and released today…”

Is the WI Legislature Above the Open Records Law?

“MADISON, Wis. – The Center for Media and Democracy has sued Republican State Sen. Leah Vukmir under the state’s Open Records Law to obtain correspondence she had with The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a shadowy organization that works with corporations and conservatives to write model legislation.

“Vukmir and Republican State Attorney General J.B. VanHollen said she does not have to comply when the legislature is in session, which now is almost constantly.

“President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council Bill Lueders has a different view.

“We respectfully disagree with the position taken by the Attorney General. It’s highly unlikely that the legislative intent was to immunize lawmakers from civil action,” Lueders said…”

Rep. Chris Taylor: In ALEC’s underworld, democracy is a burden

“Entrance to the 40th anniversary conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council was tightly controlled. But I had become a member, paid the $575 registration fee, and produced the required identification. For two days in August, I submerged myself in the ALEC underworld. Though I had witnessed the ALEC agenda in our own state, from the attack on workers’ rights and gutting of fair employment laws to the promulgation of right-to-kill bills, I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the extent of ALEC’s infestation of American policy decisions.

ALEC is a menage a trois of wealthy corporations, conservative think tanks and right-wing state legislators that, over the past four decades, has birthed a political machine plowing through state legislatures. All across America, statehouses are passing ALEC model bills to maximize corporate profits and domination at the expense of most people. As Wall Street Journal columnist and Club for Growth founder Stephen Moore” (also an ALEC ‘Scholar’)  summed up: “What we really need is more rich people.”

“ALEC’s primary purpose is to develop model bills on “free market” topics that legislative members advance in their states. State legislators, big corporations and conservative think tanks members form task forces in eight different issue areas to develop and adopt model bills that benefit corporate America. Many corporations, including ExxonMobil and Reynolds American, cough up money in exchange for task force membership. That corporate cash greases ALEC’s wheels  and provides “scholarships” for state legislators, who are wined and dined at ALEC corporate-sponsored receptions. Conservative think tanks provide the data and research, while state legislators are the foot soldiers, marching to a corporate drum to advance policies that maximize corporate profits…”

Why Is Google Working With A Group That Undermines Climate Change Laws

“Google has long been a champion for clean technology and good climate change policy. So why is it working with ALEC, an organization that tries to destroy pro-environment regulation?

“No one could accuse Google of ignoring climate change. For a time, the company pursued homegrown cleantech inventions, and lately has shifted to pouring investments into large renewable projects. Google’s top executives have even lobbied directly for climate and clean energy policies in the halls of Washington.

“This track record is exactly what climate advocates are holding against Google now that the search giant is reportedly working with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a powerful free-market lobbying group that has devoted itself recently to undermining state renewable energy and climate laws…”

Why Microsoft, eBay (And 650 Other Businesses) Are Calling for U.S. Climate Action

“NEW YORK CITY – Today’s new IPCC climate science report and the fast approaching first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy have policy leaders busy promising ways to curb global warming pollution and avoid future devastating storms.

“American corporations are no less busy when it comes to combating climate change. But in addition to internal strategies to curb energy use and climate-warming pollution, many are realizing they need to put pressure on state legislatures and members of Congress…”

“…Microsoft is another good example. Not only is the software giant an EPA-recognized leader in renewable energy purchasing, but also, its engineers are developing algorithms to shift data center computations to times when the share of renewable energy on the grid is highest, such as when wind velocities pick up. Microsoft has also adopted an internal fee on carbon, which should serve as a sign to legislators about business’ willingness to account for external costs.

Forward-thinking climate policies can only further improve the business case for companies like Microsoft. The software giant’s recognition that involving itself with groups that actively fight renewable energy policies is counterproductive to reaching its renewable energy goals. The company is changing its relationship with groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has tried unsuccessfully to roll back state renewable energy standards this year…”

Yelp! Joins ALEC Amidst Ongoing Criticism

‘The online review site Yelp! recently joined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a private sector member as at least 50 corporations and nonprofits have cut ties with organization. The controversial right wing organization is best known for promoting “Stand Your Ground” and voter ID laws, but are also connected to Arizona’s SB1070 and anti-union laws.

‘It has just been discovered that Yelp! paid ALEC at least $10,000 to join the organization on the same week as the Trayvon Martin case began, making the timing of their decision even more peculiar.

“As Colorlines previously reported, ALEC has consistently disregarded the racial implications of the legislation they promote, most notably the “Stand Your Ground” law that was pivotal in the Trayvon Martin case. ALEC and Yelp! have joined forces to promote anti-SLAAP laws (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which are often used to intimidate people making statements on public forums.

“There is a new website for people who want to encourage Yelp! to stop working with ALEC.”

Shareholder Activists More Goliath than David (Pro ALEC & Pro Corporate Article)

“When graying cohorts of nuns, priests, clergy and other religious proxy shareholders hitched their wagon to the Center for Political Accountability’s crusade against Citizens United and corporate political spending, it was reported by most news sources as cute and endearing. After all, it’s a bit of the David v. Goliath scenario playing out as the faith-based underdogs take on companies with sinister motives and deep pockets full of “dark money” which they spread around to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican candidates and other bêtes noires of the left.

If one reads the media reports following the release this week of the 2013 “CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Policy Accountability and Disclosure” you’d think little David scored big-time with a single stone fired from CPA’s sling at the corporate American Goliath. Well . . . yes. And no. Yes, in that some companies capitulated to CPA and proxy shareholders for more transparency. No, in that many other companies held fast to privacies guaranteed by Citizens United despite the onslaught of proxy resolutions submitted by a matrix of leftist organizations, which includes the nominally religious-based investment groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility. Little David is indeed far more of a Goliath than the general public has been led to believe…”

Today’s top opinion: Rock the boat

“I’m offended by what’s happening in Richmond today,” said Del. Kenneth Plumat a Reston town hall recently. The veteran legislator is, like just about everyone else, in high dudgeon over the seamy underbelly of the gift culture that has been exposed byGov. Bob McDonnell’s travails. (The Times-Dispatch will host a Public Square about cleaning up state government Oct. 8.)

“But, like just about everyone else in state political circles, Plum laments a problem partly of his own making – and taking. Over the years, he has accepted plenty of swag: a trip to Turkey, tickets to Kings Dominion, dinners, shows, and more. Yet Plum has hauled in much less than other lawmakers. House Speaker Bill Howell, for instance, routinely benefits from the generosity of groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), law-enforcement associations, and the banking industry.

“The gift economy in state politics is bipartisan and pervasive. In January, for instance, theVirginia Hospitality and Travel Association gave gift baskets worth $202 to nearly 100 state lawmakers. A month later, Wawa gave every member of the General Assembly a cooler with books, a T-shirt, coffee cup, coffee and coupons. This might help explain why so many lawmakers have said so little about the governor’s involvement with, and failure to report gifts from, Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr. Nearly everyone lives in a glass house. As state Sen. Chap Petersen wrote in early August, “the political culture in Richmond . . . can be summed up in four simple words:  Don’t Rock the Boat…”

“It is encouraging to learn that Sen Scott Fitzgerald is once again a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). (JSOnline 9/23/13)

ALEC is a group that links politicians and mostly large corporations to write model legislation that can be introduced in legislatures throughout the country.

“According to the Center for Media and Democracy, in 2013 139 ALEC model bills to fund private and religious schools with taxpayer money were introduced throughout the nation.

“Other model bills aim to gut workers’ wage protection and benefits not to mention limit collective bargaining rights for folks who still have them.

“With Sen Fitzgerald getting his directions from out-of-state corporate interests that have the resources to buy his time and attention we can rest assured that he’s on the job and working for us.” 

(As most are aware, ALEC has worked behind the scene for years writing, developing, lobbying for and passing tough on crime legislation to incarcerate millions.  At the same time they wrote legislation to allow private corporations to capitalize off of incarceration via; private prisons, prison healthcare, commissary contracts, phone contracts, GPS monitoring and more…but now when non-ALEC legislation is proposed to crack down on sex advertising, they come out in opposition, fearing the financial impact upon internet companies who garner millions from such advertising):

“JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Top law enforcement officers across the country are pushing Congress for greater authority to go after a booming online industry that hosts ads for child sex traffickers. But they are encountering opposition from an unexpected source — conservative state lawmakers who fear a government clamp down on Internet businesses.

“The conflict highlights the difficulty of policing an online marketplace that has rapidly evolved under a generally hands-off approach by government.

“A coalition of conservative lawmakers and businesses has drafted a model resolution that could be considered next year in state capitols from coast to coast. The document, obtained by The Associated Press, urges Congress to deny state prosecutors the enforcement power they seek over the ads— warning that it could discourage investment in new Internet services…”

“…Advocates for online businesses said the legal change could force startup companies to keep track of thousands of specific state laws and could lead to government intrusion into other Internet areas.

Carl Szabo, the policy counsel at NetChoice, a trade association, outlined his concerns last month during a closed-door task force meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of conservative lawmakers and businesses that crafts model legislation for states. The organization carries particular sway with Republicans, who now control more than half the state legislatures.”

Fargo lawmaker at forefront of opposition to proposed beefed-up child sex ad law

‘FARGO — The role state Rep. Blair Thoreson, a Fargo Republican, serves with a national conservative group has him leading an effort to block a change in federal law to allow state prosecutors to go after websites that host ads for child sex trafficking.

‘Thoreson said Friday he’s concerned the proposal backed by numerous state attorneys general, including North Dakota’s, could have a “chilling effect” on Internet commerce.

The Fargo lawmaker is chairman of the Communications and Technology Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit alliance of conservative state legislators, businesses and foundations.

The task force recently approved a draft resolution asking Congress not to grant the request of attorneys general from across the country who want to be able to prosecute websites for hosting child sex ads under the Communications Decency Act of 1996…”

“…Thoreson said the draft resolution still needs approval from ALEC’s board of directors before it can be released as a model resolution for conservative lawmakers to introduce in state capitols across the country…”

US criminal justice system: Turning a profit on prison reform?

“Lobbying groups for commercial enterprises are hoping new sentencing laws would translate into higher profits.

“A little more than two million people in the United States – that’s one out of every 140 – are locked up, making the US the biggest jailer in the world.

“Some hope that this obscene rate of human incarceration might begin to decline as reform of mandatory sentencing laws is close at hand. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder denounced mandatory minimums and then backed up his words on September 19, with a directive to prosecutors to not apply mandatory sentences to low-level drug offenders. The day before, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimonies from advocates for sentencing reform urging the Committee to approve the Justice Safety Valve – a law that would restore sentencing discretion to judges.

“That legislation not only enjoys bipartisan support, but an endorsement from none other than ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC has even authored its own version of the Justice Safety Valve.”

“As others have pointed out, ALEC might seem like an unlikely ally to a bill that seeks to take the mandatory out of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. As the stewards of America’s two largest for-profit private prison corporations, ALEC – a so-called bill mill for “free-market” legislation – was a champion of many of the harshest sentencing laws passed throughout the 1990’s, including “truth-in-sentencing” and “three-strikes” laws. These laws locked judges into a rigid matrix of sentencing guidelines that have been one of the primary causes for the swollen numbers in federal and state prisons over the past two decades…”

Gaming the system

“But while ALEC’s endorsement of mandatory sentencing reform is appreciated, how and what “alternatives” it is inclined to promote requires scrutiny. Indeed, as early as 2011, the Justice Policy Institute portended the organisation’s likely shift away from increasingly unpopular mass incarceration policies, noting the organisation was in the process of establishing a backdoor infrastructure that would enable its members to reap financial gain whenever the policymaking winds changed – anticipating an eventual public revulsion at the spectacle of a mass prisoner population that seems, in some part, to have happened.

“In competition with private prisons are other industries which are coming up with solutions to reduce incarceration costs that will benefit them. For instance, a 2007 brief by ALEC recommended releasing people early from prison with conditional release bonds, similar to bail bonds, effectively setting up bonding companies as private parole agencies.”

“The report suggests, in other words, that there are plenty of other people happy to step in and make money off of an inevitable “reform”.

“For example, before the Public Safety and Elections Task Force was shut down in 2012, the American Bail Coalition (ABC) served as one of its executive members. Since 1993, ABC had cultivated such a reliable relationship with ALEC that in 2010 it called ALEC its “life preserver“. During its alliance with ALEC, ABC wrote at least 12 model bills. In 2007, ALEC and ABC proposed legislation that dressed itself up as a “solution” to prison overcrowding. The law would have allowed the early release of certain non-violent and juvenile offenders with the posting of a bond, thus providing its supporters – private bail agents – a new source of profit…”

 

GOP Appointed Officials Black Out Detroit During Heatwave To “Send Them A Strong Message” (VIDEO)

GOP Appointed Officials Black Out Detroit During Heatwave To “Send Them A Strong Message” (VIDEO)

From Addicting Info by Randa Morris

If you ever had any doubt that Michigan has been taken over by a group of dangerous, radical extremists, what happened in Detroit on September 11th, 2013 should be enough to wake you up. There were several things significant about September 11th, 2013. Not only was it the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center, but the state of Michigan was also experiencing an unseasonal heat wave. In the city of Detroit, power outages left people stranded in elevators, trapped four hours in the blistering heat. Hundreds were evacuated from buildings in the downtown area, traffic lights did not function, public transportation was disabled and 1,400 sites across the city were without power. Wayne State University and other key buildings still remained closed, the following day. All of this after the city’s power supply supposedly failed.

The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, a twelve story building that conducts the city’s criminal proceedings was shut down and the building was evacuated. Earlier in the week, a prisoner had stabbed a Wayne County Deputy, before fleeing from the building. A manhunt followed, with authorities searching for the escaped prisoner for several long hours, before finally apprehending him as he was trying to flee the city. In light of this, the power outage on September 11th created a tense and dangerous situation for officers, justice workers and visitors to the building. Witness the building evacuation for yourself here.

The problem is that the city’s power supply never failed.

On September 12th, 2013, Bill Nowling casually stated that the city’s power outages were intentional. Officials and citizens working in the city were given no warning before the electricity was cut off. Law enforcement officials working in the Hall of Justice had no time to prepare. Senior citizens and disabled citizens using elevators in the city’s downtown district had no way to know what was coming. The entire criminal justice system was shut down without notice. Wayne State University Campus was just one of many sites evacuated under emergency conditions. Traffic lights across the city stopped working. 1,400 public and private locations were left without power. And the entire thing was intentional, to “send a message” to the people of Detroit. Bill Nowling works in the office of Kevin Orr, Detroit’s Emergency Manager.

Read the entire article and watch the video interview of Brown -> HERE <-