Oct 1, 2013
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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…”
“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…”
“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…”
“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…”
“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…”
‘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…”
“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 — 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…”
“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…”