Activists, Union Workers and Chicagoan’s Prepare for ALEC’s August Conference

Activists, Union Workers and Chicagoan’s Prepare for ALEC’s August Conference

by Bob Sloan

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) plans to celebrate their 40th birthday from August 7th to the 9th this year.  A big event for this predominantly conservative organization, to be sure.  The birthday bash coincides with ALEC’s Annual Meeting – one of several key events held annually where corporate prepared legislation is introduced to more than 2,000 state lawmakers to be carried back to their home turf and introduced as proposed new laws.

This year the ALEC Annual Meeting will differ from 37 of the previous 39 such meetings as activists, American workers, protesters and Anarchists are preparing a rousing “welcome” for ALEC’s members – corporate and legislative – when they arrive in Chicago.  Similar protests and rallies against ALEC have marked each of their yearly events since April 2011 when a small group of students and liberal activists held the very first Anti-ALEC protest in Cincinnati.  Following that protest a whistleblower came forward and released hundreds of secret ALEC documents and proposed “model legislation” to the Center for Media and Democracy.  CMD launched “ALEC Exposed” at PRWatch and published the documents for American’s to read, evaluate and discuss.  As more and more citizens became aware of ALEC, the groundswell of anger over such manipulation of our daily lives by a corporate “charity” grew…as did the number of protests.

Following Cincy, protesters and activists followed ALEC to New Orleans for the next meeting…then to Phoenix, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and now they’re preparing for Chicago and perhaps the largest turnout of protesters yet.  The growth of ALEC protesters has grown in part due to the involvement of America’s workers – union and non-union – who continue to suffer job losses and lack of available jobs due to ALEC’s pursuits of Right To Work (for less) and other initiatives to abolish organized labor or diminish their voices.  In Oklahoma this spring, the AFLCIO and Teamsters organized the ALEC protest and are again at the front in Chicago.  Their involvement and reporting on ALEC’s non union activities has attracted other strong unions such as AFSCME to participate in the Windy City protest.

At each subsequent ALEC event, the numbers of protesters have grown as more and more has become known about ALEC and their activities.  The public has become knowledgeable about some of the more oppressive laws beneficial to corporate interests disseminated by ALEC and passed through lobbying and campaign contributions from ALEC’s corporate membership.  These include such laws and initiatives as; Right To Work, voter ID legislation and suppression, stand your ground (Trayvon Martin), privatization of public schools, vouchers and “virtual” education (all of which benefit one or more of ALEC’s corporate members) and tort reforms that limit the ability of consumers to recover damages from malpractice or product related injury (such as cancer and illness from asbestos contamination).

Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy groups have also joined the ranks of those opposing ALEC, calling for Americans to turn-out and protest in Chicago.  Through it all, ALEC has maintained a staunch “fuck you” stance against all who oppose them and their agenda by continuing to advocate for corporate interests over the rights of Americans.  They enlisted the help of other right-wing think tanks in an attempt to deflect some of the bad publicity about them and more recently have attempted to avoid referring to themselves and their members as “ALEC” by requesting that the organization now be called the “Exchange Council” to avoid the stigma that has attached to “ALEC” since 2011.

ALEC decided to hold this bash in Chicago where the IRS Exempt 501 (c)(3) “charity” was born in 1973, formed by several disgruntled conservative Republicans looking for a way to change the course of the Republican party and eventually the path of the United States to one of conservative principles; limited government, free markets, individual liberty and federalism at the state level.  As with most terminology used by ALEC’s wordsmiths, the definition of these terms to ALEC supporters is far different than what one would find in Websters.  By founding ALEC as a “Charity” it has allowed ALEC to amass tens of millions of dollars to use in legislative efforts – without declaring or paying any taxes on those millions.  Further it allows individuals and corporate interests to also deduct their ALEC contributions, given in pursuit of seeking corporate-friendly legislation that fattens their bottom line(s).

Since 2011 there have been three complaints filed with the IRS, asking that agency to investigate ALEC’s use of “charitable” funds to advance legislation and promote lobbying, in violation of the 501 (c)(3) provisions and requesting that the charitable classification be rescinded and the government recover any taxes that should have been paid on money used to lobby and influence legislation.  All of these complaints are now pending and under consideration by the IRS.  VLTP is a complainant in one of those whistleblower complaints and awaits a determination by the IRS on the documents provided in that complaint.

To ALEC, limited government is defined as limiting the government’s ability to regulate actions of corporations, manufacturers or businesses that may cause harm to Americans. Individual liberty is seen as corporate liberty…the ability to operate without government interference at the sacrifice of true individual liberties of Americans.

Free-Markets are those markets controlled by ALEC’s more than 350 large, multinational companies that control specific markets by limiting the abilities of true small businesses to break into existing markets.

Federalism is perceived by ALEC as: “a government closest to the people is fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.”  In other words, since ALEC has a vast influence over state legislatures through membership and control of governor’s mansions in many states, turn over federal control to the states (and through them, ALEC) to run our country.

ALEC has been hugely successful in many of their hidden initiatives designed to meet their twisted definitions of such terms as federalism and free markets.  As an example we have only to look to the ongoing battles in Wisconsin (Governor Walker, an ALEC alum), Arizona (Governor Brewer and ALEC Alum), Ohio (Governor Kasich an ALEC alum) and South Carolina (Governor Haley another ALEC alum).  In each of these – and several other – states, the ALEC agenda has been pushed down the throat of voters by legislatures controlled by ALEC members and Governors who are members of ALEC’s large alumni pool; repeal of clean energy regulations, eliminating worker rights, lowering wages and attempting to abolish minimum wage, ending collective bargaining, privatizing our schools, prisons and government institutions, making it more difficult for minorities to vote and restricting women’s rights.

For all these reasons, ALEC must be pursued and abolished before our country can begin to heal and return to a form of democratic government on behalf of the people rather than the corporate interests and elite business owners.  Chicago next month is only the “next step” in the process of returning state governments to the will of the people and wrenching power from those who get such power by doing the bidding of their corporate masters through ALEC.

We hope that many readers will turn out for the various rallies and protests in Chicago (Unions planning a large event on August 8th at ALEC’s Palmer House Hotel).  If you are unable to attend, please consider contributing to the efforts of those organizations participating; VLTP, CMD, Common Cause, AFLCIO, AFSCME, PFAW, etc.  Your dollar may be the one that finally breaks ALEC’s stranglehold on our nation…

Justice Denied: 71 ALEC Bills in 2013 Make It Harder to Hold Corporations Accountable for Causing Injury or Death

Justice Denied: 71 ALEC Bills in 2013 Make It Harder to Hold Corporations Accountable for Causing Injury or Death

From Center for Media and Democracy by Brendan Fischer

As most now acknowledge, CMD has been at the forefront in developing comprehensive data on ALEC model legislation since mid-2011 when a whistleblower provided them with hundreds of ALEC documents.  This article addresses only one of hundreds of issues pursued by ALEC.  It is an important issue to consumers but through lack of media attention and difficult to understand language, most American’s do not know what the term “Tort” means or how “Tort Reform” (as defined by ALEC and their corporate members) impacts their daily lives.  Basically, these laws advanced by ALEC are designed to help lessen responsibility and liabilities of companies and corporations responsible for death, injury or damages caused from faulty products, services or other actions.  These ALEC designed laws are used to limit monetary awards for actual and punitive damages caused as a result of their negligence or product failures.

These “Tort Reform” bills are “designer laws” advanced to protect companies, manufacturers and businesses – not consumers and average American’s as such laws are intended to do.  Below are excerpts from Fischer’s article that include the chart showing the tort laws disseminated by corporations through ALEC…

“For decades, ALEC has been a conduit for the oil, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries to push legislation that changes the rules to limit accountability when a corporation’s products or actions cause injury or death — such as when a Koch Industries pipeline explodes and kills teenagers, or when the tobacco or pharmaceutical industries withhold evidence that their products are dangerous. In just the first six months of 2013, seventy-one ALEC bills that advance these “tort reform” goals have been introduced in thirty states (see chart below).

“Each of these bills would weaken the legal rights of everyday people who are wrongfully harmed by a corporation or health care provider,” says Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, a group that works to protect the civil justice system and fight tort reform. “[The bills] are carefully crafted to provide relief and protections for the industries who wrote them.”

This is one of the ways in which American’s are slowly being stripped of rights and protections…while corporate interests acquire more of each.

To read the full article, click -> HERE <-

ALEC Tort Reform Bills, 2013

State ALEC Bill State Bill
IN Admissibility in Civil Actions of Nonuse of a Seat Belt Act HB 1010
WA Admissibility in Civil Actions of Nonuse of a Seat Belt Act HB 1696
NY Anti-Phishing Act A 1117
IL Asbestos Claims Transparency Act HB 153
LA Asbestos Claims Transparency Act HB 481
OH Asbestos Claims Transparency Act HB 380
WI Asbestos Claims Transparency Act AB 19
UT Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act HB 384
AZ Class Actions Improvements Act SB 1452
OK Class Actions Improvements Act SB 949
NC Commonsense Consumption Act HB 683
RI Comparative Fault Act H 5321
WV Comparative Fault Act SB 450HB 2843
FL Elimination of Double Recoveries Act SB 1134
WV Elimination of Double Recoveries Act SB 176
AL Emergency Care Immunity Act SB 62
NV Emergency Care Immunity Act AB 132
NJ Emergency Care Immunity Act A 3694
SC Emergency Care Immunity Act H 4145
SD Emergency Care Immunity Act HB 1151
WV Emergency Care Immunity Act HB 2285
WV Forum Non Conveniens Act SB 113
KS Full & Fair Noneconomic Damages Act SB 158
NH Full & Fair Noneconomic Damages Act HB 1180
IL Joint and Several Liability Act SB 1974
TN Joint and Several Liability Act SB 56HB 1099
OK Jury Patriotism Act SB 484
CT Noneconomic Damage Awards Act SB 452
MO Noneconomic Damage Awards Act HJR 6
NY Noneconomic Damage Awards Act A 321A 5336
SC Noneconomic Damage Awards Act S 625
MA Notice and Opportunity to Repair Act S 617
OK Prejudgment and Post-Judgment Act HB 1494
RI Prejudgment and Post-Judgment Act HB 5289
OK Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act HB 1494
AL Product Liability Act HB 617
IL Product Liability Act HB 5808
MO Product Liability Act SB 356
SC Punitive Damages Standards Act S 788
OK Rational Use of a Product Act SB 754
IL Regulatory Compliance Congruity with Liability Act HB 5808
IL Reliability in Expert Testimony Standards Act HB 2221
WV Reliability in Expert Testimony Standards Act SB 113
OK Resolution in Support of Fair Recourse and Effective Deterrence Against Frivolous Claims SB 533
PA Ten-Year Statute of Repose Act SB 446
FL The Common Sense Scientific and Technical Evidence Act SB 1412H 7015
TN The Phantom Damages Elimination Act SB 1184HB 978
WI The Phantom Damages Elimination Act SB 22AB 29
MO The Uninsured Motorist Stipulation of Benefits Act HB 339
GA Trespasser Responsibility Act SB 125HB 270
IL Trespasser Responsibility Act HB 3407HB 2216
IN Trespasser Responsibility Act HB 1502
MS Trespasser Responsibility Act SB 2525HB 1302
NY Trespasser Responsibility Act A 4824
SC Trespasser Responsibility Act HB 788
UT Trespasser Responsibility Act HB 347
VA Trespasser Responsibility Act HB 2285
WV Trespasser Responsibility Act SB 338HB 2582
WY Trespasser Responsibility Act SF 70
WV Volunteer Immunity and Charitable Organization Liability Limit Act HB 2285
OK Workers’ Compensation Fraud Warning Act SB 1062

Latest ALEC Articles, Posts and Materials – For July 1-7

Latest ALEC Articles, Posts and Materials – For July 1-7

By Bob Sloan

ALEC and their supporters have been busy of late.  Click on the article headline to visit and read the entire article…

I apologize for the lapse of reporting on ALEC, but my health has been interfering with my work of late.  Will try and keep all our readers better informed going forward.

ALEC seeking new “Directors” for key positions as Director of Nonprofit and Corporate Relations and Director of Nonprofit and Corporate Alliances.

CMD Calls for Nebraska Ethics Investigation over ALEC Keystone “Academy” Junket

— by Nick Surgey and Brendan Fischer

The Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint yesterday with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission alleging that Nebraska Senator Jim Smith, a major proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, failed to disclose significant travel expenses paid for by the Government of Alberta, Canada during Smith’s participation in an “Oil Sands Academy” organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The trip was sponsored by the operator of the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada, which may raise additional concerns under the ethics and lobbying code.

Smith and nine other ALEC legislators participated in the “academy” sponsored by TransCanada in Alberta, Canada last October, where they were shepherded around oil extraction facilities and rubbed shoulders with oil industry lobbyists. The Government of Alberta even chartered a flight during the tour to fly the participants to tar sand operations, which reportedly cost around $1,500 per legislator.

Fire Island Erupts Over Verizon’s Wireless Voice Link: New York AG Claims Verizon Violated Agreement

The future of telecommunications in the U.S. is being played out on the sandy beaches of Fire Island, NY. Forget about not being upgraded to fiber optic services. Customers are “extremely disappointed,” “horrified,” “very frustrated,” with “grave distress and dissatisfaction” about Verizon’s plan to stop fixing their phone lines and giving them an inferior wireless replacement, Voice Link, which can’t handle basic plain old telephone service, “POTs” services like fax, DSL or even reliable e911 service…

…In our previous article we highlighted how Verizon Voice Link’s deployment ties to Verizon and ATT’s plan to abandon whole areas of the U.S. and decline to repair the copper wiring, even after a storm. The phone companies and a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, created ‘model’ legislation that has been burning through the states, removing basic obligations, from quality of service requirements, state commission oversight to even removing “carrier of last resort,” where the company no longer has to provide basic services. 

On Independence Day, Fight for the Voting Rights That Secure Our Freedoms

This is our first Fourth of July in a generation where we are officially without the heart of the Voting Rights Act. When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted section 4 of the law, throwing out protections ranging from voter suppression tactics like gerrymandering maps to unduly burdensome ID laws to restrictions on early and absentee voting, the Court immediately disenfranchised Americans from sea to shining sea….

…North Carolina is not merely, as Rachel Maddow said, “conservatives gone wild” — it is no coincidence that the Supreme Court gutted the voting rights act and the North Carolina legislature moved to restrict human rights just days later:

It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking reproductive freedoms.
It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking same sex marriages.
It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking immigrants’ rights.
It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking workers’ rights.
It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking living wages.
It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking guns safety laws.
It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking polluter pay laws.
It is no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking consumer protections.

And it is definitely no coincidence that those blocking voting rights are also blocking Citizens United repeal. There is a clear line — drawn by conservatives at the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council with a literal “wish list” and dozens of allies determined to limit voting rights in order to advance narrow interests.

LETTER: No way is Wisdom High a ‘D’

Most of us in Maine know that ideological beliefs drive Gov. LePage and his administration; one is the idea that public schools are failing our children and therefore must be eliminated. Public schools are failing our children and we now have the “proof” via these grades that that is the case.

Gov. LePage and Mr. Bowen take their guidance from a right wing conservative think tank called American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC has one agenda on education: Get rid of public schools so they can introduce their favorite agendas; privatize schools through school vouchers; create more charter schools; water down teacher licensing; support private schools using taxpayer funds; erode local control; create more home school regulations; encourage virtual schooling

Under the influence of ALEC

It seems that daily, we are provided with glimpses of how inane politics and policymaking can be. We need to look no further than our own legislators for amazing examples. While North Carolina faces real problems, state lawmakers have spent the time necessary to craft a bill that will protect food suppliers from lawsuits. Furthermore, these lawmakers have included a provision in the same bill that restricts municipalities from limiting the size of soft drinks.

In fact, the News and Observer of Raleigh reported on Friday that a Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would prevent people from suing food suppliers for making them fat. The same bill ensures that municipalities cannot limit the size of soda pop for sale. Known as the “Big Gulp” bill, this type of “oversight” clearly belies the ruling party’s claims of being opposed to big government intrusion.

Even worse, this bill makes our state legislature look like a pawn being directed to and fro by the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC claims that it provides model legislation for lawmakers nationwide as way to promote free market and conservative ideals. By several accounts, though, ALEC exists merely to serve the Republican Party and large corporations and their interests, often at the expense of the consumer. As details on the organization have come to light in recent months, it has lost some key financial backers, Coke and Pepsi among them – ironically.

ALEC, for those who may not be aware, is the group that has provided and promoted voter registration legislation that aims to restrict voter turnout. It also helped write Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

According to Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, this “Big Gulp” legislation (put together by ALEC) would prevent “legal extortion.” Sadly, this piece of legislation appears to do nothing more than distract the state’s elected officials from governance, and distraction is something at which they have proved to be quite adept.

For the party that decries big government, this action is truly laughable. This is big government at its worst: It thwarts the public to the benefit of fat cat donors.

State legislators not asking for ALEC membership reimbursement

Remember that controversy from a few months ago, when the Legislature’s Executive Board decided to pay for membership dues of lawmakers belonging to the strongly business-oriented American Legislative Exchange Council?

At the time, Democratic legislators made clear they didn’t want memberships purchased for them. Democrats also paid for newspaper ads denouncing the use of public funds for ALEC dues because of the organization’s political stances and financial supporters.

Now another policy is in place. Maher directed the Legislative Research Council to pay for ALEC memberships only if legislators submit vouchers requesting reimbursement. The membership cost is $100 for a two-year term.

Here’s the kicker. So far, no legislator has requested ALEC membership reimbursement. That’s according to Jim Fry, executive director for the LRC, which is the Legislature’s professional, non-partisan staff.

When a Democratic legislator, Rep. Kathy Tyler of Big Stone City, said travel payments should be restricted to the organizations in which the Legislature is a member, a Republican legislator, Rep. Betty Olson of Prairie City, called for ALEC memberships to be provided for all legislators.

The board’s Republican majority adopted the policy to pay ALEC dues. That was the board’s April 23 meeting. The ALEC matter didn’t come up again at the two subsequent meetings May 13 and June 10. The board’s next meeting is set for Aug. 19.

The Court’s Ambivalence

As others observe elsewhere in this issue, our nation’s policy is advancing by degrees not just into a different future, but, it would seem, into two different futures, mutually exclusive in their intent.

The most obvious case in point resides with the Supreme Court, which in consecutive days in the last fortnight has laid waste to pretty much everybody’s conventional stereotypes. Was the court “conservative” or even reactionary when it cast into the litter bin of history Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act? Was it “liberal” when, the very next day, it found in favor of plaintiffs in cases challenging Proposition 8 in California and the Defense of Marriage Act nationally?

The fact is that both judgments were 5-4 decisions which, taken together, say something about the essential ambivalence of the time. But let us do some hair-splitting of our own, by way of making sense of it all. The point of the voting rights decision, on the face of what the decision both said and implied, was that in those deep South states where the franchise was at issue for African Americans, there is no longer any problem worth taking advance precautions over.

Really? Then the court is agreeing with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing pressure group which has churned out a one-size-fits-all law requiring photo IDs for voting and sold it to the conservative legislatures in a growing number of states. So it’s “fraud” that’s being targeted and not poor folks, black folks, and older folks, the groups most likely to be without photo IDs. Sure.

Take it back from corporations

 Anyone who has been paying any attention at all knows that nation-less corporations and mega-wealthy individuals are destroying our democracy and killing our country. They choose our elected official of both parties by anointing candidates with money to buy expensive deceptive TV ads. They inundate our legislatures with slick lobbyists. They own and control our news resources. They write our laws through the corporate funded American Legislative Exchange Council. They exempt themselves from reasonable taxation and regulation. Rather than creating jobs they create their right to export our jobs. They intentionally screw government up and then call for everything to be privatized so they can make more money. It’s time for us to declare our independence from nation-less corporations and the mega-wealthy.
A constitutional amendment is required to keep wealth from dominating our democracy. Sixteen states have called for such an amendment. An initiative, a real people’s initiative, will be held in Washington state next year. Visit WAMEND.org and washclean.org for information about how you can help. We’ll need signature gatherers.

The ultra-wealthy and their nation-less, mindlessly profit-driven corporations are eating our democracy and our future. They are anything but patriotic. On Independence Day let’s, “Let ’em eat cake.”

ALEC related support and/or propaganda from Right Wing outlets:

Nixon failing to bolster Missouri’s economy

According to a recently released report by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Show-Me state ranked 42nd in economic performance — over the past 10 years! We are ranked 47th in state gross domestic product, meaning we aren’t producing many goods.

As a result, we aren’t creating many jobs — that’s why our unemployment rate remains stagnant at 6.8 percent, nearly double Nebraska’s unemployment rate and substantially higher than many of our neighbors like Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma.

This may explain why over the past three years, Missouri has suffered a net loss in migration as people leave for stronger economies.

Why are we in this mess? Gov. Jay Nixon refuses to lead and has taken zero initiative to grow the Show-Me State.

EPA Growth Knows No Limits

Simply put, the president is using Congressional inaction as a pretext for a climate policy power grab, and that is very troubling. Alas, it is only the latest development in a worrying accumulation of authority at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A new American Legislative Exchange Council report, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Assault on State Sovereignty, reveals that the agency has been systematically centralizing environmental protection by seizing rightful control from the states and replacing local community input with extreme environmental activists.

 

API Spent $22 Million Lobbying for Keystone XL; State Dept Contractor ERM an API Member

API Spent $22 Million Lobbying for Keystone XL; State Dept Contractor ERM an API Member

From DESMOGBLOG.com by Steve Horn

As Steve Horn reports in this article, former Obama campaign folks and political connections to the President have been heavily involved in pursuing passage of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  This pipeline project is being pushed down American’s throats by the likes of the Koch brothers and big oil companies who stand to benefit millions if they can successfully secure government approval to implement the operation.

Of course, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has weighed in on this issue by adopting a “Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline“.  This is unsurprising as big oil and Koch both have seats upon ALEC’s Private Advisory Board and in that capacity help determine which laws benefiting corporations will be adopted and submitted to states for implementing.

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Horn’s article.  The full and informative report is found -> HERE <-

“In President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan address, he stated that TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would only receive State Department approval “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

As it stands, that means Keystone XL – which if built to full capacity would pipe diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” from the Alberta tar sands down to Port Arthur, TX refineries for shipment to the global export market – may likely receive Obama’s approval.

That’s because Obama’s State Dept. – assigned to make a final decision on KXL because it crosses the international border – contracted its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) out to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group).

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), as is TransCanada.

The SEIS concluded KXL’s “approval or denial” – misleading because its southern half is already 75-percent complete via an Obama March 2012 Executive Order – “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development” of the tar sands. Therefore, it will also have little impact on climate change, according to ERM’s SEIS.

It’s important to remember that ERM was chosen on behalf of State by TransCanada itself. Futher, one of the ERM employees tasked to conduct the SEIS, as exposed in a Mother Jones investigation, is a former TransCanada employee.

DeSmog investigation also reveals that API has spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since the pipeline was initially proposed in June 2008. Further, some of those oil lobbyists have direct ties to both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the two men who have the final say on KXL.”

ALEC: Pursuing Universal Stewardship – Part III: Connecting More Dots Between ALEC and International Politicians

ALEC: Pursuing Universal Stewardship – Part III: Connecting More Dots Between ALEC and International Politicians

Part III –

In the previous article, we traced the relationship between two spiritual founders of the modern conservative movement(s) – former President Ronald Reagan and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – and explored the close linkages between the American fundraising mechanisms for the Margaret Thatcher Memorial Library and the indoctrination programs for the Young Britons Foundation.

ALEC has more – and more convoluted – pathways to cover its tracks in the international arena. The United Kingdom isn’t the only country involved with ALEC’s machinations for the same reason that ALEC members are multi-national corporations. Untangling the various threads through and between each and every contact, country and corporation is, putting it mildly, daunting.

One encounters the same names, again and again, on lists of Members of Parliament (British, European and other countries’), speakers at ALEC gatherings, graduates of ALEC-sponsored educational programs and boards of directors for NGO and/or lobbying efforts for various fundraising or legislative efforts for or against measures at the direction of ALEC’s corporate membership. One can disappear down this rabbit-hole and never emerge, because ALEC’s by-laws specify that – American individual members, at least – must officially resign if they are elected to office but the Congressional/lobbyist revolving door ensures that once-a-member-always-a-member because the money is simply too enticing to ignore. ALEC members stay bought and serve ALEC interests whether or not they carry official calling cards.

International ALEC membership is even more problematic for 2 reasons: multinational corporations refuse to acknowledge “citizenship” anywhere because they prefer not to pay taxes to any country. Thus they meddle everywhere, covering their tracks. The second reason is the dual nature of both the United Kingdom and Commonwealth governmental structure – wherein Parliaments separately govern but acknowledge one head of state – as well as the European Union, which does essentially the same on the European continent. The double legal structure provides a maze of byways and loopholes for hiding chicanery such as whether or not ALEC members are registered as foreign agents doing business with government agencies – as lobbyists are required to do.

Here is an abbreviated timeline and description of ALEC international interference:

2002: ALEC establishes the International Freedom Exchange with British members of the European Parliament, the Kyrgyz Republic, representatives from Kosovo, a German think-tank, and other interested parties. The purpose of these talks is to “promote closer working relations between America’s state political leaders and their foreign counterparts.”

chris_heatonharris

Chris Heaton-Harris

2004: Chris Heaton-Harris, British member of the European Parliament, gives a speech in Washington, DC, at the ALEC States and Nation Policy Summit, the gist of which is that Britain doesn’t have an organization like ALEC and desperately needs one. RogerHelmer, also a British MEP, makes a speech at an ALEC function.

2005: Sally McNamara, one of the American organizers for ALEC functions, is named International Relations Project Director, and became a regular columnist for The Bruges Group, a London-based think-tank. She also attended the Heritage Foundation’s conference; “Is the European Union in the Interests of the United States?” Speakers included ChristopherBooker (journalist and editor, UK Daily Telegraph), Judge RobertH.Bork (Distinguished Fellow, Hudson Institute) and The Rt. Hon David Heathcoat-Amory MP (British parliamentarian).

ALEC hosted five conservative legislators from the European Parliament at a roundtable discussion on June 27th. MartinCallanan, ChrisHeaton-Harris, RogerHelmer, DanHannan and Michal Tomasz Kaminski MEPs briefed ALEC members on a range of topics, including REACH, the draft European Constitution and the precautionary principle.

ALEC welcomed Czech Republic MEP, Dr.IvoStrejcek to its 32nd Annual Meeting in Grapevine, Texas. Dr.Strejcek spoke about the importance of the Transatlantic Relationship and the role of legislators in preserving the alliance.

As part of its International Relations Project, ALEC took a group of legislators and private sector members to Strasbourg and Prague to meet with leading members of the European public policy community.

The InstitutoLiberdade, an independent, free market Brazilian think-tank, promoted ALEC’s paper on intellectual property rights and the global agenda.

McNamara at Heritage

McNamara speaking at a Heritage function

(McNamara is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Heritage Foundation and speaks at many events covering international topics: http://fora.tv/2006/12/12/Poland_on_the_Eve_of_Martial_Law.

2006: ALEC launched its international legislators’ membership program in Strasbourg, in October, to register local, regional, national and international legislative members.

july-2006-syed-chris-heaton-harris-mep-and-ivo-strejcek-mep-and-roger-helmer-mep


2006 – Helmer along with other Int. members, holding ALEC Award

ALEC attended its second States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington D.C. in December, with speeches and breakout discussions by Roger Helmer (Member of the European Parliament, UK), Dr. John K. Glenn (Director of Foreign Policy, German Marshall Fund of the United States) and Dr. Boguslaw Winid (Deputy Chief of Mission, Polish Embassy).

ALEC was invited to the opening of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom (February 16). In his speech at the new Center, Dr. Liam Fox MP (UK), lectured on the special relationship between London and Washington.

ALEC held an international relations seminar with BillCash, Member of Parliament (UK), in April. Bill Cash is President of the European Foundation, a London-based think-tank dedicated to Euro-realist policy analysis of European Union issues.

2008 – 2011: ALEC claimed the “right” to be consulted by the United Nations, and to register as an NGO.

ALEC International Relations Task Force inaugurated to attract membership among multinational corporations and trade organizations and to promote their international issues in regard to trade and taxation, the first of which to be addressed were: to urge the Obama Administration to open Free Trade negotiations with Taiwan; to urge the EU to repeal its ban on smokeless tobacco; to “reaffirm” open and reciprocal trade with Canada (by hampering the Buy American and Reinvestment and Recovery Acts); and to establish the ALEC Democracy and Governance Program to “encourage democracy” abroad.

Roger Helmer, MEP, fingered climate change as “bad policy” in an interview with Inside ALEC for the November/December 2010 issue.

ALEC held its International Relations Task Force and Federal Relations Working Group convention in Scottsdale AZ, in December, 2011.

The so-called Atlantic Bridge began to fall apart in 2011, when British MEPs and a few others were investigated for expense irregularities stemming from all the travel back and forth on ALEC’s nickel. This, of course, made a much larger splash in Europe than it did in America. It is also important to note that ALEC’s international infrastructure, including the web of contacts, is intact.

I am deeply and sincerely indebted to Liam Sean McKnight for his tireless research of the European side of ALEC’s interference.  Many of the facts used in this article were found at Liam’s site: http://na-saighneain.com/index.html. Readers researching ALEC’s foreign membership and international agenda should visit this important and document laden site.

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

By Bob Sloan

Today prison industries are booming with hundreds of thousands of prisoners employed in factories manufacturing a myriad assortment of products and providing services such as call centers, customer service, marketing, reservations and manual labor for municipalities.  Thousands of American workers have been displaced by companies choosing low paid prisoners as a labor force.  Many of these companies realize additional profits from subsidized leases for state manufacturing facilities within prison compounds.  This has been the trend since 1999 but today, as a Burl Ives lyric proclaims, “times, they are a changin’…”

Nevada represents the latest resistance to prison programs taking jobs out of the private sector and allowing unfair competition between private businesses where one company has access to low paid prisoners for their private workforce.

On May 29th legislation reining in control of Nevada’s prison industry program, passed the state Senate and was sent to the desk of Governor Brian Sandoval.  On June 1 the Governor signed the new legislation and it becomes law in Nevada on July1, 2013.  The introduction, passage and signing into law of this necessary legislation is a huge victory for opponents of prison industry programs in the U.S. – and signals to other states the need for similar vigilance of prison industrial programs.

Sen Smith 4-29

Senator Debbie Smith

Known as Senate Bill (SB) 478, the Nevada legislation was introduced and sponsored by the Senate’s Interim Finance Committee as a means of tightening controls over Nevada’s prison industry partnerships. Author of the bill was Senator Debbie Smith, Chair of the Senate Finance and Interim Finance Committees.

Private companies (union and non-union) joined ranks with union leaders in support of changing state laws regarding prison industry operations in Nevada.  

Sen. Richard Bryan

Sen. Richard Bryan

Former Nevada Governor and U.S. Senator, Richard Bryan, met several times with the state Board of Prison Commissioners and appeared before both Senate and Assembly committee meetings where he argued that necessary changes must be made to the existing prison industry regulations.

Senator Bryan was not involved in the actual writing or introduction of this measure (Senate Bill 478), but in interviews he stated he supported the proposed original legislation as it would open the program to needed transparency that would limit unfair competition complained of by workers and businesses in Nevada.  The Senator has not spoken publicly since the legislation was amended and passed, so it is unknown if he continues to fully support the amended language of SB 478.

Danny Thompson

AFLCIO Exec. Sec. Treasurer, Danny Thompson

sb 478 hearing conway

Ironworkers Local 433 Bus. Agent, Robbie Conway

Support also came from the AFLCIO, the local Ironworkers union and several law enforcement unions.  The AFLCIO’s Executive Secretary Treasurer, Danny Thompson and Ironworkers Local 433 Business Agent, Robbie Conway were the most vocal and outspoken union representatives on the prison industry issue.  Both made appearances before the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Nevada Senate and Assembly at hearings and meetings to object to the use of inmate labor to openly compete for the jobs of unemployed Nevada workers.

While both Thompson and Conway objected to prisoners being used by private companies to compete against other private businesses and workers, they were very concerned about the safety of Nevadans from projects built using prisoners in a “training program”.  One such project was the bridge over Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas.  Another is the Wet ‘N Wild water park project being built in Summerlin.  A third is the SkyVue Wheel on the Las Vegas strip.

wet n wild

SkyVue pic

All of these projects were scheduled to be built with structural steel components manufactured by prisoners working in a prison industry training program located at High Desert State Prison.  That was the intent until the public became informed about the use of prisoners manufacturing key structural components for such projects and in response the Governor ordered the closure of the prison industry where the steel was made.

This state action in Nevada follows similar legislative amending in Texas in 2009-2010 after businesses complained of unfair competition from prison industry operations there.  The Texas circumstances are nearly identical with a situation that consequently evolved in Nevada just three years later.

Lufkin Industry’s trailer division was shut down due to an undisclosed operation by a prison company making the same products and selling them competitively in Lufkin’s market.  Following this discovery, the Texas legislature enacted laws to protect workers and competitors from prison operated industries using inmate labor.

This legislative session, Nevada was forced to take similar steps to protect workers and business owners from suffering the same fate as workers in Texas.

Silver State Industries (SSI), operated by the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) enters into contracts with private companies to allow the use of inmates as a labor force for manufacturing goods.  Previously these partnerships were developed quietly with a total lack of transparency or notice to competing companies regarding any possible impact upon private business or Nevada’s unemployed workers competing for business or jobs.

Cox-listens-to-testimony-cropDirector Cox of the Nevada Department of Corrections candidly admitted earlier this year that he and his department had not been following requirements and protocols called for by state law and department regulations.  Besides the undisclosed competition using inmate labor, there is an issue of lost money from possible mismanagement of the NDOC.

One of more of these “industry” operations using prisoners as a labor force for select private companies resulted in substantial dollars lost to the state due to non-payment of leases, wages, utility costs and other expenses advanced to companies in an effort of keeping them operating and prisoners employed.  SSI’s current account receivables are in excess of $600,000 and previously in 2010 $800,000 was sent to collectors to try and recover.

As a result of poor business practices, SSI has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and nearly exhausted a $1.5 million dollar contingency fund.  The industry closed by order of the Governor was a metal/steel fabrication plant at the High Desert State Prison.  This single operation is at the center of the controversy surrounding prison labor and unfair competition that formed the basis for the new legislation.

Silver State Industries had a long standing contract with Alpine Steel, LLC that allowed inmates to manufacture structural steel used in public and private projects secured through standard industry bid procedures.  Alpine used the cheap labor they paid to inmate workers as a means to secure numerous competitive contracts utilizing low labor projections/costs.  Other companies protested they were losing work and thus unable to hire more unemployed steel workers due to unfair competition from Alpine using state prisoners as the company’s “private workforce”.

When it was discovered Alpine was not paying the lower wages owed to the inmate workers or salaries of NDOC supervisory staffers, the story elicited strong reactions from taxpayers and lawmakers alike.  In addition to these payroll defaults, Alpine was behind on agreed lease and utility payments and had failed to reimburse the state for worker comp premiums on the inmate workers – for a period of approximately four years.  The state paid the wages of staffers, the work comp premiums and utility costs which mean the “taxpayers” were subsidizing a substantial amount of Alpine’s operation.

Under media and public pressure, the Governor became involved in December of last year.  Almost immediatelyAlpine’s prison industry operation was ordered closed.  Following the closure Alpine and the NDOC negotiated a repayment agreement with the Attorney General’s office that was very favorable to Alpine’s owner.  The agreement allows Randy Bulloch to make monthly payments to the state over a period of another four years until the debt is paid.  Surprisingly, this agreement does not provide for any interest, fine or penalty for the huge debt from the default(s).  Ultimately the state wound up on the hook for $438,000+ owed by Bulloch.

DD Connett

NDOC Deputy Director, Brian Connett

These default(s) were known to NDOC Director Cox and Deputy Director Brian Connett (Deputy Director of the Prison Industry) but neither took any positive steps to recover the money owed and bring Alpine current.

As originally proposed, SB 478, subsection 7 required notices and an opportunity to be consulted about proposed new prison industry projects be provided to private companies and labor organizations.  It further required the NDOC Director and Deputy Director of Prison Industries to provide the Senate Interim Finance Committee (IFC) on Industrial Programs with information on possible impacts upon labor or sales from proposed new prison industries.

Instead of requiring the NDOC to consult directly with businesses that may be affected by new or proposed industries, the amended legislation (subsections #7 in the amended text) calls for other state agencies or departments to conduct studies and submit reports of possible conflicts involving labor or market sales.

Though the legislation as passed does not contain all the provisions hoped for by supporters, necessary key provisions calls for more transparency and oversight over prison industries – and their competition against private companies having to compete against low prison wages.

Two key provisions of SB 478 are the provision that the NDOC must provide documentation to the IFC for approval of new programs and then if approved there, any proposed program must be considered by the Board of Prison Commissioners (composed of the Governor, AG and Secretary of State) for final approval.  Though this provision was already in place, these were circumvented previously.  The second change is the addition of a second union representative added to the IFC Industrial Program Committee.  This will help ensure Nevada workers are protected from unfair prison labor displacing them or taking jobs from a constantly dwindling job market.

Provisions that the NDOC seek approval for new industry projects from the Bureau of Prison Commissioners, provide notice to the private sector, consultation with businesses and labor on proposed new industries and that any industry have an “insignificant” impact upon displacement of workers; were requirements that were not followed.  These actions – or lack of action – were behind the need for this new legislation in the first place.  Ironically this failure to inform or consult directly with competing companies and unions necessitated SB 478…yet as passed, that critical component has been removed from the final language of the bill.

Cox originally took the position of “neutral” on the proposed legislation…then changed that to “opposed” to the bill.  Finally after negotiating out the requirement to provide direct notice to labor or competing companies, Cox and the NDOC came out in “support” of the measure.  This manipulation gives the appearance that the NDOC wants to avoid any direct notice or contact with the very businesses the prison industry program will be competing against.

The default by one company resulted in complaints against the NDOC for using inmate labor to compete unfairly against private companies.  Everyone involved realized the potential for lost jobs in the private sector along with lost sales to competing companies and led to hearings and meetings before the Board of Prison Commissioners and several Senate and Assembly Committee meetings in 2012 and early this year.

Ultimately information that came out in those hearings and through the media revealed that the NDOC’s prison industry program was “off the chain” (to use the vernacular) and being operated without any true oversight – by the NDOC or other government authorities.  In the end Alpine Steel did Nevadans a favor by their defaulting across the board.  The action of this one company is what angered the public and led to a quick response from lawmakers and the Executive branch.

Unexpectedly, the NDOC continued to use Randy Bulloch as a spokesman for continuing prison industry operations as they were.  Bulloch appeared at nearly every Committee hearing; before the Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Senate Judiciary Committee and before the General Assembly – side by side with SSI Deputy Director, Connett – speaking in support of continuing the prisoner “training program” and arguing that using such labor was really not unfair competition.  At one point he argued if he and other companies using inmate labor had to pay prisoners fair or comparable wages, it would result in closing prison industries altogether.  In advancing that argument he failed to realize that while the low wages and cheap lease of state owned industry facilities to his company provided increased profits, such came at the expense of workers displaced by the prisoners and businesses that lost contracts to Alpine due to the use of prison labor.

This was the “unfair competition” businesses, the public and organized labor protested against and the legislature agreed with them on.  That’s why it was unexpected to see Bulloch, Cox and Connett continue to confer and present arguments against reform of the prison industry in the face of widespread calls demanding reform by everyone else.

SB 478 surprised everyone – lawmakers and public alike – by how quickly it advanced through the Senate and then Assembly once introduced.  Historically proposed legislation takes a substantial amount of time being discussed, amended and again discussed before ever getting to the point of a vote.  This bill introduced on March 25th passed in just over 60 days and will become law approximately 90 days after submission.

The NDOC and the department’s head of SSI will remain in charge of the state’s prison industry program.  Even after demonstrating the agency and top administrators violated the state laws and administrative regulations, the NDOC has been able to successfully maintain overall control.

I weighed in on this issue in Nevada as soon as the issue became public.  As the Executive Director of the Voters Legislative Transparency Project (VLTP), I provided research, a “white paper” report with documentation to Governor Sandoval, AG Cortez-Masto, Secretary of State Miller, members of the state Assembly, the IFC on Industrial Programs, the Senate and personally to Director Cox.

VLTP Directors and staff traveled to Nevada to be in attendance at some of those meetings and spoke directly with Mr. Bulloch and others on the issues.  Many of the tough questions posed to Cox and Bulloch in subsequent hearings or meetings originated from the VLTP analysis and report.

VLTP has publicly supported the legislative efforts to bring the prison industry program in Nevada under control and force it to operate in a transparent manner.  I’m gladdened that all the effort put into solving this issue has been successful and will benefit workers and businesses moving forward.

The final version of SB 478 came as a result of compromise between lawmakers, businesses, union leaders, workers and the NDOC.  None of those involved got everything they wanted but that’s how “compromise” works.  It’s a needed step in the right direction and now new SSI industry programs or projects will come under intense scrutiny and vetting prior to implementation.  Such scrutiny was absent previously.

Expecting the same government bodies; the Legislature’s IFC and the Board of Examiners to protect the interests of workers and competing business owners is difficult.  Oversight and transparency will be the key ingredients to keeping the prison industry program from once again getting out of control.  This new legislation appears to provide both.

Nevada Sex Trafficking Bill AB67: The Final Showdown… Or Is It? (Part 2)

panic-button(Part 1: What Happens in Vegas… Could Get You 10 Years to Life)

The final Nevada Senate Judiciary hearing of sex trafficking bill AB67 took place on May 28th during the last full week of the regular 2013 legislative session. In contrast to the dominant media portrayal of the bill being a no-brainer to pass to protect women and children from violent pimps forcing them into sexual slavery, the original 39-page (!) bill drafted by the Washington, DC anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project contained numerous problematic sections. One major opposition raised was the potential to severely punish a lot of people consensually engaged in the sex industry who have no involvement in the sex slavery black market.

After extensive revisions from the bill as introduced into the Assembly on February 20th, the Senate hearing was a 3-hour showdown over additional revisions. While everyone agreed that real situations of sexual servitude must be seriously addressed (although there is no valid evidence on the extent of the problem in Nevada), representatives from the Clark County Public Defender’s Office, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada, Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice (NACJ), Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Las Vegas, and a major Las Vegas Gentlemen’s Club voiced concerns about the potential for violating human rights and wasting limited resources ensnaring innocent people as sex traffickers given the bill’s overly broad definitions and removal of certain defenses for the accused.

Nevada Attorney General (AG) Catherine Cortez Masto who sponsored the bill and Special Deputy AG Brett Kandt continually shot back at those who proposed further amendments saying that they were unnecessary as it was not “the intent” of the bill and to “trust prosecutorial discretion” not to use the law in whatever particular way the amendment aimed to remedy. A tense back and forth ensued with the ACLU of Nevada’s Allen Lichtenstein arguing that the language in the bill should carefully reflect the stated intent as the law’s language is what is used in court for prosecution. What about overzealous prosecutors? Although the legislative intent of AB67 was placed on record, lawyers contended that the courts rarely agree to go to legislative record to determine judicial interpretation when legislation is ambiguous.

While ultimately the committee voted to give the AG the tools provided in a 32-page version of AB67 to go after sex traffickers, serious reservations remained as to how these tools will be used on the ground and against whom. For example, the pandering statute states that it does not apply to the customer of a prostitute; however, the new sex trafficking statute does not include this provision. Tourists come to “Sin City” Las Vegas often thinking that prostitution is legal. (It was quickly pointed out that brothels are only legal in rural Nevada counties and “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”)

As anyone under the age of 18 who engages in prostitution is defined as a victim of sex trafficking under federal law and AB67 disallows the defenses of reasonable mistake of age or consent of a victim to an act of prostitution, what if a 17-year old actively acquires false identification that reads she is 21-years old so that she can work in a Vegas Gentlemen’s Club? What if a tourist solicits a 17-year old for commercial sex in a Vegas club assuming she is 21-years old because she is being served alcohol based on her fake ID? Can the tourist be charged with sex trafficking and sentenced a 5-year minimum mandatory?

AG Masto and Kandt argued that these are far-fetched situations with Masto sharply retorting, “But it is a crime to solicit someone anyway!” First, are these far-fetched situations? Second, opponents responded that

there are already laws on the books to address solicitation and pandering and that great care should be taken to make a marked distinction between those and the severity of the particular crime of sex trafficking with the intent of profiting from sex slavery, especially given the harsh penalties for conviction.

Senate Judicial Chair Tick Segerblom stated that the law will be watched closely for how it is used and revisited as needed next legislative session. NACJ and the ACLU indicated that a constitutional challenge is possible. Stay tuned!

 

Written by Jennifer J. Reed, MA
PhD Student, Department of Sociology
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

May 31-June 7: Weekly ALEC/Koch Review of Articles and Material

May 31-June 7: Weekly ALEC/Koch Review of Articles and Material

By Bob Sloan

Lots of material and topics involving Koch brothers and their ALEC funded organization this week; education, environment, telecommunications, worker rights (paid sick leave).

Grab a cold one, sit back and spend a few minutes catching up on relevant news related to the “Cabal”…

Click on headline to read the full articles or review linked documents.

My view: ALEC coverage a disservice to Utah

The future is bright for many Utahns. So bright, in fact, that it could be blinding us to the many inequities that still exist here. The Deseret News published an editorial (“How to lead a recovery” May 26) and a My View by state senate president Wayne Niederhauser (“Utah’s economic advantage continues” May 28) about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual report, both of which are unfortunate examples of this blindness. Both the editorial and My View could be mistaken as press releases straight from ALEC’s public relations department.

New Study Shows ‘Red’ States Have Highest Economic Potential

States with higher taxes and tighter restrictions on business development tend to usually end up at the bottom of the list. “Blue” states New York and Vermont are the last two states on the list this year, Fox News reported. That said, there are some who say Utah is not necessarily an ideal model for economic growth. “It’s hard to say that states should try to pattern themselves after Utah,” said Tracy Gordon of the Brookings Institution. “So for example, I know the authors are not fans of the income tax, but in good years the income tax performs very well in states like New York and California that rely on it heavily. So should California and New York try to look more like Utah? Probably not,” Gordon said.

Tillis-Brawley spat rooted in cable fight

An unusually public dispute between two Republican state legislators that erupted last week has its roots in, of all things, a national debate over city-owned broadband systems.

In the push for the 2011 legislation, telecommunications companies and trade associations steered $1.6 million to state lawmakers from 2006 to 2011, including Tillis, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. During 2010-11, the $37,000 Tillis received from eight political action committees and trade associations, including Time Warner’s political action committee, was more than eight times what he received from the PACs from 2006 to 2008.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a nonprofit that promotes free markets and limited government and receives funding from corporations such as Time Warner, has supported the effort to rein in city-owned systems that can offer cable TV, Internet and phone services. The group offers “model legislation” that can be used by lawmakers drafting their own bills. Tillis is a member of the ALEC board. ALEC members have become concerned in recent years because cities are building broadband systems in areas already served by the private sector, said John Stephenson, director of ALEC’s communications and technology task force. This can lead to high costs for taxpayers if the municipalities incur debt to build the system, he said.

WHERE THE REAL DAMAGE GETS DONE

It long has been the opinion of the blog that the elite political press is missing the real political action in this country because, for the most part, it concentrates either on what’s going on in Washington, or in the horse race aspects of whatever election is next. But the real action — and all the real damage — is being done out in the states, especially in those states in which the 2010 elections brought in majority Republican legislatures and majority Republican governors. This is part of what we play for laughs every Thursday when we survey what’s goin’ down in The Laboratories Of Democracy. But what’s goin’ down is highly organized, tightly disciplined, and very sharply directed. By now, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and what it’s about, is an open secret. Everybody covering politics knows about it. Everybody covering politics knows where the money for its activities comes from. Everybody in politics knows what its political aims are. And yet, when we have retrograde laws and policies pop up in state after state — most notably in recent days, in the newly insane state of North Carolina — it is always treated as a kind of localized outbreak.

Taking On Sallie Mae and the Cost of Education

Nearly 200 students, parents, community members and union leaders rallied at Sallie Mae’s annual shareholder meeting in Newark, Delaware, last Thursday. On the agenda: first, demand that the nation’s largest private student loan lender meet directly with students to discuss their crushing debt burden; and second, introduce a shareholder resolution calling for disclosure of the corporation’s lobbying practices and membership in groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The resolution asked that the board disclose in an annual report the corporation’s policies, procedures and payments for direct and indirect lobbying; as well as its membership and payments to any tax-exempt organization “that writes and endorses model legislation.” (See: ALEC.) Although there has yet to be a tally of the vote, organizers hope that they received the support of approximately 30 percent of the shareholders. UPDATE: The resolution has received over 35 percent of shareholder votes. (Importantly, this figure understates support for the resolution, as there were a large number of abstentions counted as no votes.) Student organizers say that they are very pleased with this result.

Is the government spying on environmental groups?

Corporations are teaming up with government agencies to put law-abiding anti-fracking activists under surveillance

By 2007, 70 percent of the US intelligence budget – or about $38 billion annually – was spent on private contractors. Much of this largesse has been directed toward overseas operations. But it is likely that some of that money has been paid to private contractors – hired either by corporations or law enforcement agencies – that are also in the business of spying on American citizens. As early as 2004, in a report titled “The Surveillance Industrial Complex,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned that the “US security establishment is making a systematic effort to extend its surveillance capacity by pressing the private sector into service to report on the activities of Americans.” At the same time, corporations are boosting their own security operations. Today, overall annual spending on corporate security and intelligence is roughly $100 billion, double what it was a decade ago, according to Brian Ruttenbur, a defense analyst with CRT Capital… …Earlier this year, a bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania legislature that would make it a felony to videotape farming operations in Pennsylvania – so-called “ag-gag” legislation that has already passed in Utah and Iowa, and has been introduced in several other legislatures. Many of the ag-gag bills draw on language crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act.” (In recent years ALEC has received considerable support from the natural gas industry). Section D of the ALEC bill defines an animal or ecological terrorist organization in broad terms “as any association, organization, entity, coalition, or combination of two or more persons” who seek to “obstruct, impede or deter any person from participating” not only in agricultural activity but also mining, foresting, harvesting, and gathering or processing of natural resources.

 A Brief Summary of Corporate Depravity Shows How They Earn Our Contempt

The United States has been described by some as creeping toward corporatocracy, a nation where the government colludes with multi-national corporations and the wealthy elite to rule the populace. The connotation is always that corporations are sinister and operate with almost diabolical motivations. What did they do to deserve this reputation? Why do so many people in capitalist nations mistrust entitieswhose sworn allegiance is to profit above all else? Their stories come out gradually over time, and like the proverbial frog in boiling water, people acclimate to their bad behavior. What happens when you consolidate just a few of their misdeeds into one place? Websites like RedState.com and Foreign Affairs boast that “Corporations Are Good.” The first reaction to this statement is, “Not unless they are forced to be.” Whether they are knowingly using underpaid laborers overseas, refusing to chip in any funds to see these workers’ factory work sites made safer following a catastrophe in Bangladesh, lyingabout oil spills, or they are installing a new government when they don’t like the way the current government is taxing them and making demands about treatment of laborers, corporations have earned their nasty reputations. They have used the resources of each country they occupy, whether it is raw materials, infrastructure, education systems, research, legal systems, or defense, yet they feel no obligation to contribute to any of the nations where they reside. It would seem the only answer is to resist corporatocracy, particularly by not allowing them to write laws through their legislative arm, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). If corporations are people, my friend, they have psychopathic tendencies. People with behavior disorders need supervision, and empowering government and our courts to regulate corporations is the only way they are going to improve their conduct. But there has been a growing tide of opposition, as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has helped push bills that preempt cities’ ability to pass paid sick leave legislation. Such efforts have cropped up in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Mississippi.

Connecticut Lawmakers Consider Bill That Could Undermine Paid Sick Leave

Connecticut made history two years ago when it became the first state in the country to guarantee its workers paid sick days. The bill requires service workers to earn an hour of sick leave for every forty hours worked. But now the state’s lawmakers are considering a bill that could undermine the initial legislation. S.B. 1007, which has passed the state Senate and is being considered in the House, would open loopholes for employers while whittling away at the benefits the original law created, according to analysis by the National Partnership for Women & Families and Family Values at Work.

Not-So-Charitable Contributions

This week’s big CBO report on tax expenditures has spurred some interesting secondary analysis. One that should spur some tertiary discussion came from Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews, who focused on one of those tax policies that primary benefits the wealthiest taxpayers: the charitable contributions deduction. The social theory behind this deduction, it is usually assumed, is that it operates as a form of redistribution, since the contributions channel dollars to the needy clients of charities—without all that messy government bureaucracy, doncha know. But drawing on a couple of studies, Matthews challenges that assumption dramatically: even using a pretty loose definition of “helping the poor,” he finds that only 30.6% of charitable giving actually goes in that direction. Beyond these often-worthy but not exactly redistributive purposes, there are, of course, a bunch of foundations and “public-society-benefit” institutions that have the much-prized tax status of 501(c)(3) organizations, entitling donors to a tax deduction. And here can be found fine organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the National Right To Life Educational Trust Fund, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, none of whom are exactly know for a devotion to helping the poor. (It should be noted that some (c)(3)s, including the Heritage Foundation and the liberal Center for American Progress, also have affiliated “action funds” that are outside the charitable designation but have the freedom to more directly engage in political activities. These are among the famous 501(c)(4) organizations that have been in the news lately: contributions aren’t deductible to donors, but the organizations themselves are tax-exempt, which also represents a tax subsidy).

Noam Chomsky on Democracy and Education in the 21st Century and Beyond

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, political critic and activist. He is an institute professor and professor emeritus in the department of linguistics and philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. History educator Daniel Falcone spoke with Chomsky in his Cambridge office on May 14. Falcone: Do we as a nation have a reason to fear an assault on public education and the complete privatization of education? CHOMSKY: So now, take for example ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. It’s corporate funded, the Koch brothers and those guys. It’s an organization which designs legislation for states, for state legislators. And they’ve got plenty of clout, so they can get a lot of it through. Now they have a new program, which sounds very pretty on the surface. It’s designed to increase “critical thinking.” And the way you increase critical thinking is by having “balanced education.” “Balanced education” means that if you teach kids something about the climate, you also have to teach them climate change denial. It’s like teaching evolution science, but also creation science, so that you have “critical thinking.” All of this is a way of turning the population into a bunch of imbeciles. That’s really serious. I mean, it’s life and death at this point, not just making society worse.

Bill Berry: Scott Walker’s agenda threatens public education By now it’s obvious that attempts by Gov. Scott Walker and some of his pals to privatize K-12 education isn’t sitting well with many in Walker’s own party. Walker’s plan to expand school vouchers has moderate Republicans and many from rural areas concerned. Earlier this month, 14 rural Republicans called for an increase to public school funding, in effect opposing Walker’s budget proposal that would keep revenues flat for another two years. Walker has no such respect for public schools. As Julie Underwood, dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has courageously pointed out, Wisconsin is among states threatened by the extremist American Legislative Exchange Council’s formula for privatizing education and eroding local control. Walker is ALEC’s Wisconsin operative.

Scaife-Funded Network Works Hard to Kill Immigration Reform

With immigration reform advancing through Congress, an anti-immigrant network funded by a small group of right-wing foundations is trying to kill reform by pressuring moderate Republicans and appealing to the party’s xenophobic wing. The groups could stymie efforts by some Republicans to appeal to the country’s growing Latino population by moving to the center on immigration. The anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and others are using shoddy research methods to claim that immigration is at fault for a whole host of problems in America, from crime toincome inequality. ProEnglish, a lobbying organization that advocates for “official English,” has released avideo attacking Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for his work on the immigration bill. The Center for Immigration Studies has testified in Congress against reform, claiming “virtually all illegal aliens are guilty of multiple felonies.” All of these organizations are connected to John Tanton, a nativist who has formed anetwork of radical anti-immigration groups, all of which receive a significant portion of their funding from foundations tied to the Scaife family. Regardless of their fringe viewpoints, in the past, Dr. Tanton’s groups have played a successful role incrusading against immigration. Four years ago, NumbersUSA was key in organizing protest calls to Congress and supplying talking points to legislators to help defeat President George W. Bush’s legalization plan. FAIRhelped draft the contentious Arizona law, SB 1070, that grants law enforcement the right to question and detain anyone they suspect of lacking proper documentation for lawful presence in the United States. (The law was also adopted as a model bill by the American Legislative Exchange Council). In addition, in 2010 CIS aimed to defeat the Dream Act, which offers a pathway to citizenship and higher education for minors who were brought to the United States illegally as young children.

Brad Ashwell: Would Koch Brothers be good for journalism?

As you read this newspaper you are probably not thinking much about who owns it. But the question of who may be purchasing it along with several other major newspapers has the attention of many. The Tribune Company, which is the second largest media company in the U.S., is considering the sale of eight newspapers, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel, to Charles and David Koch, two of the most politically active billionaires in the country. There is nothing particularly new or inherently wrong about a wealthy family buying or owning a media company. But, the Koch brothers are not a typical wealthy family. The Koch’s have worked for years to benefit their bottom line at the expense of everyday Americans. They have donated millions to organizations and politicians that deny climate change, attack campaign-spending limits, dismantle worker’s rights, promote discriminatory voter ID laws, restrict access to health care, and increase income inequality. They have aggressively pushed a radical and extremist partisan political agenda by bankrolling think tanks, advocacy organizations, shadowy groups like ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council), astroturf groups and educational institutions. What seems particularly troubling is that many of their efforts have involved shaping public opinion on issues in a way that lacks transparency in order to benefit their own economic interests. To be clear, the issue here is not whether we agree with the Koch brothers positions on various issues. The question is whether we can trust these partisan ideologues to be good public stewards when it comes to providing us with objective news?

Asbestos Bill Invades the Privacy of Victims and Veterans | Commentary

“My husband was the late Congressman Bruce F. Vento, who served for more than 24 years in the House of Representatives representing our home state of Minnesota. Bruce died from pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos, on Oct. 10, 2000, just eight months after being diagnosed and despite receiving excellent medical care at the Mayo Clinic. He would be very disappointed that his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee voted to send HR 982, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act, to the floor.” Since at least the early 1900s, the lethal risks of asbestos exposure have been known — and intentionally hidden from — American workers and their families by companies of all sorts whose bottom lines were more important than the well-being and very lives of their workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Legislative Exchange Council and Georgia Pacific — a company owned by the Koch Brothers, who are pushing this bill — claim it is needed to prevent fraud by asbestos victims when filing claims to company trusts. The asbestos company trusts were structured to enable the companies responsible for poisoning their workers to use bankruptcy reorganization to continue operating. But notably the Government Accountability Office analyzed many company trusts and found no evidence of fraud. A recent newspaper investigation of claims found 0.35 percent of “anomalies” that included clerical errors by the claims administrators of the company trust. Yet somehow asbestos victims have ripped off the system.

60 NC Conservation Groups Identify Most Egregious Anti-Environmental Bills Moving Through General Assembly

June 3, 2013. From the Blue Ridge to the Outer Banks and everywhere in between, North Carolina’s clean air, clean water and unparalleled quality of life have made it a special place and the envy of so many other states in the Southeast and beyond. But over-reaching politicians and short-sighted politics in Raleigh are now putting the state’s renowned quality of life – and its future – at risk. Gov. Pat McCrory wants to open the state’s beaches up to the threat of offshore drilling. His appointee to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has rewritten the department’s mission statement to suggest that environmental science is subject to “a diversity of opinion” and that protection of the state’s environment be subject to cost-benefit analysis. And fossil fuel companies and groups beholden to them – from Halliburton to the American Legislative Exchange Council – are continuing to pressure lawmakers however they can to push their agendas.

ARTICLES IN SUPPORT OF ALEC:

Here’s a Smart Alec We Ought to Heed

Another pro-ALEC editorial opinion without a named author or editor…

California’s situation is so bad that ALEC devotes an entire chapter to it, outlining problems like its growing number of municipal bankruptcies, including San Bernardino, where the main driver is personnel expenses and pension costs. The latter are expected to rise from 13 to 15 percent of the city budget by 2016. “California’s government has imposed upon its citizenry the most onerous business environment in the United States,” the report says. As its authors see it, California is on a road to disaster. The needed first step to avoid it is a thorough overhaul of the state’s tax system. Given the current makeup of the state’s political leadership that change is unlikely to happen, because though term limits rotate the people who populate our government it does nothing to change the philosophies they hold.

National Center for Public Policy Research Completes Activity at 32nd Shareholder Meeting of 2013 Group Holds Corporate CEOs Who Support the Left Accountable – and Supports Those Who Defend the Free Market

Dallas, TX / Washington, D.C. – The National Center for Public Policy Research completed activity at its 32nd corporate shareholder meeting of 2013 this week, as President David Ridenour completed a presentation at the ExxonMobil shareholder meeting in Dallas a few days after appearing at the Home Depot meeting in Atlanta. At ExxonMobil in Dallas, Ridenour spoke against shareholder proposal #7, sponsored by the United Steelworkers, calling on ExxonMobil to annually release what Ridenour called “an extraordinary level of detail in company lobbying disclosures” and to disclose its “membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation.” At ExxonMobil, Ridenour called the United Steelworkers’ proposal “a barely-veiled attempt to make it difficult for the company to work with… the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, a 40-year-old non-partisan, non-profit organization that facilitates collaboration on issues important to all of us among thousands of state legislators in all 50 states.” Ridenour said special interests dependent on government have been pressuring corporations to boycott ALEC “because ALEC shares good ideas in… important policy areas from a perspective that seeks to keep government small and accountable to the people, and our personal and corporate taxes low.” He urged shareholders to vote against the anti-ALEC proposal, which ultimately failed, 25%-75%. An audio recording of Ridenour’s comments is available here.

Three Reasons Why State Polarization Is a Big Deal

Those of us who report on state-level politics usually brag about how much better it is than following Congress. On our beat, after all, bills actually get passed and become law—unlike in D.C., where the Senate can’t even vote for lack of cloture and the House just keeps reapproving the repeal of Obamacare in some endless Politico version of Groundhog Day. In state legislatures, deals get made, budgets get passed (even balanced, if that’s your thing), and not every single issue is defined by a Democratic-Republican split. A new study shows that polarization—the ideological gulf between the average Republican and average Democrat—is growing in state legislatures. Political scientists Boris Shor (University of Chicago) and Nolan McCarty (Princeton University) combined survey results from the Project Vote Smart office-holder questionnaire with roll-call votes, comparing the average Republican and Democratic lawmakers in each state. (The data are available for anyone to play with.) Their findings tell us that state legislatures aren’t quite as polarized as Congress, but they’re moving in the same direction. What’s even more interesting, though, is what polarization actually means—and who benefits from it… …One reason for the shift: increasingly, national groups call the shots for Republican state lawmakers. Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledge, signed by 1,037 current state lawmakers, helped create a method for nationalizing state issues. Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have successfully pushed “model legislation” to Republican lawmakers around the country, accounting for the proliferation of voter ID laws and stand-your-ground laws, among others. Increasingly, big-money conservatives such as the Koch brothers support challenges to “moderate” Republican lawmakers on the state level to enforce ideological purity. The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) spent around $30 million to elect GOP lawmakers in 2010 and another $25 million in 2012.

 

Weekly ALEC/Koch Review of Articles and Material

Weekly ALEC/Koch Review of Articles and Material

By Bob Sloan

Lots of ALEC and Koch cabal related material to catch up on this week.  Click on headline to read the full article or documents.  Much more later in the week…

John Laird: Foxy Don wears ALEC badge in environment henhouse

Putting Don Benton in charge of Clark County’s environment is kind of like asking Boss Hogg to chair the Hazzard County Ethics Commission.

Just a tad counterintuitive.

It will only grow like a fungus on these three characters, especially as the public learns more about Boss Benton’s ALEC badge.

The American Legislative Exchange Council sounds innocent enough. But the truth is, ALEC is every county environment’s worst nightmare. In 2002, two national organizations (the Defenders of Wildlife, and the Natural Resources Defense Council) exhaustively researched ALEC and produced a 52-page page report, “Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States” (read it athttp://www.alecwatch.org). The report states: “Protecting corporate polluters from environmental regulation is a major ALEC goal. The corporations and trade associations that finance virtually all of ALEC activities have used it to mount a wide-ranging and effective assault against laws safeguarding public health and the environment.”

Boss Benton, aghast Clark County residents are learning, is a Washington state co-director of ALEC. It’ll be interesting to see how he serves his two masters, both national and county….

Scott Walker, GOP Slip ALEC Education Agenda Into Wisconsin Budget

Governor Scott Walker seeks to “radically” overhaul Wisconsin’s education system using several pieces of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation, and to do it through the budget process, meaning this privatization agenda could be enacted with minimal public discussion or debate.

The proposed budget provisions have the potential to “radically change public education in the State of Wisconsin,” says Julie Mead, chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Christensen: 5 troubling ideas for NC democracy

All the “ideas” advancing in NC have ALEC’s fingerprints all over them.

With all the hullabaloo about the IRS clamping down on federal tax exemptions for Tea Party and kindred organizations, public attention has been diverted from a bigger threat: groups that are fronts for corporate giants who secretly warp state governments to suit their interests.Several weeks ago the Mississippi mouthpiece for the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise ALEC, blasted me for writing critically about ALEC. Such an innocent-sounding outfit must not be dangerous, huh? We’ll see.Steve Seale, identified as chairman of an ALEC advisory council, also happens to be the highest-paid lobbyist who prowls legislative halls at Mississippi’s state house. He wrote that I was “misguided,” in characterizing ALEC, plus some other less-flattering potshots, for not understanding ALEC is just a good old American “think tank” that is growing ideas to make the country better.

For the first time, a United States president has announced that tackling climate change is a national priority. Yet, Congress shows no signs of passing meaningful legislation — for now, it’s up to states and localities to turn this declaration into action.

But this isn’t new. When it comes to renewable energy, state policy has yielded by far the most progress.

In 29 states, this has come mainly through renewable portfolio/energy standards, known as RPSs. These laws require public utilities to purchase or generate a certain percentage of renewable energy as part of their overall portfolio.

In 2012 the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted model legislation, ironically called the “Electricity Freedom Act,” to repeal these laws. ALEC-backed legislation was introduced this year in North Carolina and numerous other states. 

Importance of Disclosing Financial Gifts

Virginia prides itself on its part-time legislature: Officeholders aren’t full-time lawmakers, but “citizen representatives” whose livelihoods are in the real world, not at the public trough. The requirements placed on them, however, mirror those of their federal comrades up the road from Richmond in Washington.

Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, accepted a trip to Taiwan in 2012, combined with three trips to American Legislative Exchange Council meetings between 2010 and 2012 easily made her the busiest traveler among the Lynchburg area’s delegation to the legislature. Unfortunately, Byron neglected to report her travel to Taiwan. Byron indicated that she didn’t report her trip to Taiwan because Virginia taxpayers didn’t pay for it. However, this is not in keeping with the Virginia disclosure laws. Laws such as financial disclosure regulations are in place to give the general public confidence their legislators have the public’s interests at heart, not those of big donors and lobbyists.

N.C. civil disobedience: Nearly 100 arrested so far for protesting ALEC-ification of state

This week in North Carolina started with 49 arrests at the N.C. General Assembly — arrests of people peaceably assembled and singing songs of peace and unity to protest the ALEC-ification of our state. This brings the total number of civil-disobedience arrests so far to 96, including 17 arrests April 29, 30 arrests on May 6, and 49 arrests on May 13.

Campaign financing: ALEC undermines democracy

Those legislators around the U.S. who wish to limit the rights of labor unions, erode environmental protections, promote charter schools and for-profit prisons, diminish health care reforms, etc., may seek “model legislation” from an organization called ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC’s staff of lawyers who write model bills for legislators are funded by Exxon Mobil, Charles Koch, Johnson & Johnson, State Farm, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline and some 300 other corporate partners. According to Wikipedia’s account of ALEC, the group helps more conservative legislators to promote specific bills by providing “issue alerts,” “talking points” and “press release templates” for their arguments.

In my opinion, ALEC is also helping U.S. corporate giants to undermine democracy and the basic principles on which our country was founded.

The importance of privacy protections

IRS apologists are furiously trying to change the subject from the outrageous targeting of political opponents by the IRS to a policy debate over forced disclosure of contributions to groups that engage in political speech. The story is that a deluge of applications forced the IRS to cut corners and the targeting scandal was an accidental result of mismanaging that flood. From there the apologists pivot to demanding a new crackdown on political speech, forced disclosure of donors, or both. But the story is a fairy tale and the “solutions” are unconstitutional.

From ALEC’s “Rich States, Poor States” annual propaganda report…Not surprisingly once again ALEC ranks Republican controlled states with lower income and corporate taxation, private schools, etc. at the top of the list.

American Legislative Exchange Council Releases New Rich States, Poor States Report

Rich States, Poor States examines the latest trends in state economic growth. The data ranks the 2013 economic outlook of states using 15 equally weighted policy variables, including various tax rates, regulatory burdens and labor policies. The sixth edition focuses on the growing momentum in state capitals for fundamental pro-growth tax and pension reform. Rich States, Poor States also features a case study on California’s fiscal health and outlines how California lawmakers can restore economic prosperity.

Rich States, Poor States clearly demonstrates limited regulation, low taxes, low debt and balanced budgets create the best environment for business, investment, and jobs,” said Utah State Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (SD-9).

Nationally, states with low tax rates, limited government regulations and right-to-work laws were most likely to have a better economic outlook than states with high income taxes and burdensome regulations. The report shows that over a ten-year period, the nine states without personal income taxes have outperformed the nine states with the highest income tax rates in population, job and revenue growth.

Red states hold the edge in growth

The odds of finding a good job are significantly better in the nation’s red states than in blue states, according to a new study of business and tax policies across the country released Thursday.

“Rich States, Poor States,” the annual report by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), examines the latest state trends in economic growth, ranking the 50 states based on their economic prospects for 2013 as well as how they fared from 2001 to 2010.

The study’s authors — economists Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams — conclude that the divide is expanding between pro-growth states, which tend to elect Republicans, and those with anti-growth policies, where Democrats often dominate.

Time to open Connecticut for business

A recent report from the Washington, D.C.,-based American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had some ominous news for Connecticut.

ALEC examined the 2001-2011 economic performance of each state. Some of the variables considered were the states’ gross domestic products, population changes, and gains and losses of non-farm payroll jobs. In its report on the subject, ALEC concluded that the states that did the best from ’01 to ’11 were Texas, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho, Arizona, Alaska, Montana and Washington. Interestingly, the states that most struggled were Mississippi, Wisconsin, Missouri, California, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan.

Hawaii ranks among the bottom ten states in economic competitiveness for the sixth year in a row in a study that measures the impact of state policies in 15 areas from personal income and corporate tax rates to the costs of workers’ compensation.

Hawaii improved to 40th place in 2013 from 46th place in 2012 in the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index.

Report ranks N.Y. 49th out of 50 for economic growth

New York’s income and property taxes and workers’ compensation costs have contributed to the state’s poor economic outlook and ranking as the second to worst state for economic growth, a new report by the American Legislative Exchange Council shows.

Rich States, Poor States looks at the latest trends in state economic growth and ranks each state based on 15 policy variables, including tax rates, regulatory burdens and labor policies. Utah ranked first in terms of overall economic outlook for 2013, while Vermont ranked 50th.

Forum editorial: Call it a sign of the times

Whatever spin one puts on the “North Dakota Open for Business” billboard in Moorhead, the reaction from some (certainly not all) residents of the city is immature and parochial.

For the record, the assessment of North Dakota’s business-friendly economy is being made again and again by independent out-of-state analysts. The latest is from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which ranks North Dakota second best in the nation according to economic growth. Minnesota ranks 46, just four from the bottom.

The council’s report was authored by economist Arthur Laffer, Wall Street Journal senior economic writer Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams, the center’s director for state fiscal reform. Its conclusions are not from North Dakotans patting themselves on the back. But this latest report confirms and expands similar findings of other independent analysts.

Texas ranks 12th in competitiveness, conservative group’s report says

States with low taxes, limited regulations and right-to-work laws — like Texas — saw more economic success over 10 years than those with high income taxes and more regulations, according to a report to be released Thursday.

Utah ranks No. 1 for economic outlook for sixth year in a row

SALT LAKE CITY — For the sixth year in a row, Utah’s economic outlook ranks No. 1 in the nation.

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual “Rich States, Poor States” report, presented Thursday during the Utah Taxpayers Association’s 2013 Utah Taxes Now Conference, puts the Beehive State at the top of the list of states based on a range of measures.

Gov. Gary Herbert described Utah’s latest No. 1 ranking as the “cream rising to the top.”

“The fact that we’re getting accolades from people outside of our borders is indicative to the fact that we’re accomplishing something,” the governor said. “People are looking to us as the leader.”

Do you believe Vermont’s economic prospects are the worse in the nation?

Here’s something to chew on. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) issued its latest edition of “Rich States, Poor States” and it ranked Vermont dead last based on its current economic policies and prospects for growth.

The news release accompanying the link to the report says:
“A key takeaway is that states with lower taxes and fiscally responsible policies experience far more economic growth, job creation and in-migration than their high tax, big government counterparts.”

The report’s authors are Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, an economist; Wall Street Journal senior economics writer Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams, director of ALEC’s Center for State Fiscal Reform.

One reason for this “poor ranking”?  ALEC’s big tobacco members are upset about increasing taxation on their products – as are other corporate members selling food and drink products:

“These taxes include increasing the $2.62 tax on a pack of cigarettes to $3.12 and also increasing the $1.87 per ounce tax on smokeless tobacco and snuff to $2.60.30 The tax hike package raised the personal income tax for high income earners and capped itemized deductions. Some of the additional tax hikes include extending a 6 percent sales tax to each item of clothing priced at $110 or more, increasing the 9 percent meals tax to 9.5 and expanding it to vending machines, while also excluding bottled water, candy, and dietary supplements from the food sales tax exemption.”

 

ALEC & Corporate Tort Reform Efforts Surface in Federal Court Decision

ALEC & Corporate Tort Reform Efforts Surface in Federal Court Decision

Featured photo credit: Tim Meko/For the Center for Public Integrity

By Bob Sloan

Recently a federal case involving gross physical abuse, discrimination and underpayment of wages to 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered such abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer, was decided by a jury in favor of the workers.  The jury awarded $240 million in actual and punitive damages.  Following that judgment another federal judge has reduced that award to a total of $1.6 million.

In an article about this case, written by Chris Young for the Center for Public Integrity, Young identifies two key factors that resulted in the huge reduction in the amount of the award.  First the American’s with Disabilities Act has caps that limit the amount of damages.

“Under the act, compensatory and punitive damages are capped at $50,000 for companies like Henry’s that employ between 14 and 101 employees.”

Secondly, the judge who reduced the award, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa is a frequent attendee of pro-corporate seminars and is considered to be “corporate friendly.”

“An Iowa federal judge who frequently attends business-friendly judicial education conferences slashed a landmark $240 million verdict to $1.6 million for 32 mentally disabled workers who suffered abuse and discrimination at the hands of their employer.”

In fact in a related story by Young, Judge Wolfe is one of the top attendees of conservative “junkets” paid for by the likes of the Koch Family Foundations and organized by the Koch funded George Mason University:

“The most-traveled judges, according to reports filed online by the judges, were U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle of the Southern District of Iowa and Chief Judge Thomas B. Bennett of the Northern District of Alabama Bankruptcy Court. Each reported attending nine seminars.

“Wolle is a “senior status” judge, meaning he is semi-retired. He did not respond to requests for comment.”

The reduction of the initial jury award by Judge Wolfe appears on the surface to be legally required under existing ADA rules and legislative restrictions.  The judge’s hands were “tied” by the law setting a limit on what those disabled workers could receive.  A larger and more important question is – who is responsible for tying the hands of our judiciary?

When we look beyond the law and investigate why such “caps” are in place, we find that in most cases pro-corporate and anti-consumer laws known as tort laws, originate within and are spread by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC claims to have 2,000 elected state lawmakers as members and close to 100 sitting U.S. Congressmen and women are ALEC alumni.  This legislative membership is sponsored, funded and works in concert with more than 350 corporations.

One of ALEC’s key initiatives over the past two decades has been the pursuit of “tort reform” legislation that limits the ability of consumers to recover damages inflicted by defective products, negligence, medical malpractice or corporate malfeasance.  In fact, ALEC and their corporate partners have developed and distributed dozens and dozens of model legislative tort reform “bills” and many of these have been successfully passed and now serve as the “law of the land” regarding consumer and worker rights.

Last year VLTP published several articles related to the ALEC/Koch Cabal’s involvement in unduly influencing our state and federal judiciaries.  This influence included the filing of Amicus briefs (friend of the court) in important cases involving key topics important to corporate interests; tort reform, second amendment gun rights, taxation, EPA and environmental issues and telecommunication laws.

Additional influence involves “training” seminars sponsored and paid for by conservative funded think tanks, corporations and foundations such as the Koch Family Foundation(s) and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.  Federal judges are treated to all expense paid junkets to plush resorts where they attend seminars focusing upon the ALEC/Koch agenda of limited government, free-markets and federalism.

Other sponsors of these events include federal judges themselves who help fund these conservative training sessions for new judicial appointees to enhance their knowledge and skills in complex areas of the law – from a conservative POV. The main or core corporate funding comes from:

  • The Searle Freedom Trust
  • ExxonMobil Corp.
  • Shell Oil Co.
  • Pfizer Inc.
  • State Farm Insurance
  • Dow Chemical Co.
  • AT&T Inc.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce 

All of these companies and organization have one thing in commonality: they are all either ALEC members, former members or supporters of ALEC and representatives of most even now sit upon ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council.

The Center for Public Integrity identifies the same companies, foundations and family names involved that VLTP identified over a year ago…and ABC reported on over a decade ago.  Since 2000 states have implemented law after law written by corporate interests, adopted by ALEC and supported by legislators working on behalf of ALEC instead of the rights of their constituents.

In 2001 ABC’s 20/20 presented an expose titled “Junkets for Judges” which can be found on YouTube in a two part presentation.  Here is a link to part one.  Though the 20/20 expose concentrated upon George Mason University’s involvement in providing these trips for our judges,we found several additional universities and private, non-profit organizations participating in these efforts at both the state and federal level.  All but one are provided by conservative organizations, foundations or schools:

•    George Mason University(Law and Economics Center – LEC)   (Recipient of Koch funding totaling $20,297,143 from 1986-2006 ), Earhart Foundation, JM Olin Foundation.
•    Foundation for Research on Economics and Environment (FREE).  Funded by ExxonMobil, GE Foundation, Koch Family Foundation  ($1,305,500 through 2006), JM Olin Foundation, Earhart Foundation and Castle Rock Foundation (Coors). ($65,000 in 2009) and the Claude Lambe Foundation ($1,540,000).
•    Northwestern Law Judicial Education Program (funded by many key ALEC members, including Koch)
•    Liberty Fund providing judicial conferences and seminars to/for Judges.
•    Federalist Society  (Koch funded   $1,437,200 through 2006)
•    Aspen Institute (Koch funded  $1,115,000 through 2006 with David Koch on the BOD).
•    University of Kansas, Law and Organizational Economics Center (LOEC) begun in 1995 by Henry Butler  with a $1,000,000 grant from the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation (see section on Henry Butler below).
•    International Judicial Academy which provides seminars for judges on the International level.

These seminars are a way for ALEC’s corporate members and contributors to assist the cabal’s pursuit of influencing judges to render pro-corporate decisions on important issues and cases.  Another concern is the fact that one or more of our sitting Supreme Court Justices have attended seminars organized or held by these groups and openly favor corporate interests – as witnessed by the decision in Citizens United.

This latest case involving the ADA and 32 mentally disabled workers being cruelly treated by their employer, the outcome of the ALEC/Koch cabal’s pursuit of writing our laws is high-lighted.  Telling our judges how to rule in individual cases through the use of amicus briefs after wining and dining them at plush resorts and indoctrinating them in conservative based ideology – has been successful for the cabal.

Today this cabal is busy privatizing the USPS, public schools, buying up newspapers and media outlets.  No doubt as more and more legal challenges erupt from these activities pursuing control of the media, labor, wages and upcoming model legislation, our courts will be tasked with determining the legality of those pursuits.  Already courts are now busy deciding key cases involving voter ID laws, immigration laws, second amendment challenges and the legality of new laws privatizing our schools.

With friendly judges, cooperating lawmakers and greedy corporations working hand in hand, American consumers, voters and workers are completely compromised.  Unless and until Americans say enough is enough this will continue with corporate owners, investors and politicians reaping the rewards at our expense.  Please join us in abolishing this cabal and returning our country to a country of the people – instead of a growing corporatocracy…