privatized prison system

More Controversies at Nevada DOC – Director Cox Resigns

More Controversies at Nevada DOC – Director Cox Resigns

In mid-September Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval asked for the resignation of Gregg Cox, Director of the state Department of Corrections. The action was taken by the Governor because a report about prisoner shootings and abuses by staff in the state’s prisons was late.

The report completed by the Association of State Correctional Administrators was to be presented by Cox at a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners, which the Governor is a part of.

The governor felt that it was time to move the department in a new direction,” according to a statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office on the departure of Greg Cox. The corrections department is facing several lawsuits due to prison shootings in the past few years.

One incident at High Desert State Prison left inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. dead. Sources say Perez was handcuffed when he was shot and killed, and accuse prison guards of creating a “gladiator-like scenario” by allowing inmate fights to go on before firing into the fray. It wasn’t revealed until four months afterward that Perez died from gunfire.

Earlier in 2013 Cox’s department came under fire for allowing the DOC’s prison industry program to be used by a private company, Alpine Steel and company owner, Randy Bulloch to use inmate labor – without paying them wages.

Alpine Steel owner, Randy Bulloch

Alpine had been able to avoid paying rent, utilities, inmate or staff labor wages for more than a year, running up a tab of nearly $500,000 – while Deputy Director Brian Connett of the NDOC Prison Industry, (Silver State Industries) – turned a blind eye upon the climbing debt, allowing Bulloch’s steel fabrication operation to continue virtually free of overhead, at taxpayer expense. Connett went so far as to approve Alpines new contract with the NDOC, failing to report the back debt owed while reporting Alpine had fulfilled all requirements under the expiring contract.

The facts surrounding the Alpine case began to emerge in late 2012 when steel companies started protesting to NDOC and legislative authorities arguing they were being unfairly forced to compete against a local company using inmate labor. Business owners asserted they had lost bids on projects and thus were unable to expand their businesses or hire more workers due to interference from Nevada’s prison industry operations.

Governor Sandoval eventually stepped in and ordered the closure of the Alpine operation following those complaints. The challenges centered upon unfair competition by a private company using inmate labor to reduce labor costs and thus underbid complainants for lucrative state and private contracts involving fabricated steel materials.

Alpine quickly paid over $78,000 in back wages owed to inmate workers. The NDOC entered into an agreement with Alpine to repay the state the remaining money owed for staff wages, utilities and lease of prison facilities. Surprisingly the agreement had no provision for Mr. Bulloch to be personally responsible for any of the accrued debt owed.

Within months Bulloch defaulted on the terms of the agreement and the state secured a judgment against Alpine for more than $400,000. Alpine also incurred state and federal tax liens for non-payment of income taxes. These totaled more than an additional $680,000.

The taxpayers have been left holding the bag…. As a result of this I think there is going to be a lot more oversight,” Nevada Assemblyman James Ohrenschall said in an interview on Vegas Inc. September 21, 2013. Mr. Ohrenschall is the former chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs. At the time of that interview, the IFC Committee was meeting to investigate facts related to Alpine Steel that prompted his concerns.

Unfortunately Mr. Ohrenschall was too optimistic in his assessment of oversight, but his claim of “taxpayers have been left holding the bag” is still accurate. To date the state has been unable or unwilling to pursue collection of the nearly half million dollar debt owed to taxpayers by Bulloch and his company.

Though Bulloch voluntarily surrendered his contracting license to the Nevada Contractors Board in October 2013, saying he was closing down his business…Alpine Steel’a website remains open for business while the company owner continues to avoid paying the state any of the money owed taxpayers under the court ordered judgment. Additionally, along with the Alpine website still showing it is an active business, Mr. Bulloch is now selling structural steel and fabricated components as Hunt Steel, also in Las Vegas. Links to fabrication, etc. on the Alpine site, takes visitors to Bulloch’s Hunt Steel site.

Director Cox managed to retain his position after the Legislature enacted new revisions to existing Nevada law to prevent potential or new industry operators from starting up without posting a surety bond to guarantee payment of leases and utilities owed to the state. Known as Senate bill 478, this law also provides that the public be notified of any potential new prison industry proposals, to date there has been no such notice given to the public or possible competitors though there have been new industries proposed to the Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs.

Just prior to Cox taking over as Director in 2011 he was a Deputy Director when the prison industries “wrote off” more than $800,000 in outstanding noncollectable debt owed to the Prison Industry Program. With Alpine’s additional $428,000, Nevada taxpayers have lost more than $1.2 million dollars. The now pending lawsuits against the NDOC, it’s staff and officers, could result in another $1 million or more needed to settle inmate abuse and shooting claims and/or court judgments.

It appears Director Cox avoided one serious controversy involving a lack of transparency only to succumb to another controversy involving transparency before the same Board of Prison Commissioners that again, included Governor Sandoval.

Why ALEC is Ultra-Important & Irreplaceable to the Koch Cabal

Why ALEC is Ultra-Important & Irreplaceable to the Koch Cabal

by Bob Sloan

Pursuing Charles and David Koch and their funding of the far right and an ultra-conservative agenda is important. Identifying the “charitable” organizations they launder money through – which is then passed onto other organizations (along with credits), is also important. Exposing the various billionaire families (DeVos, Coors, Bradley, etc.) that contribute to the goals of the Kochs’ and their cabal, is likewise important.

However, what those actively pursuing and exposing the Koch Cabal must understand is that once an integral part of the cabal is exposed, the duties that particular organization was responsible for, is transferred to one or more of the Koch’s vast network – and the agenda continues to move along smoothly without any real interruption. The cabal can afford to “lose” one or more of the network’s controlled “charities” and continue to function without missing a beat.

The one “tool” available to the Kochs’ and their vast network that they simply cannot function without…cannot shift the duties of or advance an agenda without…is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is the “enabler” for the entire cabal’s vast network. Through ALEC legislation is developed that directly benefits that network in one form or another (lower corporate taxes, deregulation of government oversight(s), voter restrictions, tort “reforms” that limit compensation available to consumers, limiting the authority of government agencies such as the DOJ and EPA).

ALEC is what allows corporate interests to be written into laws the general public are made to live by. An example of such laws are seen everywhere today: criminal justice privatization…private prisons, privatized prisoner healthcare, phone services, banking and industries where prisoner labor manufactures goods for private companies; pursuit of privatizing the U.S. Post Office (FedEx and UPS are long time members of ALEC); Stand Your Ground; relaxation of renewable energy mandates and deregulation involving emission standards; privatizing our public school systems, authorization of Charter Schools…and the list goes on with hundreds of laws written to benefit business and corporations adopted by ALEC and sent out nationwide via nearly 2,000 state lawmakers holding ALEC membership and loyalty.

Without ALEC the overall Koch cabal/network would be unable to advance their conservative agenda through “model legislation” presented in all 50 states by ALEC controlled state lawmakers. Without the ability to craft legislation and get it introduced in our states, the entire network would cease to function as a viable political entity – as it has since 1973.

The entire landscape of our laws over the past 40 years has been affected by ALEC. Drug laws, mandatory minimum sentences, truth in sentencing, abolishing parole…all of the hundreds of laws used to incarcerate millions of Americans for victim-less crimes and hold them for years as a vast labor force available to private manufacturers, were written and disseminated by ALEC. Private prison contractors, Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) were members of ALEC when the laws authorizing prison privatization were written and passed state by state.

Some of the companies that have capitalized from these laws and this slave-styled work force include; Boeing, Microsoft, McDonalds, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, WalMart, Starbucks, Lockheed Martin, Berkshire Hathaway, Honeywell, Revlon, IBM, Lucent Technologies, AT&T Wireless. Intel, Siemens, etc. Good jobs were taken from American labor markets and turned over to low wage prisoners due to ALEC’s “Prison Industries” legislation.

Conservative politicians have fought against jobs bills and legislation because they’ve spent decades working to lower wages through the insourcing of labor; taking jobs from the public sector and placing them in the hands of a captive workforce.

Today as the GOP struggles to remain a viable political party, American voters have begun to wake up and vote against their extreme agenda. This has resulted in the pursuit of gerrymandering precincts and districts by Republicans as well as introduction and passage of legislation to reduce voter participation through “voter ID” and “voter suppression” laws. These are designed specifically to impact upon minority voters who predominately vote democratic.

The current attack upon voters is not coincidental. ALEC co-founder Paul Weyrich famously stated in 1980 that he did not want everyone to vote because “our leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down“. In 1999 after the election of George W. Bush, a disciple of Weyrich, Eric Heubeck published a “treatise” based upon the teachings of Weyrich, titled “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement“.

In this manifesto styled treatise Heubeck put forth the guidelines for conservatives to follow that would allow entirely changing the political landscape, advancing a conservative and evangelical agenda to assume domination over progressive and liberal ideologies. The instructions quite candidly have worked. A reading of this document and comparison to the instructions provided against actual activities, actions and events that have taken place over the past 14 years reveals conservatives (and ALEC) have followed the guidelines religiously.

The Koch agenda is funded by Charles, David and a handful of select rich business owners and corporate executives, many of which sit upon ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council or are represented by CEO’s, CFO’s or other executives. This “advisory” council has direct access to all of ALEC’s 2,000 legislative members and alumni (many of which are now members of Congress, 82 Representatives and 10 Senators). Of the alumni, several names are associated with today’s gridlock in Congress; Manchin, Inhofe, Graham, Rubio, Shelby, Enzi, Bachus, Blackburn, Boehner, Cantor, Gingrey, Price and King. Again, these alumni and the pursuit of the cabal’s agenda through them is not coincidental. These elected officials have a loyalty to the cabal members, ALEC and campaign donors such as the Kochs and many of the corporations holding membership in ALEC.

Laws must be designed, written and crafted based upon constituent needs and desires – not based upon what fattens the bottom line of some corporation or powerful business owners. Doing it that way has led us to where we are today with a handful of people holding the majority of assets and the middle class existing off the crumbs of the rich.

When you hear philosophy, economics or corporate rights issues discussed by the likes of Steven Moore, Art Laffer or Victor Schwartz upon the airwaves or in the newspapers, keep in mind they are all members of ALEC’s “Board of Scholars”. They along with Congressmen such as Graham, Boehner and Cantor speak on behalf of ALEC, Charles and David Koch and the other cabal members.

As clearly demonstrated by the foregoing, without ALEC and that organization’s ability to advance laws sought by their corporate members and donors, the cabal would be unable to function as a powerful and direct influence upon state and federal legislation. Which leads to the conclusion that ALEC must be abolished – at all costs. They and their considerable influence must be removed from all legislative involvement. The cabal must be denied the ability to draft model legislation favored by them and pass it along to state legislatures through ALEC’s legislative membership.

Once ALEC loses the ability to put legislators and corporations at the same table and write legislation such as they have done for years – the cabal will collapse upon itself. Without the ability to advance legislation the cabal is without the means necessary to control our legislatures and laws. Alec truly is the entity that enables the agenda…and must be eliminated. Until then, the beneficial corporate crafted legislation will continue to flow to every state, year after year until they succeed in passing them into law. Attempts at voter suppression will continue, government oversight will be weakened as the planet’s resources are consumed by hungry corporations without regard for future generations or the impact upon the globe.

All paths to and from the Cabal go through ALEC…
alec-1024x791
ALEC the enabler must be forced into extinction…

Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place

Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place

by Bob Sloan

silver state industries

Following a full year of investigating complaints and revising Nevada’s prison industry program statute(s), a new Administrative Rule (AR 854) regulating the operation of that state’s prison industry operation has been submitted to the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) by NDOC Director, Greg Cox.  In December this regulation was adopted and became effective.

Sen. Richard Bryan

Sen. Richard Bryan

In October the NDOC submitted a long list of new or amended AR’s to the BPC for approval and implementation.  At that time Cox withheld the proposed AR 854 addressing the operation of the agency’s prison industry operations.  Cox held back on this single AR by advising the Board he wanted to work with former Senator Richard Bryan on the language of that particular regulation.

On December 17th Director Cox submitted the final negotiated regulation to BPC members, Governor Sandoval, AG Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller for consideration.  Following approval by the Board, the new prison industry regulations are now in effect.

Cox-listens-to-testimony-crop

NDOC Dir. Cox

Critics and opponents of the prison industry program have now adopted a position of “monitoring” the state’s prison industry program. They’re doing so in an effort of ensuring there are no further infringements upon Nevada’s workers and businesses that compete against prison industries.  Last year it was discovered that the NDOC regulations were not being fully enforced and state statutes controlling prison industry operations were insufficient to protect both Nevada’s private sector workers and competing non-prison partnered businesses.

Alpine SteelAll of this came about after lawmakers, the media and general public learned that the prison industry program was more or less operating without any real oversight.  This allowed the NDOC to “partner” with a local Las Vegas business – Alpine Steel, LLC –  in a manner that provided that business with an unfair advantage over competitors and reduced the number of available private sector jobs.  Not only did this single business enjoy prison labor far below standard wage rates, but it also received low cost taxpayer subsidized utility costs and lease terms for state owned property that was far below the state averages. Additionally the NDOC failed to enforce most of the terms of the contract it had with Alpine, allowing the company to default on paying the salaries of NDOC staffers, prison workers and monthly lease payments or utility costs and making no effort to cure the defaults.

When this partnership was finally terminated by Governor Sandoval and the smoke cleared, the state was left with an owed debt of nearly half a million dollars.  Alpine’s owner entered into a negotiated agreement to repay the state but almost immediately defaulted, leaving taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid leases, staff salaries, utility costs and owed taxes.  This failed partnership resulted in the revamping of the state’s statutes controlling Nevada’s existing prison industries and all proposed new industries.

During the lengthy legislative activities related to the failed Alpine partnership, other issues were discovered that prison labor activists are continuing to pursue at both state and federal levels.  These include the hourly wages paid to inmate workers in the program, deductions taken from prisoner paychecks and working conditions.

Nevada is a participant in a federally run program (Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program or PIECP) that encourages prison industry/private business partnerships such as the one involving Alpine.   However in order to establish and operate under such partnerships both the state and the private business must agree to abide by stringent mandatory conditions required by the federal government.  Two of the imposed mandatory requirements are that inmates be paid prevailing wages and that the state can only take approved deductions from those wages.  In the case of Alpine, the contract with the state required that inmate workers receive “prevailing wages” (section 8.6) or the same wage paid to private sector workers performing the same duties on the outside.  Instead, the NDOC and Alpine set the inmate wage rate at or below the state minimum wage scale, exploiting the labor of inmate workers and further enriching Alpine.

Subsequently it now appears Nevada is underpaying inmates working in the federal program and taking an unapproved deduction of 5% to fund new prison industry operations.  In effect Nevada’s inmate workforce are being made to fund operating expenses of the prison industry out of their already meager wages.

DD ConnettPrison labor advocates are attempting to work with the NDOC, Nevada authorities and the responsible federal agency to cure any purported violations regarding the PIECP program to ensure Nevada is in full compliance with current state and federal provisions regarding the use of inmate labor.

Currently the Deputy Director of the NDOC’s Prison Industry, Brian Connett has indicated there are no proposed new industries being considered by the agency. However prior to the furor caused by the Alpine situation, Connett was advocating for a new industry in Nevada operated by a California company. The operation would have used inmate labor at minimum wages to sort through collected trash and remove recyclables. The collection of trash and refuse across the state would have been accomplished by the same California company.  This project was moving forward over objections voiced by the labor representative of the Senate’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, Mr. Mike Magnani.  This recycling “industry” was tabled once the Legislature began looking into the prison industry operations.

CONWAY ROBERT PDBusinesses and a second labor representative, Rob Conway now sitting upon the legislative Interim Finance Committee will continue to monitor activities of the prison industry to eliminate the possibility of another situation arising that could jeopardize business owners or private workers.  Additionally the amended statute requires the Board of Prison Commissioners to review and approve any new industries or expansion of existing ones.  Hopefully vigilance by the labor representatives will keep the prison industries and expanded partnerships in check and allow more of Nevada’s unemployed to find employment due to the reduction in new prison labor programs that eliminated positions in the past.

Only time will tell if the new regulations prevent another Alpine-styled incident from reoccurring.

Nevada Continues to Struggle With Prison Industry Law

Nevada Continues to Struggle With Prison Industry Law

By Bob Sloan

The Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) made up of Governor Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, met early on the morning of October 15th to discuss key issues involving the state’s Department of Corrections.  On the agenda was a “hot topic” involving the prison industrial program’s perceived unfair competition with private businesses.  Since last year controversy has surrounded the use of prisoners to compete with Nevada’s unemployed and against companies producing the same products in the private sector.

The NDOC Director presented proposed new administrative regulations for approval.  These “AR’s” covered a gamut of issues from installing trailer/RV spots at remote facilities to use of restraints on pregnant prisoners during labor, housing new hires who cannot find housing locally, and compliance with federal standards on prison rape elimination.  Not much new was learned from attending this Board meeting with one exception – withholding proposed AR 854, “Prison Industrial Program.”  Director Cox advised the Board that he was not presenting this one AR until he could confer with former Senator, Richard Bryan on language contained in the proposed regulation.

This proposed AR was in response to an ongoing controversy involving a partnership contract between Alpine Steel, LLC and the NDOC’s prison industries division.  Nearly a year ago steel companies discovered a competing business, Alpine Steel, LLC had partnered with the NDOC prison industries since 2006 to use inmate labor to manufacture or fabricate structural steel components.  This partnership included low cost facility leases, low paid inmate workers and utilities provided at reduced state rates.  In effect the NDOC was knowingly subsidizing the operations of one private company with tax dollars which provided a distinct advantage for Alpine over competing businesses.

During the investigations that followed, it was learned Alpine had been in serious default for years.  It had not been paying wages to inmates or NDOC staffers, lease and utility payments were in arrears and the state was owed nearly $500,000.  Alpine eventually agreed to a forbearance agreement to repay the money owed to the state and purportedly paid the back wages due to inmate workers.

In June of this year Alpine defaulted on that agreement and the state was awarded a summary judgment of $428,208 plus 1 ½% interest on the debt.  Alpine also surrendered its contractor’s license and is no longer bidding on projects (though their website is still advertising and offering services).  These developments came after new legislation (SB 478) was proposed to strengthen current laws on prison industry operations, providing more oversight and transparency involving prison industry operations.  Additionally wording was inserted to protect competing businesses from being disadvantaged from the use of prisoners as a cheap labor force.

Senator Bryan became involved early on, suggesting changes to the state’s law(s) pertaining to oversight, control and operation of the prison industry program that would eliminate any unfair competition with private manufacturers from the use of prison labor and protect private sector workers.  At last month’s BPC meeting Director Cox stated Senator Bryan had reservations or concerns about one section of the AR, feeling it would not provide the proper protection(s) to private sector companies if/when new prison industry projects were implemented.  Director Cox advised the Board he planned on conferring with Senator Bryan to rewrite AR 854 and present a modified version of it to the Board at the next BPC meeting on December 10th.

Cox advised the objection voiced by Senator Bryan and others was the ability of the Deputy Director to both enact and vet new programs by determining the impact – if any – upon businesses and labor.  Cox indicated Senator Bryan wanted that provision modified.

Senator Bryan is correct in objecting to or having reservations about that proviso.  These precise duties were the Deputy Director’s responsibility previously and as demonstrated by the Alpine situation, he handled them poorly.

 

TRANSPARENCY

Prior to the scheduled meeting a copy of the actual NDOC/Alpine Steel contract was received and researched.  In reviewing the contract and form submitted to the Nevada Board of Examiners several critical issues were immediately noticed.

Deputy Director Connett renewed Alpine Steel’s prison industry contract in 2011.  On the prepared form provided to the Board of Examiners, Connett informed Alpine was chosen because it had been contracting with the NDOC since 2006 with “satisfactory performance.”

There was no mention the company was in default on the old contract as the new one was submitted for official approval.  The form and contract itself were prepared and submitted by Connett – who obviously knew Alpine was in default and went forward without disclosing that fact to the Board of Examiners, the Legislature or the BPC:

 

satisfactory performance

Board of Examiners Contract Form on Alpine Contract 5/11

 

Additionally, Connett certified that the “contracting agency” (the NDOC) would not be providing worker space to Alpine, no Nevada State employees would be assisting Alpine under the contract and the state would not incur an “employment liability” if Alpine’s contract was terminated for failure to “perform.  Each provision initialed by Bulloch:”

Alpine NDOC Contract excerpt

from 2011 Alpine/NDOC Contract

In December 2012 the BPC requested the NDOC to stop all Alpine Steel operations at the High Desert State Prison and take steps to recover the outstanding money owed to the state.  On December 22nd, 2012 Director Cox officially closed the Alpine Steel fabrication operation.

Following the closure and during negotiations to recover the debt owed by Alpine it was learned that more than $438,000 was owed.  This sum included; $143,224 for past due wages to NDOC officers and another $115,270 in “rent” on agency space for workers:

forbearance excerpt 1

From Alpine Forbearance Agreement

Another important provision contained in the contract was the wage scale to be paid to the inmate workers.  The contract provided inmates were to be paid “the prevailing wage rate for the type of work performed”:

Alpine - prevailing wage requirement

2011 Alpine Contract Section 8.6

As I reported in February, Nevada’s Occupational Employment Statistics set the prevailing (median) wage for structural steel fabricators at $16.91 per hour worked:

NV OES struct steel fab

2012 NV OES Website

Yet the NDOC allowed Alpine to pay prisoners the minimum hourly wage for their labor.  From 2006 through 2012 when the operation was closed down, inmates were paid as little as $5.25 per hour to a high of $8.25 per hour regardless of knowledge, time on the job or experience.  Paying inmates less than ½ the scale paid to workers in the private sector allowed Alpine to underbid competing private sector companies for labor projections on projects.  Obviously this important contract provision was ignored by Alpine and the NDOC.

Just as obviously state employees were “assisting” Alpine in the performance of its duties by supervising the inmate workers in a facility space rented to Alpine by the NDOC – and Alpine was delinquent in paying wages to those officers.

Whether considered an “employment liability” or not, the fact that Alpine defaulted on paying officers more than $100,000 in wages meant the state had to pay those wages with tax dollars – and that is a liability.

Realizing how deeply indebted Alpine was, Legislators, Assemblymen, Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs members and a BPC member all voiced concerns at the amount owed by Alpine and worried about collecting the huge debt.  Official requests were made to Connett and Director Cox to secure a personal guarantee on the debt from Alpine’s owner, Randall Bulloch.

In September and October 2012 IFC members: AllenPuliz (manufacturing representative), Assemblyman John Ellison, Mike Magnani (labor representative) and Mr. Aguilera (business representative) all requested Alpine Steel’s owner provide a personal guarantee on payment of the debt owed by his company.  This request was made directly to Mr. Bulloch at the October 2012 meeting:

“Mr. Puliz asked if the pay back proposal had a personal guarantee or a guarantee from Alpine Steel. Mr. Bulloch said it was strictly a guarantee from Alpine Steel. Mr. Puliz stated he was a businessman and constantly provided personal guarantees. He asked if Mr. Bulloch was willing to do a personal guarantee on the debt owed to the state.”

Bulloch’s response was:

“…(He) was not prepared to provide a personal guarantee, but he would have further conversations with Mr. Connett to discuss other options.”

At the October meeting, Mr. Nicolas C. Anthony, Senior Principal Deputy Legislative Counsel, Legal Division, summarized the statutory authority and duties of the Committee on Industrial Programs.  In his summary the Deputy Legislative Counsel informed the Committee that their duties were “advisory” only:

”The Committee contains both members of the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch due to separation of powers. Since the Committee only functions as advisory in nature, any recommendations made by the Committee have no official capacity…

“…Final programs and contracts, including leases of space, were established and entered into by the director of the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) pursuant to statute, which was a function of the Executive Branch and not a function of this Committee…

“…Mr. Anthony indicated the recommendations of the Committee were purely advisory in nature. Mr. Anthony said its advisory recommendations can be submitted to the IFC, full legislature, or director of NDOC. If a recommendation was provided to the director of NDOC, it must pertain to new programs or the review of existing programs’ profitability within the first three years.”

In other words, the IFC Committee can only make “recommendations” to the Director or Deputy Director on new programs or review existing ones – and their recommendations carry absolutely no weight.  Neither Cox nor Connett would be bound to implement the recommendations of the Committee tasked with direct oversight of prison industry operations.

Legislative and private sector members charged with review of prison industry programs were prohibited from forcing the NDOC to seek a personal guarantee on the debt owed the state or formally request Bulloch post a personal guarantee.  The hands of the Committee were effectively tied.

With the NDOC circumventing the requirement that all industry projects be submitted to and approved by the BPC and ignoring the recommendations of the IFC, the agency was operating independently without any genuine oversight.  It appears the 2011 contract with Alpine, though provided to the Board of Examiners for approval, was never submitted to the BPC as required and the Board had no knowledge of the contract or actual operations of Alpine.

In January Connett ignored all calls for a personal guarantee from Bulloch.  Instead, he negotiated a forbearance agreement that allowed Bulloch to shirk personal responsibility for Alpine’s debt to the state.  The agreement also did not include; interest on that debt, a fine or penalty for defaulting on the contract and allowed Alpine to repay the past due money in small monthly payments over several years – and let Alpine’s owner off the hook for any debt owed.

On January 11th, 2013 Attorney General Masto’s office agreed to this proposed deal and Bulloch’s personal property and wealth were thus “officially” protected in case of any default in the future.

At the BPC meeting nine months later, the Governor and other members learned Alpine Steel had very quietly run up a tab of more than $450,000 with the NDOC’s apparent acquiescence and then defaulted on the negotiated and personally lenient repayment plan.  The Board questioned NDOC Director Greg Cox and Connett about the Alpine debt and both were forced to admit Alpine was indeed in full default.  When the Governor asked point blank the total amount owed, Connett stammered and said that though he did not have the “exact figure” he thought the amount was in the “neighborhood of $468,000.”

To anyone following this story it was readily apparent that default was more than likely in the case of Alpine Steel.  Already facing substantial IRS tax liens, litigation from creditors and outstanding state tax liens, Alpine was in dire financial straits when Connett negotiated the forbearance agreement and the Attorney General approved it.

When I forwarded questions to the NDOC and the AG’s office as to who/which agency negotiated the forbearance agreement without pursuing a personal guarantee from Bulloch, both responded the information was “attorney client privileged” refusing to answer.

On the important question as to actual ownership of the Alpine equipment seized and being held by the NDOC as collateral, both NDOC and the AG’s office again cited attorney client privilege and refused to provide any information on value or legal ownership (a third party now claims ownership of some of that property).  On the question of sale or disposal of that equipment to pay down the judgment amount, both again cited attorney client privileged information, refusing to answer.

In June of 2012 the prison industry financial records showed Alpine was $347,778.11 in arrears on payments to the NDOC.  Yet with at least this amount owing, Connett still did not call the contract in default or cease operations.  Instead he kept the operation open – over the recommendations of the IFC – and over the next six months Alpine ran up another $67,131.78 in bad debt.

In the end the taxpayers are out hundreds of thousands of dollars and any effort by lawmakers exercising oversight to attempt to fully inform and protect the taxpayers by guaranteeing the debt would be paid, were ignored by state actors at the highest levels of the NDOC – and ultimately, the Attorney General’s office.

Even when all the owed money and failures to enforce contract terms were made public, both of those agencies cite attorney client privilege in an effort to deny taxpayers any information on which agency or individual bears responsibility for negotiating away their rights or interest in recovering the money lost by the prison/Alpine operation.

Connett bears responsibility for forcing Alpine’s inmate workers to perform duties for Alpine without receiving wages – slave labor?  Bulloch and Connett admitted to the IFC that Alpine owed prisoners $78,000 in unpaid wages and only after the story became public did Bulloch finally pay those wages in September and October 2012.

If the NDOC paid the owed inmate wages out of department funds, they did so without legal authorization and in direct violation of the terms of the Alpine contract.  In either case though the inmates finally got paid, the balance of nearly half a million dollars is now the responsibility of taxpayers to reimburse.

This is why the legislature proposed, passed – and Governor Sandoval signed – SB 478 to strengthen oversight, require posting of security, bond or personal guarantees on proposed new prison industry projects; to protect inmate workers, local businesses, workers and taxpayers equally.  It is also why Senator Bryan had reservations concerning the wording of proposed AR 854.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

After the last BPC meeting concluded, several questions remained unanswered.  One is why Deputy Director Connett continued to allow Alpine steel to default from 2009 through 2012 without taking any steps to cure the default or stop the operation as allowed under the agreenent?  The contract has specific actions to be taken within 30 days of any default yet Connett failed to initiate any of the provisions called for in the contract when a default was triggered.  This lack of action led to more and more debt piling up that ultimately has cost the state.

Some have conjectured that possibly there was some form of corruption involved in the relationship between Bulloch and Connett, suggesting a possible “quid pro quo” situation.  There is no evidence to support this theory, no document or verifiable statements made by third parties have surfaced to sustain such a speculation so it remains just that – an unfounded speculation.

However, what isn’t speculation is the fact that Nevada’s prison industry program has been operating like an uncontrolled private venture with company executives avoiding any accountability or responsibility to shareholders for their actions.  Only in this case the “venture” had access to unlimited funding with tax dollars and the “shareholders” are Nevada taxpayers.

One of the worst elements of this default was the forcing of prisoners to work for a private company without wages – especially at a scale below that required under the contract.  Cox and Connett not only have a duty to the taxpayers to not waste the department’s appropriations, it also has a duty to not exploit prisoners in their care, custody and control.  Inmates have no choice in their work assignments and cannot simply walk off the job when not paid.  These NDOC officials made a conscious decision to force prisoners to work for this private manufacturer without pay which financially benefited Alpine substantially

None of the concerns voiced by the legislature, administration and media address the fact that prisoners in state custody were made to work for a private company without pay.  This wasn’t working in the laundry; kitchen or cleaning up the prison…this work was for a private company that profited from that forced labor.

Since Connett’s appointment as Deputy Director, several key and important changes began to take effect.  One was an immediate increase in debt owed to the NDOC.  Contractors such as Alpine began falling behind on lease and other payments indicating a failure by the NDOC to enforce contract provisions and cure such defaults.  The industry’s accounts receivable (outstanding or uncollected accounts due) rose sharply to nearly $1 million dollars in uncollected income and in 2010 Connett turned over $800,000 of that outstanding debt to a collection agency to attempt to recover.

When Connett assumed control of the prison industry it had a “contingency fund” of $1.5 million dollars to work with.  Since 2008 this fund has been used to the extent it now contains only $500,000.

With the Nevada prison industry oversight authority limited to nothing more than an “advisory” body, the NDOC continuously ignored the Committee’s recommendations and operated as it wished.  The agency began to successfully bypass the legislative requirement that the BPC review all new or proposed industries, further hiding industry operations.  This led to the NDOC operating the prison industry program without oversight, legislative controls or interference.

Contributing to this portrayal of the state’s faltering prison industry program is the real possibility that Deputy Director Connett’s duties to the people of Nevada and the NDOC have been compromised due to a concurrent position he holds with the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA).

The NCIA is a trade association that actively lobbies at the federal, state, and local levels for continued funding for the expansion and effective administration of prison industry programs and conversely, opposes legislation that would adversely impact correctional industries programs.[i]

Collectively this group represents the largest and most active advocacy in support of continued use (and expansion) of prisoner labor and maintaining inmate wages below the fair minimum wage – as shown in the below “Resolution” adopted by the NCIA in 2010:

NCIA Minimum Wage Resolution

From NCIA Library – Last Accessed 3/10

Compliance with this resolution is demonstrated by Connett’s establishing actual wages paid to Alpine’s inmate workers at or below the minimum wage, in direct violation to the terms of the NDOC contract’s prevailing wage provision.

Individual citizens, companies and others in opposition to prison labor used by private companies find themselves face to face with this large and influential group operating as a trade/lobby organization with more than forty state prison industry administrators sitting upon the NCIA Board.

Connett NCIA position

From NCIA website: http://www.nationalcia.org/

Connett is the current Chairman of the NCIA Board while also serving as Deputy Director of Silver State Industries and as such he has one foot in each camp.  As Chairman of the NCIA Connett has a duty to expand prison industry operations, keep companies partnered with each state prison industry operation and limit the wages paid to inmate workers.  It would be detrimental to the NCIA to have to disclose that in his own state Connett had to pay inmates a prevailing wage or had to close a prison industry.  This could be one reason Connett failed to act responsibly, refusing to take any curative actions when Alpine first began to default.

There may be other theories as to why Connett failed to enforce the terms of the Alpine contract and spent time and energy attending Committee meetings and legislative hearings in an attempt to keep the Alpine operation open – in spite of numerous calls to close it down and the growing debt to the state.  Unfortunately to date, no one has been able to secure any response on the “why” from Connett or Director Cox, who continue to cite attorney client privilege on all questions posed on this topic.  Though the media has posed those questions, the BPC, IFC and legislature has not.

Several requests for documents and information have been made to the NDOC and Director Cox in an attempt to gather information necessary to establish precisely the reason for Connett’s actions.  As this article goes to publication, there has been no response from the NDOC – other than citing attorney client privilege – from Director Cox or Deputy Director Connett (who is also the NDOC Public Information Officer).

NDOC public relations officer

As the Deputy Director, Public Information Officer and the Chairman of the NCIA, Connett has a vast amount of power and influence.  He is able to choose new industry programs, decide the material released to the public about proposed or existing programs…and he holds a key position in the private agency overseeing, determining and enforcing policies and standards involving all prison labor and industries in the U.S.

As the DD, Connett failed to enforce compliance to protect the agency and taxpayers when Alpine began to default and in the end he attempted to withhold public information about Alpine’s failures while publicly applauding  the use of prison labor to manufacture steel components for the SkyVue Observation Wheel.

Responses to questions sent to Director Cox come from Connett as the PIO.  Each official response to queries for this article has come via email without Connett’s name or signature affixed.

The BPC, IFC Committee, Board of Examiners and lawmakers rely upon data, compliance certifications and other information provided to them by the NDOC Deputy Director.  The DD has a duty to advise these Committees, Boards and lawmakers with full, factual information for those bodies to use when making critical decisions regarding prison industries; new projects, status of existing operations and contract compliance.  Connett has demonstrated he is willing to withhold critical information and facts from these official bodies when it benefits his operations.  Under his authority there has been little transparency in prison industry operations.

As shown, Connett simply has “too many dogs” in the hunt to remain the sole authority selecting new programs, or determining the impact upon private sector workers and businesses from his industry operations.  Those important determinations should be made by others with no personal involvement riding on the outcome.

Failing to provide full facts to Boards and Committees, or withholding important information that is significant when considering prison industry expansions is negligent and as demonstrated can result in a huge loss to the state and taxpayers.  It also can result in underpaid inmate workers being used to lower operating expenses by one company to the detriment of his/her competitors – even working them without pay for extended periods.

NCIA Bylaws require any company partnered with a prison industry using inmate labor to become a member of their organization.  This may explain DD Connett’s continued support of an NCIA member company by his attending numerous meetings and hearings where he urged administrators and lawmakers to continue to allow Alpine to operate once the company’s defaults became public.

Hopefully the language of AR 854 will contain sections allowing for a committee or board to make determinations as to the impact upon competing businesses and labor when new industries are proposed or considered.  Having those important tasks in the hands of the one individual – or agency – seeking to implement any new contract or anticipated new industry truly is a case of the “fox guarding the hen-house…”

To avoid any appearance of impropriety the NDOC should operate under joint authority of the BPC, IFC and legislature.  The prison industry has to operate within the parameters set by those state bodies without deviation and under tight oversight provisions.  Continuing to allow the NDOC and prison industries to operate without requiring adherence to recommendations made by responsible legislative and control authorities, makes another Alpine-styled situation a real possibility.

It is now generally known and accepted that the SkyVue wheel is a stalled project that may never be completed.  Bulloch’s claim that he had this contract sewn up and would pay back his outstanding debt to the state once the project started in earnest was a promise he would not have been able to fulfill.  It is likely that if the BPC allowed Alpine’s prison industry operation to remain open as Connett suggested, the state could now be on the hook for millions more in unpaid debt from Alpine as prisoners manufactured components for the SkyVue project.

In this case it was half a million lost through the NDOC Deputy Director’s failure to apply available cures to a single contract’s defaults.  It could easily have been millions more if local business had not raised the alarm last year and organized labor had not joined forces with them.

As the Alpine story has shown us all, a lack of adequate oversight will result in Nevada’s workers, businesses and prisoners to suffer.  Taxpayers bear the burden of making up losses that accrue in the absence of true oversight and firm controls.  Without proper oversight the NDOC and its programs can operate in a fiscally irresponsible manner without fear of consequences.

Next month Director Cox will present the BPC with new finalized Administrative Regulations pertaining to operating the state’s prison industry program(s).  It is hoped that those regulations will provide genuine safeguards to protect everyone (staff, inmate workers, private businesses, unemployed workers and taxpayers) from exploitation such as that which occurred with Alpine Steel.


Slavery in Nevada?  Yes, According to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler – and NDOC

Slavery in Nevada? Yes, According to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler – and NDOC

by Bob Sloan

Over the past year I made several trips to Nevada, wrote numerous articles and interviewed dozens on the topic of Nevada’s prison industry working inmates without pay.

Under a contract between Alpine Steel, LLC and the Nevada Department of Corrections’ (NDOC) Silver State Industries (prison industry program) inmates were made to work for as much as four years without receiving any wages from Alpine.  During that time frame, many of Nevada’s unemployed steel workers were denied jobs due to the use of inmates to perform Alpine’s steel fabrication production.  Other businesses were harmed by this contract as they could not compete against a competitor with little or no labor costs when bidding on projects.

Late last year the Board of Prison Commissioners ordered the closure of the prison industry operation run by the NDOC and Alpine Steel.  At the time of the closure, Alpine’s owner, Randall Bulloch, acknowledged he had failed to pay the prisoner’s wages and agreed to pay $78,000 in back wages owed to prisoners by November 2012 .  Alpine still owes the state nearly a half million dollars in unpaid leases, utilities and wages for NDOC Supervisory personnel after agreeing to repay the state and defaulting on that agreement as well last June.  Alpine eventually agreed to voluntarily surrender its contractor’s license to the state and steps are being taken to attempt to recover the huge debt still owed to Nevada taxpayers.

Throughout I believe I accurately described the act of forcing state prisoners to work for a for-profit company without pay as “Slave Labor.”  Though this story has blossomed into one reported nationally and internationally, most have concentrated upon the issue of a lack of proper state oversight, the NDOC using tax dollars to subsidize a private business and misuse of state tax dollars by the prison industry division.

Most of the media totally ignored the fact that the employees actually performing hours of work under the contract between the state and Alpine, were not compensated for their labor by the company.  Though this and other important clauses were in the actual contract, Alpine was allowed to default without enforcement by the NDOC Director or Deputy Director.  Without the complaints and objections voiced by organized labor and business owners, this arrangement would be continuing with state prisoners being deliberately exploited for their labor.

Though NDOC officials have a duty to provide “Care, Custody and Control” of those incarcerated within Nevada’s prison system, administrators failed to protect Alpine’s inmate workers from exploitation of their labor.  Agency officials in fact condoned such acts by their refusal to enforce the contract provisions requiring  inmates to be paid “prevailing wages” by Alpine.  In effect the NDOC was acting as a labor contractor for private companies, providing a captive labor force for a handful of select businesses.  A captive workforce without an ability to voice complaints, quit or refuse to work when not paid.  Prisoners also have no say in the wage scale, work conditions or safety requirements in their workplace.

Many thought this to be simply a case involving a lack of oversight or enforcement by a state agency and its administration.  However when this story broke and the dust settled, the legislature passed new laws strengthening the state’s statutes involving prison industries and the use of inmate labor. Governor Sandoval signed the legislation into law, effective July 1, 2012.

While this new law protects other businesses and organized labor in Nevada, it does nothing to ensure prisoners are compensated for their labor when employed by private companies.  With the Alpine contract that company was required to pay prevailing wages to the inmate workers.  Instead they were paid minimum wage or less – and for years received no wages at all – and used in place of Nevada’s unemployed private sector workers.

wheelerWhen the actual vote was taken on this new law by the Nevada Assembly, there were only three dissenting votes against it.  One of those voting in opposition to SB 478 was Nevada Assemblyman, Jim Wheeler (R-Gardnerville).  It appeared Wheeler was content with the status quo of allowing the NDOC to work prisoners under contract to private companies without paying them required wages.  In essence he would sanction continuing such slave labor…

More recently Assemblyman Wheeler has come under fire for voicing similar sentiments on common slavery in Nevada, saying, “I’d Bring Back Slavery If Constituents Wanted…”  Since a YouTube video of Wheeler speaking at a Republican gathering and making that statement surfaced, Nevada Democrats, Governor Sandoval and others have denounced Wheeler, with some properly calling for his resignation.

Wheeler’s “constituents” however are backing him.  The Douglas County, Nevada Republican Central Committee issued a “Resolution Supporting Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler“, in which they proclaim:

WHEREAS, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has come under attack by forces employing unethical pressure in an attempt to manipulate Nevada’s Legislature, diluting the voice of The People; and

WHEREAS, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has honored the trust placed in him by his constituents by keeping faith with The Nevada Republican Party Platform and honoring his oath of office; and

WHEREAS, The People of Douglas County, under the Nevada Constitution, firmly assert our exclusive rights to select our representatives to be our voice and advocate for our rights and interests; and

WHEREAS, The continued intentional misrepresentation of statements and positions of our elected representatives, as well as exertion of unwarranted pressure to resign, violate the constitutional rights of The People of Douglas County to choose our representatives, and must end now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Douglas County Republican Central Committee offers its strongest, unqualified support to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler for the leadership example he displays in representing The People of the Great State of Nevada; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Douglas County Republican Central Committee gives notice to all that The People of Douglas County choose their representatives, and that no longer will we ignore the corporate, media, and other interests that seek to undermine the will of The People by unethically twisting the message of our elected officials; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Chairman of the Douglas County Republican Central Committee will ensure that this resolution is transmitted to Nevada Assembly Republican Caucus.

Adopted this 1st day of November, 2013 by the Douglas County Republican Central Committee Executive Board.

Obviously this Republican “Committee” supports Wheeler – and apparently takes no umbrage that he would agree to introduce legislation allowing out-and-out slavery if that is what Republican’s of Douglas County determined was appropriate.

As with other politicians over the years who have uttered reprehensible statements, Wheeler has tried hard to put a spin on the facts of his utterance and his District 39 Committee is attempting to assist in that by accusing the “corporate media” of undermining the “will of The People” and twisting Wheeler’s words.

What Wheeler and the Douglas County Republican’s don’t get is that the Assemblyman’s excuse that he was just trying to exhibit that he would do whatever his constituents wanted, demonstrates he would be amenable to mob rule.  That is precisely what would happen if a lawmaker’s constituents insisted he/she introduce legislation wanted by them over objections or concerns of others.  An elected lawmakers must weigh all the facts, look at issues logically and make legislative decisions based upon all factors – not simply the will or whim of his constituents.  Voters in one small area may support one issue completely, while the remainder of the state opposes it.  Attempting to apply the will of a small minority upon the majority would be attempting to legislate by mob rule.

So Nevada – one of the last states to join the Union and a state that never involved itself in slavery – finds itself in the headlight of the “racist” topic that has been on our national radar since 2008.  While political factions and groups in other states have argued over whether voter ID laws sought by predominantly GOP controlled states is racist, denying votes to minorities, Nevada remained absent in that conversation.  Maybe Nevada Republicans now seek to join their voice to those of others on an issue such as slavery, weighing in on that topic – right or wrong.

In 21st century America, the concept of and very term “slavery” should be extinct, not being raised for the first time in Nevada.  Hopefully the NDOC will stop using prisoners as a private slave labor workforce for select businesses and companies – and legislators such as Jim Wheeler will stop making such inflammatory statements in the future.

In today’s political arena a lawmaker sitting with fellow legislators of all races who utters a statement such as Wheeler did, must make fellow Assemblymen/women uncomfortable – especially African-Americans and Hispanics.  Perhaps he should resign his post and let Douglas County select someone else to represent them in the Assembly…someone less inclined to inflame other members of the Assembly and voters from outside Douglas County.

Latest ALEC Material, Articles and Activities…

Latest ALEC Material, Articles and Activities…

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

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

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

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

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

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

Is the WI Legislature Above the Open Records Law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yelp! Joins ALEC Amidst Ongoing Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s top opinion: Rock the boat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming the system

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

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

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

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

 

ALEC in the News – Update on ALEC Activities…

ALEC in the News – Update on ALEC Activities…

by Bob Sloan

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

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

Sallie Mae drawing all-around fire

Written by Wade Malcolm
The News Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Investors and Board Members Urged to Drop Exploitative Business

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

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

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

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

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As Sallie Mae Sits, Arne Duncan Gets Mailed

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

—Chris Hicks

Shareholder Activists: ‘We’re No Angels’ Edition

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

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

City Cable Channel Isn’t So Basic

State law could leave viewers in the dark

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

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

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

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

“Bohl scoffed at those promises.

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

“Time Warner could not be reached for comment.”

 

The Stranglehold on Our Politics

 

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

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

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

Gun Fanatics Score Big Victory in North Carolina

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

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

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

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

All these laws come from individual concerns

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

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

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

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

Plain Talk: Wisconsin’s school vouchers are a scam

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

“And well it should have.

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

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

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

 

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…

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.

Question from the UK: Why is the American right closing prisons?

Question from the UK: Why is the American right closing prisons?

In response to an article by RICK MUIR PUBLISHED 18 APRIL 2013 11:58 in the “New Statesman”

As conservative parties in nations across the pond attempt to emulate America’s Right Wing policies and initiatives, Rick Muir questions if replicating the “NEW” U.S. stance on imprisonment and criminal justice is warranted.

Mr. Muir accurately depicts many of the changes U.S. states are making to reduce the number of Americans imprisoned.  He reports on efforts of diverting drug offenders from prison through community rehab and court programs, stopping new construction of prisons and understanding that locking up non-violent offenders is costly and does nothing more than create a revolving door for first offenders to return time and again throughout their lives.

However in reporting that it is the GOP or Right Wing pursuing proposals that have long been advocated by liberals and progressives, he failed to fully connect the dots on where and how this mass incarceration began – and who stands to profit from these proposed changes to America’s criminal justice system.

It began with the ultra right think tank, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the late 1970’s. They got together with corporate interests and wrote legislation that began a trend that turned 1970’s 338,000 incarcerated into today’s 2.3 million. They crafted minimum mandatory sentencing laws, truth in sentencing, three strike and habitual offender laws.  They helped abolish parole and wrote more legislation to require convicted offenders serve 85% of imposed sentences.

Once the laws were written by ALEC and wholeheartedly backed by President Reagan in pursuing his “war on drugs”, ALEC wrote more legislation to allow private companies to begin to profit off imprisonment.  They wrote the Private Correctional Facilities ActPrison Industries Act and the Uniform Bail Act.  

The first was to authorize states to allow ALEC’s corporate members, Corrections Corporation of America, and Wackenhut (now Geo Group) to begin operating private prisons to house the huge numbers of new prisoners that arose due to the harsh laws written to imprison.  

The second written to create a low wage workforce accessible by private companies for manufacturing – and to allow these companies to lease publicly owned prison industrial facilities for as little as a dollar a year.

The third was written to require all bonding of those charged with criminal acts to be accomplished by commercial bonding companies at substantial fees.  This was to enrich ALEC’s long time member, the American Bail Coalition.

What all this did was to industrialize imprisonment and create a large conglomerate of companies realizing huge profits off imprisoning, working, feeding, providing healthcare, canteens and phone services to America’s incarcerated.  This defines and represents ALEC’s form of “Free-market”, “federalism” and “limited government” principles.  By turning humans into commodities with pre-determined shelf lives, ALEC was able to create a criminal justice industrial complex where private companies could capitalize and reap billions in profits off incarcerating the most individuals possible.

This new prison industrial revolution begun by ALEC and the ultra right drove up the costs of criminal justice from mere millions in 1970 to nearly $75 billion in 2011 (Geo and CCA raked in $2.9 billion of this in corporate income).  These billions in dollars are taken directly out of taxes paid by Americans.  Over the years state by state had to begin cutting education, healthcare programs, social welfare and similar programs to continue to increase spending on imprisonment.  In 2000 many states finding nothing left to cut to continue paying for housing and caring for more and more prisoners, began to look for ways to reduce the costs of incarceration itself.  They turned away from rehabilitation and began cutting education programs for prisoners.  Then vocational training went, then counseling and drug and alcohol programs and finally, recreation.  None of these reductions sufficed, prison continued to overflow and for every dollar saved through cutting important programs, that dollar and one more were needed to pay for more privatization.

Finally in 2010 many state authorities – even those considered solidly and forever conservative Republican – realized changes in criminal justice systems had to be made.  States verged on bankruptcy due to the continued increase in prison population and the costs associated with imprisonment.  Only then did the Right Wing fully understand that their “tough on crime” agenda advanced over the past 30 years was responsible for the dire financial position of state governments.  ALEC members and alumni such as Newt Gingrich formed a new “Right On Crime” organization (a joint project with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and prison fellowship). now stating that they had been wrong for years and that it is time to “right the ship” and begin thinking smart about crime.  Of course the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Prison Fellowship are ALEC members or supporters.

The first thought went to creating a new “product line.”  They turned to immigrants as a means of continuing to capitalize off prison beds that were beginning to sit vacant.  Americans out – “illegal immigrants” in…and at a higher per diem cost per inmate.  Because the federal government paid higher daily per diems for holding immigrants than paid for incarcerating prisoners the profits would increase.  So ALEC with the help of CCA crafted SB 1070 and introduced it in Arizona.  Once it became law, it has been redirected to dozens of other U.S. states and CCA and Geo Group (though no longer members of ALEC) secured more and more contracts to house immigrants and increase their profits exponentially.

In essence those who created mass imprisonment to enrich investors and company owners through corporatism were now going to step forward and provide a “solution” to the problems they created.  This has always been the ALEC and ultra-right meme; create a faux problem and then provide the perfect solution.  Once again ALEC member companies would profit off the new “Right on Crime” initiative…ALEC member, Prison Fellowship Ministry would reap huge grants and donations to offer reentry programs for offenders released from prison…the American Bail Coalition who had profited for years off bonding of criminals would also begin to see increased profits through a new ALEC initiative: the Conditional Early Release Bond   This legislation would allow prisoners to seek parole through posting a bond to the state to ensure they would not reoffend.  Of course this bond is provided to the state by a surety company represented by the ABC and for a commercial fee.

So in essence the new “Right on Crime” project represents another ALEC initiative. Being right on crime does not mean being “Smart on Crime.”  We need to get ALEC and their members completely out of our criminal justice system.  They have incarcerated enough and profited way too much off incarceration.  Today the UK is where America was in the 1990’s, pushing for longer sentences, more incarceration and to use inmate labor for manufacturing and labor for private companies.  America has already begun to realize those concepts are taking American worker’s jobs and the cost of incarcerating someone for 5 years for possessing a joint of marijuana is completely insane and too costly.

Hopefully those non-conservatives in the UK can convince politicians over there that following in America’s path is not always the best course to chart.

Read Rick Muir’s article <- HERE ->