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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALEC Is Subject to Three Complaints Alleging Tax Fraud

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

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

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

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

ALEC’s Corporate Funders Were Well Known before this Hearing

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

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

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