“Corporations have, and ought to have, many privileges, but among them is not the privilege to sit in political conventions or occupy seats in legislative chambers.” – Albert Baird Cummins, Iowa Governor 1902-1908.
ALEC, founded in 1973, is a major corporate tool used to hijack the legislative process in the United States. Alec registered with the IRS as a public charity in 1975. Its purpose is to bring together corporate representatives and state legislators to write legislation that benefits the corporations and hurts the public. It does this by offering ‘scholarships’, all expenses paid trips to ALEC conferences several times every year.
As of the 2012 elections, almost one-third of all state legislators are current members, as well as ‘alumni’ consisting of at least 85 members of Congress and 14 current or former governors. ALEC also has about 300 corporate, foundation and private-sector members.
In November 2011, Florida State Representative Rachel Burgin introduced a bill to ask the Federal Government to lower the corporate tax rate. Someone had forgotten to remove the ALEC mission statement from the bill. It was quickly withdrawn, edited and resubmitted as HM717. Colorado, Indiana and South Carolina specifically exempt ALEC from state gift and lobbying laws.
ALEC funds are used to pay for or reimburse legislators for travel expenses such as airfare, hotel rooms and meals, but this does not include money corporations spend to entertain legislators on site. 98% of ALEC revenue comes from corporations and outside sources. Legislators pay $50/year to be members. Corporate membership is $7000 – $25,000/year, plus $2500 – $10,000 to be on an ALEC ‘task force’ where corporate interests and legislators vote as equals to decide which ALEC bills will be introduced in State Legislatures. Exxon Mobil, Altria (Philip Morris), AT&T, Koch Industries, State Farm Insurance, Peabody, and GlaxoSmithKline are among its largest and longtime funders. David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity is also a member. ALEC’s legislative agenda has included:
- Making it harder for Americans to vote
- Making it harder for unions to organize
- Stopping essential benefits for workers
- Promoting trade laws that outsource jobs
- Limiting damages for dangerous products
- Blocking efforts to address climate change
- Limiting rules that protect air and water
- Privatizing schools and prisons
- Opposing Wall Street reforms
- Opposing health insurance reforms
- Stopping limits on banking fees
- Opposing taxes on windfall oil profits
- Opposing limits on machine guns
- Opposing taxes on investment income
- Privatizing Social Security and Medicaid
Wisconsin is a good example state. Its 2011–2012 legislative session included at least 32 bills or budget items showing an ALEC origin. They included voter ID laws, laws to ban lawsuits for death or injury from prescription drugs, bills to restrict union dues collection, bills to help the tobacco industry and bills to limit telecomm regulation. 21 of these bills are now law in Wisconsin.
Officially Wisconsin has had a zero tolerance policy concerning gifts to lawmakers, but from 2006-2008 ALEC spent almost $117,000 to pay for Wisconsin legislators to attend resort meetings with corporate lobbyists. In 2010 PhRMA, the largest trade group of drug manufacturers, gave more than $350,000 to ALEC. It was told to send the money to Wisconsin, the street address of Amy Boyer, ALEC’s corporate co-chair for Wisconsin and a lobbyist for Koch Industries and other energy corporations.
A Wisconsin State Representative introduced a bill that would force legislators to list their ‘scholarship’ money on disclosure forms. The bill was referred to Committee on Assembly Organization on February 23, 2012. No action was taken by the committee, which was chaired by 2 ALEC members.
Current Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, a former ALEC member, denied that his omnibus ‘tort reform’ bill was based on ALEC bills, but ALEC e-mails to legislators said that Walker’s proposal contained many of their bills and urged that they vote in favor. The law passed quickly.
ALEC gets about 1000 bills on state ballots every year, and about one fifth of these pass, so every year, from this one group, we have about 200 new laws that benefit corporations. Some of these laws are written entirely by corporate representatives. A tobacco industry representative once called State Legislatures their “home field”.
Sam Brunelli, when he was ALEC Executive Director, “With our success rate at more than 20%, I would say that ALEC is a good investment. Nowhere else can you get a return that high.”
Former Wisconsin Governor and former ALEC member Tommy Thompson – “Myself, I always loved going to (ALEC) meetings because I always found new ideas. Then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare that ’It’s mine.’
- In 2006 ALEC spent $634,791 to legislators and others for airfare, hotels, food, drink and misc. to attend a Spring meeting at Coeur D’Alene Resort, a Summer meeting at San Francisco Marriott Marquis, and a winter meeting at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa.
- In 2007 the total was $587,461 for Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa, Philadelphia Marriott on Market, Marriott Wardman Park in D.C., and others.
- In 2008 $593,654 was spent for legislators and their families to attend Arlington Resort & Spa, Hot Springs, Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, and Marriott Wardman Park in D.C.
- Complete public data after 2008 is not available, but is probably consistent with earlier years. One exception may be 2011, which could be much higher, since they had 500 new members after the 2010 midterm elections.
A wonderful and thorough investigation of ALEC is available at www.ALECexposed.org . A complete list of current and former members is available at the same site. After ALEC’s agenda was exposed, many legislators, corporations, and other organizations resigned their ALEC memberships. Do you suppose they are now working for the common good, or have they simply moved their behavior behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny?