EXPOSED: ALEC's Influence in Missouri
Progress Missouri today released a detailed research report exposing the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Missouri Capitol. Through ALEC, corporations hand Missouri legislators wish lists in the form of "model" legislation that often directly benefit their bottom line at the expense of Missouri families. Behind closed doors, numerous ALEC model bills are crafted by corporations, for corporations. Elected officials who are members of ALEC then bring their model legislation back to Missouri, where they claim them as their own ideas and important public policy innovations without disclosing that corporations crafted and pre-voted on the bills at closed-door meetings with legislators who are part of ALEC.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate bill mill exerting extraordinary and secretive influence in the Missouri legislature and in other states. Through ALEC, corporations hand Missouri legislators wish lists in the form of "model" legislation that often directly benefit their bottom line at the expense of Missouri families. Behind closed doors, numerous ALEC model bills are crafted by corporations, for corporations. Elected officials who are members of ALEC bring ALEC legislation back to Missouri, where they claim them as their own ideas and important public policy innovations without disclosing that corporations crafted and pre-voted on the bills at closed-door meetings with legislators who are part of ALEC.
ALEC provides legislators with a means to appear highly active in the legislative process by secretly abdicating their job drafting legislation to corporate special interests. "It is funded and dominated by free-market and corporate interests," writes the Kansas City Star, "who work with like-minded legislators to shield corporations from legal action, limit the rights of workers, disenfranchise voters, radically privatize the public education system, hinder the ability of government to regulate and curb polluters, and further skew our democracy in the favor of corporations and their political allies."
More than 60 legislators in Missouri have been identified as having ties to ALEC, and the number may be much higher. Identifying the list of Missouri legislators who are part of ALEC is a difficult task, because ALEC operates largely in secret. Even though they claim to be a legislative membership organization, there is no full list of members made public by the organization. Missouri legislators with ALEC ties include Speaker Tim Jones, Majority Leader John Diehl, Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, and State Senator John Lamping.
Progress Missouri has identified more than 40 Missouri bills that directly echo ALEC models. ALEC bills in Missouri include so-called right to work laws, bans on implementation of the Common Core State Standards, resolutions supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, an act relating to wireless communication towers, voter registration hurdles, a "parent trigger act," a "parents’ rights" resolution, purely political resolutions "reaffirming 10th amendment rights," a "private attorney retention act," an Anti-Affordable Care Act ballot measure, a resolution opposing food and beverage taxes, an "asbestos fairness act," a resolution supporting the electoral college, a "castle doctrine" law, a resolution encouraging congress to undermine Social Security, and a "private property protection act."
ALEC 101: The Corporate Bill Mill Remaking Missouri Law
As noted by the Center for Media and Democracy's ALEC Exposed project, the American Legislative Exchange Council is not simply a lobbying group or a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Corporations behind ALEC's closed doors hand state legislators the changes to the law that they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve "model" bills, and also fund almost all of ALEC's operations.
Participating legislators, who are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, bring ALEC proposals back to Missouri and other statehouses as their own ideas and important public policy innovations, without disclosing that corporations crafted and pre-voted on the bills alongside legislators in closed-door meetings at fancy resorts. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills are introduced by legislative members every year, with at least one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a "unique," "unparalleled" and "unmatched" organization.
"ALEC is a group funded by corporations and conservative activists. It beguiles conservative state lawmakers with wining and dining at annual conferences and the chance to mingle with deep-pocketed donors. In return, lawmakers promote the group's 'model legislation,' bills aimed at things like stripping workers of protections and requiring photo identification to vote."
- Kansas City Star, 04/6/2012
Why would a legislator be interested in advancing cookie-cutter bills that are giveaways for multinational corporations located outside of Missouri? ALEC's appeal rests largely on the fact that legislators receive trips, food and lodging that provide many part-time legislators and their families with vacations, along with the opportunity to rub shoulders with prospective donors to their political campaigns. For a few hours of work on a task force and a couple of workshops by ALEC experts, part-time legislators can bring the whole family to ALEC's annual convention, vote in private meetings with corporate lobbyists , stay in swank hotels and attend parties, all heavily subsidized by the corporate till. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported after the 2011 ALEC conference in New Orleans, "corporate benefactors made sure Missouri lawmakers attending the conference were well fed and hydrated."
As CMD and Common Cause have reported, ALEC also operates several ‘scholarship’ fund for legislators willing to carry their bills in capitols around the country. These funds are used to allow corporations to give thousands of dollars in gifts to legislators while avoiding the disclosure that might expose the conflicts of interests inherent in such a scheme. Scholarships are rarely disclosed to the public, and have been banned for ethics issues in at least three states.
Corporations have recently come under scrutiny because of their relationship with ALEC and more than 40 have cut ties all together. Corporations that have dropped ALEC membership include: Coca-Cola Company, Pepsi, Kraft, Intuit, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Mars, Arizona Public Service, Reed Elseiver, American Traffic Solutions, Blue Cross Blue Shield, YUM! Brands, Procter & Gamble, Kaplan, Scantron Corporation, Amazon.com, Medtronic, Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, Dell Computers, John Deere & Company, CVS Caremark, MillerCoors, Hewlett-Packard, Best Buy, Express Scripts/Medco, Energy Solutions, Connections Academy, General Motors, Walgreens, Louis Dreyfus, Amgen, General Electric, Western Union, Sprint Nextel, Symantec, Reckitt Benckiser Group, Entergy, Wells Fargo, Merc, Sanofi. Bank of America, and WellPoint.
However, as Barb Shelly of the Kansas City Star notes, ALEC remains a driving force for regressive proposals in the Missouri General Assembly.
“There’s been no outcry from businesses begging the legislatures to clip the wings of unions. No, the pressure comes from outside groups. Republican legislators are willing to poison relationships and demean their states’ teachers, public safety workers and others in order to please their out-of-state bosses. These include the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Tax Limitation Committee, both of which sent operatives to Jefferson City this session to fire up Republican lawmakers. Some of the language in the anti-union bills in Missouri and Kansas is strikingly similar to model bills drafted by ALEC.”
- Kansas City Star, 03/20/2013
ALEC provides legislators with a means to appear highly active in the legislative process while outsourcing by transferring their role in drafting legislation to corporate special interests "It is funded and dominated by free-market and corporate interests," writes the Kansas City Star, "who work with like-minded legislators to push various agendas." And what are these various corporate agendas? Here is a taste:
TAKING AWAY WORKERS' RIGHTS WHILE SHIELDING CORPORATIONS FROM ACCOUNTABILITY
ALEC works fervently to promote laws that would shield corporations from legal accountability to Missouri citizens and limit the rights of workers in the state. The group's model legislation would roll back laws regarding corporate liability for harming state residents, workers' compensation and on-the-job protections, collective bargaining and organizing rights, prevailing wage and minimum wage laws. ALEC is a main proponent of bills that undermine organized labor by stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights and that weaken the power of workers in the private sector through so-called "right to work" laws. They also push "regulatory flexibility" laws that lead to massive deregulation of rules designed to protect the health of Missouri families.
TAKING AWAY VOTERS' FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS
ALEC is directly tied to the trend among state legislatures to limit the ability of American citizens to vote through restrictive "voter ID" laws. Using demonstrably false allegations of "voter fraud," right-wing politicians are pursuing policies that disenfranchise students and other at-risk voters--including the elderly and the poor--who are unlikely to have drivers' licenses with their current residence and who previously could vote showing proof of residence and other identification. By suppressing the vote of such groups of likely Democratic voters, ALEC's model "Voter ID Act" grants an electoral advantage to Republicans while undermining the fundamental right to vote in America. In addition, ALEC wants to make it easier for corporations to participate in the political process. The Public Safety and Elections Task Force included Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics, one of the most vociferous pro-corporate involvement in elections groups in the nation, and promoted legislation that would devastate campaign reform and increase corporate influence in elections.
PRIVATIZING PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Despite constitutional problems, negative impacts on public schools, bias against disadvantaged students, and comprehensive studies that demonstrate that private school voucher programs failed to make any substantial improvements to education, ALEC pushes vouchers as a way to privatize public education and transfer Missouri tax dollars from public institutions to private profits. Under the guise of "school choice," ALEC pushes bills with titles like "Parental Choice Scholarship Act" and the "Education Enterprise Act" that establish or expand private school voucher programs.
At the bidding of its major donors like Peabody Energy, Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, ALEC is a powerful force behind state-level legislation that would hinder the ability of the people to curb polluters through governmental power. ALEC has previously said that carbon dioxide "is beneficial to plant and human life alike," and it promotes climate change denialism. The group's model legislation assails EPA emissions guidelines and greenhouse gas regulations, destabilizes regional climate initiatives, permits free-reign for energy corporations, and pushes for massive deregulation of some of the biggest polluters on the planet.
UNDERMINING PUBLIC SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES
As states face challenging budget deficits, ALEC wants to make it more difficult to generate revenue in order to close shortfalls. Such bills include the "Super Majority Act," which makes it so complicated for legislatures to change tax policy that California voters overturned the law; the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights," which brought fiscal disaster to Colorado; and measures to eliminate capital gains and progressive income taxes. The main beneficiaries of ALEC's irresponsible fiscal policies are corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers.
For more information on the one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation, please see:
- ALEC Exposed, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy
- "ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests In State Legislatures"
- "Beyond Dinner and a Movie: ALEC Actively Courts State Lawmakers"
- "Our Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding ALEC's Influence on Your State Laws."
- "Legislating Under the Influence; Money, Power, and the American Legislative Exchange Council."