By John Lawrence / San Diego Free Press
Why hire individual lobbyists and send them out in search of Congressmen when you can set up a lobbying clearinghouse and have them come to you?
ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, does just that. Funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil and PhRMA, a trade association for the pharmaceutical industry, legislators are paid to come to ALEC meetings, where they are wined, dined, and handed “model” legislation to make into law in their state. Through ALEC, corporations vote on “model” legislation alongside politicians behind closed doors.
So instead of the lobbyists fanning out on Capitol Hill to meet with Congressmen individually, public officials are invited en masse to an ALEC meeting off Capitol Hill at a fancy resort, and they had better be there or be square if they want a campaign contribution or a great job when their “public service” career comes to an end.
Foundations controlled by the billionaire Koch brothers gave ALEC over $200,000 in 2009. And that’s in addition to the undisclosed amount paid in membership dues by Koch Industries. The Koch foundations have given ALEC at least $600,000 in the past decade or so, and Koch Industries has donated an untold amount.
There are also a number of other right wing moneybags contributing to ALEC. The Castle Rock Foundation, which is run by right wing beer heir Peter Coors and the right wing John M. Olin Foundation have also been donors to ALEC. Another of the big right wing foundations, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, has been a funder as well as right winger Richard Scaife.
ALEC brings legislators and their families, rich individuals and corporations together at luxury resorts. For a few hours of work on a task force and a couple of indoctrination sessions by ALEC experts, part-time legislators can bring the whole family to ALEC’s annual convention, work for a few hours, then stay in swank hotels, attend cool parties and raise funds for the campaign coffer, all heavily subsidized by the corporate till. In 2009, ALEC spent $251,873 on childcare so Mom and Dad could have fun.
The legislators from all levels – local, state and national – are then handed model legislation which the legislators then take back home to their districts where they present it as having been crafted by themselves instead of by corporate lawyers. ALEC makes old-fashioned lobbying obsolete. Once legislators return to their state with corporate-sponsored ALEC legislation in hand, the legislators themselves become “super-lobbyists” for ALEC’s corporate agenda, cutting out the middleman. The fusion of politician and lobbyist is complete.
A lot of this legislation then gets passed in states that are controlled by Republican governors and legislators. For instance, in Michigan the legislature just passed a so-called right-to-work law which basically defunds unions. Right to work laws ban mandatory union dues. Unions are one of the biggest funders of Democrats so taking money away from union coffers essentially helps more Republicans get elected.
In Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker tried to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights. After much ballyhoo and a recall election, Walkerwas able to retain his position although much of his union busting efforts were struck down by a state judge. To give you some idea of the influence that ALEC has in Wisconsin read the following:
- 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin’s 2011-2012 legislative session;
- 21 of these bills or budget provisions have passed, and two were vetoed;
- More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations since 2008;
- More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period for his state campaign account;
- At least 49 current Wisconsin legislators are known ALEC members, including the leaders of both the House and Senate as well as other legislators holding key posts in the state. Additionally, the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Administration, and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission are ALEC alumni; and
- At least 17 current legislators have received thousands of dollars of gifts cumulatively from ALEC corporations in the past few years, in the form of flights and hotel rooms filtered through the ALEC “scholarship fund” (complete “scholarship” information is not available).
ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting was held in San Diego at the Manchester Grand Hyatt resort. In California the main ALEC affiliate is the State Policy Network, of which the San Diego Institute for Policy Research founded by Steve Francis is a member. Francis unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2005 as a fiscal conservative against former San Diego Chief of Police Jerry Sanders and Councilwoman Donna Frye. Francis ran again in 2008 against incumbent Jerry Sanders. The San Diego Institute for Policy Research (which now resides at National University) is an ALEC affiliate, according to Daily Kos and generates economic and policy research with regard to the San Diego region. (UPDATE: See email/comment from W. Erik Bruvold, President, National University System Institute for Policy Research. Mr. Bruvold asserts that his group is not affiliated with ALEC. We are currently researching this further.) Francis serves on the Board of Advisers for the Institute.
San Diego just escaped an ALEC invasion when Bob Filner beat Carl DeMaio for mayor. According to Jim Miller:
“[The Center on Policy Initiatives report, ‘Target San Diego: The Right Wing Assault on Urban Democracy and Smart Government’ by Lee Cokorinos] carefully documents the intricate web of connections between the corporate-funded think tanks at the national, state and local level. Some of the key organizations include the aforementioned Americans for Tax Reform, Freedom Works and the American Legislative Exchange Council at the national level; the Project for California’s Future, the Pacific Research Institute, the Claremont Institute and the Reason Foundation at the state level; and the Performance Institute [founded by Carl DeMaio] here in San Diego.”
Miller goes on:
“In California, privatization advocates at think tanks like the Pacific Research Institute and the Claremont Institute argue that, according to Cokorinos, “a key political objective for the right wing is to compel states and localities to compete with one another in a frenzy of deregulation and privatization that will supposedly attract investment…. Taken to its extreme, this would involve a race to the bottom, where perfect efficiency equals no regulation, and the perfect state is a minimal government that simply secures the sanctity of contracts and provides for the common defense.”
“In addition to the work being done at the Pacific Research and Claremont institutes, the Reason Foundation cranks out an endless flow of pro-privatization propaganda aimed at lambasting the incurably wasteful inefficiency of government in contrast to the flawless productivity of market forces. Through the use of “performance reviews,” which inevitably show how government just doesn’t work like the business world, the idea of “performance-based government” is promoted as the final solution for the hapless public sector, which just needs to be put to sleep.
“As Cokorinos observes, “the performance review, while long a part of organizational culture public and private, is used [in Reason Foundation reports] as a non-threatening entry point to achieve an ideological purpose” to identify inefficiencies that require the expertise of right-wing think-tank experts to be solved. DeMaio, in his time at Reason, and others after him have promoted a radical privatization agenda by releasing annual “privatization reports” that have advocated the privatization of military housing, education, transportation systems, public roads and highways, housing, major infrastructure projects and much more.
“DeMaio founded the Performance Institute in 2001 and set about bringing to San Diego the skills he learned at Reason and while working to starve the beast in the Beltway with Newt Gingrich at the Congressional Institute. The conservative old guard in San Diego seemed to be in peril, with labor, environmental activists and other progressives gaining new political clout. Democrats controlled the City Council for the first time in the history of the city, and a significant political realignment seemed possible.”
It’s clear San Diego barely escaped an extreme right wing radical who would have privatized city government and made San Diego a model of what ALEC is trying to accomplish throughout the US.
For some time legislation has not been written by elected officials but by lobbyists and presented to elected officials who then get it enacted into law if they have the votes on their side. In the election of 2010 Republicans swept into power at the state level particularly in states like Michigan,Ohio,Wisconsin and Florida. In all Republicans control 27 state legislatures and Democrats control 19. A lot of the right wing action, therefore, is at the state level. High on their agenda is privatization. Publicly owned assets are put up for sale. Government provided services are outsourced to private corporations. Public schools are replaced by charter schools.
In the last few years, the Michigan state government has engaged in several privatization efforts. In 1992 the governor issued an executive order creating the Michigan Public-Private Partnership Commission and charged it with analyzing ways in which state services can be provided more efficiently by “introducing competition into the public sector.” The commission encouraged the various departments to review each activity and every program in state government to find candidates for potential privatization.
ALEC members represent a who’s who of right wing politicians and major corporations. The organization has 2000 legislative members and over 300 corporate members. Corporations not legislators fund almost all of ALEC’s activities. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. The long-term representation of Koch Industries on the governing board means that Koch has had influence over an untold number of ALEC bills.
ALEC has given awards to: Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, Charles and David Koch, Richard de Vos, Tommy Thompson, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Rick Perry, Congressman Mark Foley (intern sex scandal), and Congressman Billy Tauzin. ALEC alumni include: Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Congressman Joe Wilson, (who called President Obama a “liar” during the State of the Union address), former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former House Speaker Tom DeLay, Andrew Card, Donald Rumsfeld (1985 Chair of ALEC’s Business Policy Board), Governor Scott Walker, Governor Jan Brewer, and more. Featured speakers have included: Milton Friedman, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, George Allen, Jessie Helms, Pete Coors, Governor Mitch Daniels among others.