By Lisa Graves
On August 3, the American Legislative Exchange Council kicks off its annual meeting in the Big Easy. State legislators from across the country will arrive in New Orleans to be wined and dined by corporate lobbyists. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, for example, has invited legislators to a big smoke at its cigar reception on Bourbon Street. But the meeting is not all fun and games. Legislators will be sitting down with some of the biggest corporations in the world -- Koch Industries, Bayer, Kraft, Coca-Cola, State Farm, AT&T, WalMart, Philip Morris and more -- behind closed doors. There, they approve one-size-fits-all changes to the law that ALEC legislators take home and introduce as their own brilliant policy innovations.
ALEC is little more than a bill factory for corporate-friendly legislation that often repeals people's rights or fattens the corporate bottom line. We think citizens have a right to know that these Fortune 100 firms "have a voice and a vote" through ALEC on bills before they are introduced in state houses, cleansed of the fact that corporations already voted on them. ALEC's hot bills lately have sought to require voter ID, promote tobacco products flavored to appeal to kids, privatize Medicare and Medicaid, privatize prisons and public schools, and legalize the harassment of immigrants.
The Center for Media and Democracy made available to the public over 800 "model" bills and resolutions voted on by corporations through ALEC, which we analyze on ALECexposed.org. Citizens can look at the actual ALEC bills and compare them to legislation moving in their states
ALEC's National Chairman is Louisiana Rep. Noble Ellington, the former Democrat from Franklin Parish. Ellington defended ALEC on National Public Radio, but admitted that corporations have a big role in crafting ALEC bills. Ellington himself introduced numerous ALEC bills, including two last year that would undermine environmental protections for Louisiana wetlands. ALEC's Private Property Protection Act (pdf) (HB 1040) basically asserts that corporations have a right to pollute and should be compensated by taxpayers if that right is infringed by laws limiting pollution. He also proposed studying ALEC's "Opportunity to Correct Act" (HCSR 5), which would require that polluters get special notice before the government can find that they are violating the law.
ALEC's arsenal includes bills to make it harder for people to band together to negotiate with employers through unions. The ALEC "Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act," proposed by Rep. Anthony Ligi (as HB204), was rationalized on the claim that "Increased transparency in labor negotiation meetings and documents serves to provide all parties to the negotiations with an incentive to avoid any hint of corruption; Open sessions and increased oversight help ensure that government is using taxpayer money effectively." Perhaps Ligi will sponsor a bill to open ALEC's task force meetings, where corporations and legislators vote, to similar sunshine and require disclosure of ALEC's corporate donors "to avoid any hint of corruption," especially since taxpayers pay many legislators' ALEC dues.
Last year, Louisiana also approved a version of ALEC's "Freedom of Choice in Health Care" sought by Rep. Kirk Talbot (HB 1474). This bill is an end-run around guaranteed health care protections for Louisianans in the 2010 federal insurance reform bill. ALEC's bill was introduced in 42 states but failed in most. Rep. Jim Tucker introduced two versions of the ALEC "Public Employees Portable Retirement Act" last year (HB930 and HB931), which would allow Wall Street firms to carve out millions in fees from the pension system of state employees. Rep. Ernest Wooten introduced anti-immigrant legislation resembling ALEC's "No Sanctuary Cities" Act (pdf) (HB411), similar to Arizona's SB 1070 law.
More than 98% of ALEC's revenues come from sources other than legislative dues, such as corporations, corporate trade groups, and CEO-funded foundations. Legislators will undoubtedly enjoy lavish accommodations at the lovely Marriott in the French Quarter. Many will have their flights and hotel for their family vacation to the convention reimbursed by ALEC "scholarships" funded by corporations. But this year, demonstrators will be joining the events to protest ALEC's facilitation of corporate meddling in state democratic processes that are supposed to be of, by, and for the people, not the richest companies in the world.