by Max Brantley
I've written before about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing corporate funded factory for state legislation intended to advance the interests of the people like the Kochs, energy companies, phone companies, big pharma, etc., who support it. A few Arkansas Democrats over the years have thrown in with ALEC. But ALEC membership is all but a requirement for the rising Republican contingent in Arkansas. They not only used ALEC for cookie-cutter legislation in 2011, they even brought in ALEC staff members to testify in support of the ALEC-written agenda.
I've mentioned before that there's website that allows you to match up local legislation with the templates cut by ALEC with blanks to fill in the state of your choice.
Bloomberg News has an important report on how ALEC works its miracles, using a Louisiana illustration of how ALEC cookie-cutter legislation was introduced and passed to inhibit low-cost municipal internet service. This particular legislation is spreading like a cancer across America. You can guess it wasn't devised by a consumer group. From Bloomberg:
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit based in Washington, brings together state legislators, companies, and advocacy groups to shape “model legislation.” The legislators then take these models back to their own states. About 1,000 times a year, according to ALEC, a state legislator introduces a bill from its library of more than 800 models. About 200 times a year, one of them becomes law. The council, in essence, makes national policy, state by state.
ALEC’s online library contains model bills that tighten voter identification requirements, making it harder for students, the elderly, and the poor to vote. Such bills have shown up in 34 states. According to NPR, the Arizona bill that permits police to detain suspected illegal immigrants started as ALEC model legislation. Similar bills have passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, and Utah, and have been introduced in 17 other states. Legislators in Oregon, Washington, Montana, New Hampshire, and New Mexico have sponsored bills with identical ALEC language requiring states to withdraw from regional agreements on CO2 emissions. Sound a national trend among state legislators, and often you will find at the bottom of your plumb line a bill that looks like something that has passed through the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC drew up the game plan for fighting health care reform. That massive resistance plan is being implemented to the letter by Arkansas Republican legislators. Arkansas Republicans have so slavishly followed ALEC's directives that they're even opposing some measures — taking money for health exchange planning — that many conservative Republican governors have rejected as self-damaging to their states.
Each year, says Raegan Weber, an ALEC spokeswoman, the council’s board of directors sets priorities. For this year she cites a few bills, including the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, which ALEC drafted to prevent states from enforcing the new federal health insurance coverage mandate. It was passed in 10 states.
The funding and agenda-setting is secretive, but corporately driven. Good little corporate shills march back to their state Capitols and do their lords' bidding by filing copycat legislation. Give our current Republican delegation a majority in 2012 and you can consider your legislature outsourced to ALEC.
PS — I just read today that Bill Gates had poured a big sum into ALEC to devise merit pay legislation for teachers. Coming soon to the Arkansas Capitol soon, though even Waltonville "reformers" don't think much of merit pay these days. But the Koch heads have jumped on the "school reform" bandwagon and you can expect it to be ALEC's flavor, too. UPDATE: Here's more on ALEC's school strategy, coming soon to legislature near you.
None of this is illegal. And it’s effective. It allows companies to work directly with legislators from many states, rather than having to lobby in each state individually to get language into a bill. ALEC says its mission is to help state legislators collaborate around the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty. It does this, and something else, too. It offers companies substantial benefits that seem to have little to do with ideology. Corporations drop bills off at one end, and they come out the other, stamped with the imprimatur of a nonprofit, “nonpartisan” group of state legislators. Among other things, ALEC is a bill laundry.