Politicians are often called “lawmakers” because, presumably, they create the legislation that governs the law of the land. However, the findings of a recent investigation carried out by journalists in Georgia suggest that our politicians might be in need of a different description.
The news report, from Atlanta’s WXIA 11 (NBC), found that politicians, corporate lobbyists, and officials from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were all secretly meeting at a resort hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Their mission: to exchange money and promises and to write up “fill in the blank” bills that could later be introduced in state legislatures.
That’s right, corporate lobbyists were writing laws and giving them directly to politicians along with a juicy check. The politicians only had to scribble in their state’s name into a fill-in-the-blank before introducing it as legislation back at their respective capitols.
When journalist Brendan Keefe tried entering the resort conference room, he was denied access and escorted away by 4 off-duty sheriffs.
“Are laws being made in there?” Keefe asked.
None of the sheriffs or ALEC officials responded to his question.
What Is ALEC?
“[ALEC] is really a corporate bill mill,” Senator Nan Orrock (D-GA) said in the NBC news report. Orrock would know best: she used to be an ALEC member. “[The corporate lobbyists] are cranking out legislation, putting it into the hands of legislators who go back and file it,” Orrock said.
ALEC is an organization dedicated to the collaboration between state politicians and Big Business. Corporations pay huge sums to gain membership and a spot at one of ALEC’s highly-secretive meetings, where they push their legislative wish lists onto state lawmakers. According to Source Watch, there are over 2,000 state legislators working for ALEC. These politicians receive all-expenses-paid vacations to luxury hotels where they are wined and dined by representatives of some of the biggest corporations in the country, including Koch Industries, General Electric, Clorox, 3M, and many other companies of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma.
What Goes on at These Secret Meetings?
Behind the closed doors of ALEC’s shady meetings, Sen. Orrock said the corporations and the legislators hold equal power. “There are votes taken that have the corporate folks at the same table voting with the legislators on what bills to pick, and that at its core, just screams out ‘inappropriate,’” Orrock said.
Every year, ALEC’s political members introduce over 1,000 ALEC bills at state capitols around the country. About 200 of these “model bills” wind up becoming law. ALEC is registered as a nonprofit organization, so their donations are also tax deductible. Ninety-eight percent of the group’s revenue comes from corporations.
The ALEC bills are designed to improve the corporate bottom line at the expense of the general U.S. population. ALEC bills have created major tax loopholes for big industries and corporate giants, offshored U.S. jobs, suppressed the minimum wage, and weakened environmental, public health, and safety regulations. Another shameful focus of ALEC legislation has been taking away the rights of sick and dying asbestos victims.
They Get Rich, You Die from Asbestos
ALEC has been responsible for countless state bills that severely limit the ability of asbestos victims to receive justice and compensation from the very corporations that made them ill. In the NBC News report, Keefe traced Georgia’s Asbestos Claims Priorities Act (passed in 2007) all the way back to an ALEC meeting room at The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The bill was written by the attending corporate powers and then given to 3 Georgia lawmakers who received over $22,000 from ALEC during a 2-year period. The law prevents people suffering and dying from the effects of asbestos exposure from suing guilty asbestos manufacturers and users.
Georgia’s law was an older iteration of the so-called Furthering Asbestos Claims and Transparency (FACT) Act, which seeks to limit plaintiffs’ ability to file claims against companies who knowingly exposed their employees to asbestos.
Passing the FACT Act at both the state and the federal level has been one of ALEC’s primary focuses. Although it’s been proposed by Republican lawmakers that the FACT Act will stop corruption in the asbestos litigation system, there is no evidence that corruption exists in the first place. Instead, it’s clear the bill only increases the burden on asbestos victims by making it harder for them to receive the compensation they deserve. What’s worse, the bill also makes asbestos victims seeking justice vulnerable to cybercrime and identity theft.
Why would corporations use ALEC to disenfranchise asbestos victims? The answer is obvious: when you’ve made thousands of people ill with asbestosis and mesothelioma, paying for all the medical bills can be expensive. Greedy corporations don’t want to pay asbestos victims, regardless of ethical or moral responsibility. The corporations knew about asbestos and did nothing to stop people from getting sick, and now they’re using ALEC to get out of paying the victims.
The government should protect and assist citizens who have been exploited by greedy corporations. However, it’s been made clear time and time again that politicians are more attentive to the needs of Big Business than they are to the needs of the American people. Why? Because Big Business has, well, big pockets.
Unfortunately, our “lawmakers” aren’t the ones making the laws. The corporations in so-called nonprofit organizations like ALEC are. For this reason, perhaps “corporate servants” would be a more suitable title for the large handful of corrupt men and women working “on behalf of the people” in capitols across America.