You’ve probably never heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council – and that’s a good thing, at least from the point of view of the shadowy group of lawyers and lobbyists who are using it to help destroy worker protections across the country.
The Council, or ALEC, as it’s often called, was founded in 1973 and describes itself as a “unique forum for diverse groups to exchange ideas and develop real, state-based solutions that encourage growth, preserve economic security and protect hardworking taxpayers.” In reality, it’s the legislation factory where corporate underlings write up new bills designed to fulfill the wildest dreams of the huge corporations that fund the group.
The Terrible Abuse of Power: How the ‘Legislation Factory’ Works
Lazy, corrupt lawmakers then copy and paste ALEC’s bills into their own state’s format and try to get them passed by their state governments – ALEC counts over one-fourth of state lawmakers among its members.
And it’s not just state reps and state senators who are taking ALEC’s marching orders. The group counts more than 70 U.S. representatives and 13 senators among its members. U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Speaker of the House John Boehner have all been named as prominent ALEC members.
Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage was a featured speaker at the group’s 2015 winter meeting, held in Scottsdale, Arizona in December. A peek behind the curtain of LePage’s administration helps reveal ALEC’s insidious hold over state governments: Ann Robinson, one of LePage’s top campaign staffers, is ALEC’s private sector co-chair for the state of Maine. Stephen Bowen, LePage’s first Department of Education head, was a member of ALEC’s education committee earlier in his career. And best of all, another ALEC Maine co-chair (and former lobbyist), Patty Aho, was named the head of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection by LePage. The group also commands allegiance from presidential candidates – GOP contender Dr. Ben Carson was the keynote speaker at the group’s recent meeting.
The pattern in Maine is the same elsewhere: low-level politicians committed to ALEC’s agenda are getting appointed and reappointed to important posts in state government, where they can help undermine existing regulations in favor of corporate profits.
The Great Lie of “Reform”
Practically every single one of ALEC’s suggested bills helps destroy protections for ordinary citizens and workers. For instance, ALEC has designed bills aimed at preventing cities and towns from increasing the minimum wage and enacting their own local environmental protection laws.
The mysterious group is also scheming to enact so-called “tort reform,” which makes it harder for ordinary people who’ve been hurt by corporations to get justice. The group holds an annual “Boot Camp” for state legislators to better instruct them on how to get bills passed that reduce the ability of ordinary people to go to court to fight for their rights against corporations.
In 2013 alone, 71 ALEC-written bills were introduced in various state legislatures, limiting citizens’ ability to hold corporations accountable, allowing many corporations to get off scot-free if more than 1 company was at fault, and limiting the amount of damages juries can award for the pain and suffering corporations have caused.
“Each of these bills would weaken the legal rights of everyday people who are wrongfully harmed by a corporation or health care provider,” Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, a group that works to protect the civil justice system and fight tort reform, said describing her group’s study of the bills.
Is It a Bright Future for Shadowy Group?
Unfortunately, ALEC still has many powerful friends helping it to succeed, including the Koch brothers, who chair the 2nd most profitable company in America, Koch Industries, Inc. And it may soon have even more powerful allies. Dr. Ben Carson, in his keynote speech, proudly declared his desire to let corporations trample existing worker protections. Under his administration, the Environmental Protection Agency’s role would be reduced to helping corporations deploy their technology more efficiently, he proclaimed.
“[The engine of the American economy] doesn’t work, because we have encircled that engine with all kinds of fetters. It used to be just a regulatory creep, now it’s a regulatory gallop,” Carson said. “The government is not supposed to be in every aspect of our lives, and we need to kick them out…every single regulation costs money.”
Already on ALEC’s agenda this year are efforts to help the states undermine federal clean energy rules, cut Medicaid, preserve cable company monopolies, and even use the so-called “Article V Solution” to re-write the American Constitution.
Carson’s remarks make for a chilling preview of the kind of America ALEC and its friends in the executive suites are working so hard to create – a vision which may come true if Carson or another GOP ALEC acolyte is elected in 2016.