ALEC Exposed, for 24 Hours
What is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)?
For almost 40 years now, up to 300 of the largest US corporations—including Koch Industries, Verizon, Bank of America and Exxon—have used ALEC to push model legislation, which is beneficial to their corporate interests, into law in the states. ALEC boasts that a third of all state legislators in the US are members, introducing around 1,000 ALEC bills every year. By using ALEC to pursue their agenda, they are able to hide their fingerprints, avoid lobbying disclosure, and evade the kind of increased scrutiny that comes when citizens know it’s actually corporationsthat draftedsome of their most important laws. Recent ALEC bills have rolled back voting rights, reduced environmental protections and stripped away collective bargaining rights for workers around the country.
When Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin (R- 56) introduced a bill in November calling on the federal government to reduce taxes for corporations (HM 685), she made an embarrassing mistake. Rep. Burgin was introducing a bill she had received from the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. A bill written by the Tax Foundation, corporate members of ALEC’s ‘Tax and Fiscal Policy task force” and a group founded and funded by major corporate interests, including the billionaire Koch brothers.
All ALEC model resolutions contain a boilerplate paragraph, describing ALEC’s adherence to free market principles and limited government. When legislators introduce one of ALEC’s bills, they normally remove this paragraph. Sometimes (but only sometimes) legislators will make some slight alterations to anALEC model bill,perhaps to include something specific to them or to their state. Rep. Burgin didn’t do that. Instead she introduced a bill that was the same as the model word-for-word, forgetting even to remove the paragraph naming ALEC and describing its principles.
As a Texas Governor might say; “Oops!”
The next day, Rep. Burgin quickly withdrew the bill hoping that no one had noticed and then re-introduced it 24-hours later, with a new bill number (HM 717), but now without the problematic paragraph. Nobody seems to have noticed until now.
With some justification, you might ask why this really matters: even if this bill passed it wouldn’t force Congress to act. However, I think it matters because the states play a very significant role in setting the national agenda. Corporations know this, which is why they frequently use ALEC to secretly introduce their model bills, creating the impression of widespread popular uproar in the state houses. In recent years they have used this mechanism for both attacks on the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases (ALEC bill introduced in 22 states) and in pushing back against the Affordable Care Act (ALEC bill introduced in 44 states).
It also matters because the question of whether corporations should pay more or less in tax is an issue that gets to the heart of politics in America. Common Cause board chair Robert Reich writes about this tension between corporate influence and America’s economic trajectory in an op-ed published in today’s Chicago Tribune.
Rep. Burgin’s (revised) bill to reduce corporate taxes has already been voted out of the Federal Affairs Subcommittee, and is due to have a hearing in the State Affairs Committee soon. Only one external voice was heard at the subcommittee hearing, a lobbyist from the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), a lobby group who themselves have links to ALEC. AIF is now run by notorious ex-Congressman and Florida Speaker Tom Feeney, who not only was caught up in the Jack Abramoff scandal, but was once named one of the “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress” by the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
It matters who writes our laws and it matters who stands to benefit from them. When these are the very same entity, then we as citizens should have the right to know this.
»Follow Common Cause’s ongoing work on ALEC and to learn more about corporations writing legislation.