Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Have You Noticed?

By Jim Centner

Many state legislatures have spent the last year making it harder for minorities and other groups that support Democrats to vote, obstructing health care reform, weakening environmental regulations and attacking public and private sector unions. You may be surprised to find out that all of these efforts are being backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization financed by millions of corporate dollars.

ALEC has been around since1973. It gets a great deal of its funding from Exxon Mobil, the Olin and Scaife families and foundations tied to the infamous Koch Industries, that has been linked to the upheaval in Wisconsin over public sector bargaining rights. ALEC board members consist of representatives from some of our country’s largest corporations.

ALEC has written model legislation on a host of subjects dear to corporate and conservative interests, and supporting lawmakers have introduced these bills in dozens of states.  A recent study of the group’s impact in Virginia showed that more than 50 of its bills were introduced there, many practically word for word. The study, by the liberal group ProgressVA, found that ALEC had been involved in writing bills that would:

  • Prohibit penalizing residents for failing to obtain health insurance, undermining the individual mandate in the reform law. The bill, which ALEC says has been introduced in 38 states, was signed into law and became the basis for Virginia’s legal challenge to health care reform.

  • Require voters to show a form of identification. Versions of this bill passed both chambers this month.

  • Encourage school districts to contract with private virtual-education companies. (One such company was the corporate co-chair of ALEC’s education committee.) The bill was signed into law.

  • Call for a federal constitutional amendment to permit the repeal of any federal law on a two-thirds vote of state legislatures. The bill failed.

  • Legalize use of deadly force in defending one’s home. Bills to this effect, which recently passed both houses, have been backed by the National Rifle Association, a longtime member of ALEC.

ALEC’s influence in the Virginia statehouse is inescapable, the study showed. The House of Delegates speaker, William Howell, has been on the board since 2003 and was national chairman in 2009. He has sponsored or pushed many of the group’s bills, including several benefiting specific companies that support ALEC financially, like one that would reduce a single company’s asbestos liability. At least 115 other state legislators have ties to the group, including paying membership dues, attending meetings and sponsoring bills. The state has spent more than $230,000 sending lawmakers to ALEC conferences since 2001.

Similar efforts have gone on in many other states. The group has been particularly active in weakening environmental regulations and fighting the Environmental Protection Agency. There is nothing illegal or unethical about ALEC’s work, except that it further demonstrates the pervasive influence of corporate money and right-wing groups on the state legislative process.

I thought you should know!

Jim Centner is the Director of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR)

Background information for this article was taken from an article published in the New Your Times, February 12, 2012

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