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The United States of ALEC: Bill Moyers on the Secretive Corporate-Legislative Body Writing Our Laws

Democracy Now! premieres "The United States of ALEC," a special report by legendary journalist Bill Moyers on how the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council has helped corporate America propose and even draft legislation for states across the country. ALEC brings together major U.S. corporations and right-wing legislators to craft and vote on “model” bills behind closed doors. It has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in promoting “stand your ground” gun laws, voter suppression bills, union-busting policies and other controversial legislation. Although billing itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership, ALEC is actually a national network of state politicians and powerful corporations principally concerned with increasing corporate profits without public scrutiny. Moyers’ special will air this weekend on Moyers & Company, but first airs on Democracy Now! today. “The United States of ALEC” is a collaboration between Okapi Productions, LLC and the Schumann Media Center.

Minnesota Campaign finance board to investigate ALEC | Minnesota Public Radio

The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board says it will investigate the American Legislative Exchange Council’s lobbying status in Minnesota.

The board disclosed the investigation in a letter to Common Cause Minnesota, the local arm of a national group that is asking many states to probe whether the conservative organization has violated its tax-exempt status.

Earlier this month, Common Cause Minnesota filed two complaints regarding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The first asks the campaign finance board to look into whether ALEC should be registered as a lobbyist in Minnesota.

Common Cause Minnesota contends that the group, which brings together state lawmakers and businesses to write model legislation meant to inspire state legislation, has lobbied Minnesota’s legislators on specific bills and issues.

The campaign finance board’s letter says Common Cause Minnesota’s request for investigation will be discussed privately by the board on June 5, but that the matter will likely be held over until its next meeting in July.

The second complaint filed with state Attorney General Lori Swanson contends that because ALEC lobbies lawmakers, it has misrepresented its purpose under state laws regarding charities.

ALEC is organized as a 501(c)(3) under the Internal Revenue Code. Such groups are allowed to lobby, as long as it doesn’t constitute a substantial part of a group’s activities.

Last month Common Cause’s national organization requested that the Internal Revenue Service challenge ALEC’s tax status.

(Source: sarahlee310)

How Pro-Gun Laws Swept The Nation Since 2009: A Guide

tpmmedia:

Despite four years of the NRA crowing about the dangers Barack Obama presents to the Second Amendment, his presidency has been remarkably friendly to the pro-gun cause, and persisting fears to the contrary have inspired a golden era of gun rights in the states. TPM’s Sahil Kapur documents the highlights of pro-gun victories since 2009:

— In 2009, Obama enacted legislation permitting firearms in national parks.

— In 2009, Arizona and Tennessee passed laws letting people carry guns in bars.

— In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to extend federal gun-rights protections to states.

— In 2010, Louisiana approved a bill letting people carry firearms in houses of worship.

— In 2010, Arizona passed a law letting people carry concealed weapons without a permit. In 2011, Wyoming enacted the same law.

— In 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, with considerable bipartisan support, a bill that makes a firearm-carry permit in one state valid in every other state.

— In 2011, Mississippi enacted legislation allowing people to carry firearms on college campuses, and in bars and churches. Later that year, the measure was expanded to include sporting events, polling places, airports, courthouses and other government localities.

— In 2011, North Dakota and Texas passed legislation to ensure that employees may bring a gun to work, as long as it’s locked in a vehicle.

— In 2011, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire put into effect versions of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, granting people broad latitude to use lethal force when they perceive a threat to their safety.

The list does not include NRA victories at beating back gun-control efforts, such as prohibiting people on a government-designated terror watch list from buying a firearm, or closing a loophole that allows sales of weapons at gun shows.

(via randomactsofchaos)

ALEC Running Tax Scam for Big Companies

Today, Common Cause is announcing a whistleblower complaint against ALEC filed with the Internal Revenue Service. We are submitting several thousand pages of ALEC’s internal records that we believe demonstrate beyond debate that ALEC for years has evaded federal taxes by masquerading as a charity and that it has lied to the IRS and the American public about its activities.

We’re asking the IRS to end this charade, cancel ALEC’s tax exemption, collect years of unpaid taxes and “impose necessary penalties.”

[…]

Up to now, most press and public attention has focused on ALEC support for legislation like the Florida “Stand Your Ground” gun law at the center of the Trayvon Martin case and a slew of voter identification requirements that would turn hundreds of thousands of students, elderly, disabled and minority voters away from the polls.

Those bills, and ALEC’s other legislation, merit scrutiny; many are clearly crafted to protect business interests regardless of the cost to the public. As the New York Times reported Sunday, ALEC has even tried to keep states from penalizing contractors that attempt to defraud the taxpayers.

But Common Cause’s tax filing focuses on a less-noticed but perhaps more fundamental problem with ALEC — its attack on democratic values. ALEC practices stealth advocacy, investing millions of dollars to entertain and lobby elected officials at swank resorts; it writes bills for them, refines that legislation through task forces where its business members wield a veto power, then stays carefully in the background while shepherding the finished “model” bills to passage. Their mission accomplished, ALEC’s business members reward their legislative allies with campaign contributions — nearly $400 million from 2000-10 — to keep the party going.

ALEC does all this, and then has the audacity to call itself a charity and ask the rest of us to support its work with a tax exemption. That’s just wrong.

(Source: sarahlee310, via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity-deacti)

NRA Reportedly Seething Over Elimination Of ALEC Task Force

The fallout continues over the American Legislative Exchance Council’s support of the National Rifle Association’s “Kill at Will” self-defense laws. On his RedState.com site, CNN contributor Erick Erickson reported today that an “NRA representative took issue with ALEC getting rid of his public safety section” at last Wednesday’s weekly conservative discussion hosted by NRA board member Grover Norquist.

Last Tuesday ALEC announced that they were eliminating their Public Safety and Elections task force, which drew fire for its role in promoting NRA-backed gun laws and voter restrictions, and refocusing solely on economic legislation. Over the previous week at least 10 companies had left the organization in the wake of Color of Change’s campaign to encourage corporations to end their association with the group due to their promotion of those laws.

(Source: diadoumenos, via divineirony)

We’re getting absolutely killed in social media venues — Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest (I didn’t even know Pinterest was a forum for a lot of political opposition, but now it is) — so any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to us but to average people who don’t know much about this fight but are seeing us get really heavily attacked with very little opposition.

ALEC Sends Out an SOS to Breitbart Bloggers | Center for Media and Democracy

Tee Hee.

ALEC: We will stop being gun nuts now | Alex Pareene

ALEC is now shutting down its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections task force’s goals were twofold: to improve “public safety” by making it easier for citizens to carry guns everywhere they go and to shoot certain people without fear of arrest or prosecution, and to improve elections by making it harder for politically undesirable types to exercise their right to vote. (Why were gun rights and voter disenfranchisement the purview of one task force? Those two issues really have very little in common besides being of supreme importance to paranoid white people.)

What happened is, people suddenly noticed that self-defense laws had recently become much more “robust” (slash-”insane”) in lots of states after this guy in Florida named George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin and then somehow was not arrested. These new self-defense laws were widely blamed for the police reaction, or non-reaction, and while the NRA had predictably lobbied for them in the various states where they passed, it turned out that ALEC had been instrumental in drafting these laws and others like them that had nothing to do with being “pro-business” but everything to do with quietly remaking the nation into a right-wing paradise.

So major corporations began abandoning ALEC, because they hadn’t signed on for the full right-wing culture war. While Coca-Cola has a vested interest in, say, stopping public health initiatives, there’s no compelling profit-based reason for it to support the dismantling of gun control legislation. People do not get thirstier when they are carrying concealed firearms, as far as I know. Kraft does not, as a company, have any interest in making it more difficult for poor people to vote.

So! ALEC is giving up on the items of its agenda not directly related to helping giant corporations make as much money as possible without fear of lawsuits or union agitation. Because those are less “hot-button” issues.

BIG News: ALEC Disbands Task Force Responsible for Voter ID, ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

thenationmagazine:

A major development in the fight against the American Legislative Exchange Council Today: 

Pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced Tuesday that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws.

John Nichols has everything you need to know about what the announcement means.

(via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity-deacti)

More Corporate Entities Drop ALEC | David Dayen

The coalition trying to force corporations to disassociate from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group responsible for modeling and writing a substantial portion of the bills that come through the Republican side of state legislatures, has notched a couple more victories. First, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which hooked up with ALEC on “education reform” issues, dropped their support.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today became the latest backer to withdraw financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

A foundation spokesman told Roll Call that it does not plan to make future grants to the conservative nonprofit, which has come under fire from progressive activists for its support of voter identification laws and other contentious measures.

The Foundation claims that their only grant to ALEC was “narrowly and specifically focused on … teacher effectiveness and school finance.” The Foundation never paid annual dues to ALEC, they say. But this limited grant amounted to over $375,000 over two years, and the Gates Foundation will not withdraw the grant money earmarked for this year.

However, the latest corporate benefactor to drop ALEC was a dues-paying member: McDonald’s.

The fast food giant tells Mother Jones that it recently decided to cut ties with ALEC, the corporate-backed group that drafts pro-free-market legislation for state lawmakers around the country. “While [we] were a member of ALEC in 2011, we evaluate all professional memberships annually and made the business decision not to renew in 2012,” Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Yingling didn’t mention any specific campaign or outside pressure as playing a role in the company’s decision to leave ALEC.

But there was outside pressure. Just this week, the progressive coalition targeting ALEC, including Common Cause, Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, singled out McDonald’s and two other corporations (Johnson and Johnson, and State Farm) over their membership. “The funding of these and other corporations makes ALEC’s operations and agenda possible, including closed door meetings where corporate and special interest lobbyists actually vote as equals with elected officials on ‘model’ bills to change gun laws and make it more difficult for American citizens to vote,” according to Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, and the website ALECexposed.org. And just a couple days later, McDonald’s dropped its support. In fact, they were still planning on staying a member of ALEC as recently as February 29 of this year, according to a letter to the progressive group Color of Change.

So it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here. Corporations want to hide behind the maze of sub-groups within ALEC to claim that they only fund their core issues. But the money is fungible, and the ALEC model keeps pumping out pro-gun, anti-woman and voter suppression legislation. And these corporations are necessarily associated with that. So they are quietly responding to pressure by dropping out, being protective of their brands.

Color of Change’s next target is AT&T, one of the 21 corporate board members for ALEC. While I still believe that there’s enough money in the conservative ecosystem to keep ALEC going – or to perhaps pull the plug on ALEC and reinvent something else just like it – this is a very successful accountability campaign that has reaped some real rewards.

quickhits:

ALEC, Guns, Prisons, and the Lucrative Business of Fear
The Trayvon Martin case has brought a secretive group to national attention. “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has traditionally been anonymous, working behind the scenes to advance a far-right agenda far from the public spotlight — which was always the intended plan,” writes Steve Benen. “Shadowy obscurity allowed ALEC to be more effective and made it easier for lawmakers to follow the group’s lead without controversy.”
ALEC is behind many bad ideas at the state level; ultrasound laws, attacks on Planned Parenthood funding, attacks on unions, the Republican War on Voting, and — of course — insanely liberal gun laws like “Stand Your Ground.” The sum total of ALEC-inspired gun laws has turned states like Florida into wild west-style war zones, where one in every fifteen adults has a concealed carry permit. Needless to say, this doesn’t make for the safe society that conservatives tell us it does. If you doubt that, consider how safe a gun saturated community kept Trayvon Martin.
But the purpose of all these gun laws isn’t to keep anyone safe, no matter what you’re told. The purpose is to create fear. Liberal gun laws are great PR for fearmongers. They pretend to decide to “finally get serious” about a problem you had no idea existed. And the reason you were ignorant of the problem is because it doesn’t exist. As they do with voter ID laws and voter fraud, political hacks use a few isolated incidents to create the impression of a massive problem about to overrun the United States. First the argument is that the only way to protect yourself is to get a gun, then it’s that liberals are too strict about how you use that gun. Finally, it reaches the absurd level of “Stand Your Ground,” which — when all is said and done — allows you to shoot anyone you’re afraid of.
Of course, two ALEC member groups benefit greatly from all this. The first and most obvious is the National Rifle Association. Don’t let anyone fool you, the NRA is a corporate lobbying firm, not a grassroots group. Everything the NRA does has one goal in mind; sell more guns and ammo. With the 1:15 concealed carry stat, they’ve been extremely successful in marketing fear to Floridians.
But the other is less obvious — the prison-industrial complex. Private prisons don’t benefit directly from loose gun laws, but they do benefit from the culture of fear used to promote them. The same disproportionate fear of crime that leads to “shoot first, ask questions later” laws also contributes to the criminalization of minor offenses, the continuing (and failing) War on Drugs, increasingly extended sentences, and other laws guaranteed to keep prisons full to overflowing.
And if you think the prison-industrial complex only profits from housing convicts, think again. Last August, a piece in The Nation — “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” — described how the private prison industry is basically stealing jobs from non-incarcerated Americans.

Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.

“Three strikes” laws, “truth in sentencing” laws, and other ALEC-inspired measures serve only to make it harder to leave prison once you enter it — and to make it easy to go back if you manage to get out. Meanwhile, all those convicts the state is paying you to house are workers who will work for third world wages, taking jobs from other workers. On TV and in the movies, these workers work in the prison laundry. But the Florida Department of Corrections lists jobs as diverse as optical lens grinding to customer service reps, all under the guise of “rehabilitation,” by a private nonprofit called Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, Inc. (PRIDE). It’s a practice called “insourcing” — i.e., instead of outsourcing to cheap overseas labor, you insource to America’s own captive worker population.
Private prisons are hotbeds of human rights abuse. And it’s hard to get people to care about that because of the (incorrect) perception that incarcerated people are treated too well. In the minds of far too many, they’re animals and monsters finally getting what they deserve, not the drug war victim busted under “three strikes” for selling pot to his buddies — mostly because politicians don’t talk about prison populations in realistic ways. In the same way, when you talk about prison labor taking away jobs, it’s dismissed as giving these “animals” a “free ride.”
Even if you accept the argument that everyone in prison richly deserves to be there (and no doubt, many do), it’s hard to justify taking jobs from innocent workers and giving them to these criminals. But there again, fear kicks in. Fear — and the hatred it engenders — is irrational. You say “prison labor” and too many peoples’ brains lock on the word “prison.” Then they define it as “building filled with people I hate because I’m afraid of them.” Make them work, not lie around on their bunk all day watching cable.
Fear is a lucrative business. And ALEC is Fear, Inc.
-Wisco

quickhits:

ALEC, Guns, Prisons, and the Lucrative Business of Fear

The Trayvon Martin case has brought a secretive group to national attention. “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has traditionally been anonymous, working behind the scenes to advance a far-right agenda far from the public spotlight — which was always the intended plan,” writes Steve Benen. “Shadowy obscurity allowed ALEC to be more effective and made it easier for lawmakers to follow the group’s lead without controversy.”

ALEC is behind many bad ideas at the state level; ultrasound laws, attacks on Planned Parenthood funding, attacks on unions, the Republican War on Voting, and — of course — insanely liberal gun laws like “Stand Your Ground.” The sum total of ALEC-inspired gun laws has turned states like Florida into wild west-style war zones, where one in every fifteen adults has a concealed carry permit. Needless to say, this doesn’t make for the safe society that conservatives tell us it does. If you doubt that, consider how safe a gun saturated community kept Trayvon Martin.

But the purpose of all these gun laws isn’t to keep anyone safe, no matter what you’re told. The purpose is to create fear. Liberal gun laws are great PR for fearmongers. They pretend to decide to “finally get serious” about a problem you had no idea existed. And the reason you were ignorant of the problem is because it doesn’t exist. As they do with voter ID laws and voter fraud, political hacks use a few isolated incidents to create the impression of a massive problem about to overrun the United States. First the argument is that the only way to protect yourself is to get a gun, then it’s that liberals are too strict about how you use that gun. Finally, it reaches the absurd level of “Stand Your Ground,” which — when all is said and done — allows you to shoot anyone you’re afraid of.

Of course, two ALEC member groups benefit greatly from all this. The first and most obvious is the National Rifle Association. Don’t let anyone fool you, the NRA is a corporate lobbying firm, not a grassroots group. Everything the NRA does has one goal in mind; sell more guns and ammo. With the 1:15 concealed carry stat, they’ve been extremely successful in marketing fear to Floridians.

But the other is less obvious — the prison-industrial complex. Private prisons don’t benefit directly from loose gun laws, but they do benefit from the culture of fear used to promote them. The same disproportionate fear of crime that leads to “shoot first, ask questions later” laws also contributes to the criminalization of minor offenses, the continuing (and failing) War on Drugs, increasingly extended sentences, and other laws guaranteed to keep prisons full to overflowing.

And if you think the prison-industrial complex only profits from housing convicts, think again. Last August, a piece in The Nation — “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” — described how the private prison industry is basically stealing jobs from non-incarcerated Americans.

Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.

“Three strikes” laws, “truth in sentencing” laws, and other ALEC-inspired measures serve only to make it harder to leave prison once you enter it — and to make it easy to go back if you manage to get out. Meanwhile, all those convicts the state is paying you to house are workers who will work for third world wages, taking jobs from other workers. On TV and in the movies, these workers work in the prison laundry. But the Florida Department of Corrections lists jobs as diverse as optical lens grinding to customer service reps, all under the guise of “rehabilitation,” by a private nonprofit called Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, Inc. (PRIDE). It’s a practice called “insourcing” — i.e., instead of outsourcing to cheap overseas labor, you insource to America’s own captive worker population.

Private prisons are hotbeds of human rights abuse. And it’s hard to get people to care about that because of the (incorrect) perception that incarcerated people are treated too well. In the minds of far too many, they’re animals and monsters finally getting what they deserve, not the drug war victim busted under “three strikes” for selling pot to his buddies — mostly because politicians don’t talk about prison populations in realistic ways. In the same way, when you talk about prison labor taking away jobs, it’s dismissed as giving these “animals” a “free ride.”

Even if you accept the argument that everyone in prison richly deserves to be there (and no doubt, many do), it’s hard to justify taking jobs from innocent workers and giving them to these criminals. But there again, fear kicks in. Fear — and the hatred it engenders — is irrational. You say “prison labor” and too many peoples’ brains lock on the word “prison.” Then they define it as “building filled with people I hate because I’m afraid of them.” Make them work, not lie around on their bunk all day watching cable.

Fear is a lucrative business. And ALEC is Fear, Inc.

-Wisco

Meet the ALEC Staffers Who Help Corporations Write Our Laws

We dug into ALEC’s personnel to make a short profile of just some of the key Washington, D.C.-based ALEC staffers who help write the laws that pollute our communities, deny Americans access to health care, suppress our right to vote, and generally harm Americans. Their corporate-written bills may be secretly passed on to legislators, but these staffers can’t hide behind ALEC’s veil and avoid taking responsibility for the laws they produce and advance.

Go check it out - made me furious.

Bonus rage:

For more on ALEC’s staff, the corporations who fund it, and the damaging legislation it puts out, check out ALECExposed.org.

Gov. Mark Dayton Calls Out ALEC By Name, Is A Model for Other Democrats

shihtzuman:

“So exactly who did the Republicans in the legislature listen to?” Dayton asked, as he held up a thick document.

“Three of the four bills come right from this manual. Tort Reform Boot Camp, published by the American Legislative exchange council, or ALEC.”

The organization often holds seminars for conservative state legislators across the nation, and provides model legislation that reflects a public policy agenda.

“It is an extremely conservative group funded largely by large corporations, big business associations, insurance companies and very wealthy individuals,” Dayton remarked…

“I’ve found that Minnesotans do not want their laws written by the lobbyists of big corporations.”

(via sarahlee310)

Ohio Lawmakers Introduced 33 Bills Last Year Based on ALEC Model Legislation

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) influence weighs heavy in the Ohio’s GOP-controlled legislature, where brazen attempts to crush the collective bargaining rights of public workers and change voting rules in favor of Republicans have made national headlines in recent months. Over the past year, Ohio lawmakers introduced 33 bills that are identical to or “appear to contain” elements of the ALEC’s infamous model legislation that promotes a pro-corporate agenda, according to a report released this week by watchdog groups.

At least nine of the 33 bills have passed the State Legislature, including the now-defunct Senate Bill 5, which was poised to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights until Ohioans overwhelmingly voted for a repeal in November.

(Source: sarahlee310)

ALEC Exposed, for 24 Hours

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.

image: bergin alec bill

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.

(Source: sarahlee310)