By Doug Porter
Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz. How can you lose?
If the spinmeisters at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) hoped media coverage would focus on the three GOP presidential candidates genuflecting before their annual gathering of corporate lobbyists and state legislators this week in San Diego, they may be proved wrong.
A barrage of press releases and public statements from a wide spectrum of public interest organizations combined with the growing certainty that San Diegans would actually show up in large numbers to protest the closed-door right wing strategy meeting has begun to shift coverage away from the celebrity angle to questions about just what might be going on inside the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel.
Although there will always be plenty of stenographers willing to be dazzled by celebrity, a slow but steady drumbeat of dissent aimed at ALEC’s real agenda has forced that group’s defenders to go to Plan B, also known as ‘everybody does it’.
Being a Corporate Flunky is Not a Uniquely Republican Experience
Failing to convincingly make the argument about ALEC’s non-partisan nature, county Republican vice chair Ron Nehring took to the airwaves at KPBS (more on this later), talking about similar policy groups existing on the left.
There are, in fact, corporately-minded Democrats who work with ALEC. Playing both sides of the aisle doesn’t justify how the system is being gamed; it just proves that being a toady is not unique to Republicans. (And we already knew that…)
Those groups Nehring was talking about are, according to an article in the Times of San Diego, the National Conference of State Legislatures and SiX, the State Innovation Exchange. Expect to see these names bandied about in more local coverage, even though the comparison is pure bullshit.
I’m sure the folks at the National Conference of State Legislatures will be surprised about finding themselves labeled as part of the left. On its About page the group describes itself as fighting “unwarranted federal preemption of state laws, unfunded mandates and federal legislation that threatens state authority and autonomy.”
Reading through their press releases and policy papers reveals the NCSL to be steadfast in their non-partisan approach. What the group does do is provide research and technical support to state legislators. It’s my guess that the ‘left’ moniker gets thrown at them because they traffic in actual facts.
The State Innovation Exchange, on the other hand, does not wave the non-partisan flag (although they don’t support candidates of either party). It’s a straightforward database for ideas generally considered progressive. Issues like income inequality, universal voter registration, environmental issues and criminal justice reform are the focus at SiX. They traffic in information as it relates to their issues. What you don’t see is any mechanism for the backroom wheeling and dealing that is the hallmark of ALEC’s modus operandi.
As Common Cause President Miles Rapoport said recently about ALEC:
“They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy. And they do it all on the taxpayers’ dime. Every penny spent by corporations to cover the cost of legislator travel to the meeting, accommodations at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and entertainment will be tax-deductible because ALEC is classified as a “charity” for tax purposes. That’s wrong and it has to stop,”
ALEC’s Sleaze Repeatedly Exposed on TV
Lots of organizations research and even write sample legislation on issues of concern to them. The difference between ALEC and most everybody is how it gets done. ALEC takes corporate funding and translates it into “scholarships” for legislators, who introduce fill-in-the-blank bills once they return to their state capitols. The idea is to hide the corporate hand writing the legislation. Regular lobbyists are required to make their activities public. ALEC eliminates that “nanny state” inconvenience.
You won’t see things going on at NCSL and SiX like the five incidents written up yesterday at Media Matters, reporting on local media pulling back the curtain on ALEC’s operatives “hosting lobbyists and legislators in secret meetings — where they wrote corporate-supported bills blocking minimum wage hikes, attacking unions, and eliminating environmental regulations.”
Perhaps the most famous of these reports is the one just last month from Atlanta’s 11Alive.
11Alive’s resulting report included a secretly-filmed interview with a lawmaker and lobbyist in the hotel bar and an interview with a former legislative member of ALEC who explained that in the bill-writing process, legislators and lobbyists receive “equal votes.”
Victims of Asbestos vs. ALEC
Another thing you won’t see these so-called left groups doing is pushing legislation to limit the legal rights of victims of corporate malfeasance.
The Consumer Attorneys of California, a group with obvious self interests in these matters, issued a press release this week calling attention to AB 597, authored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley.
“This bill inspired by ALEC remains a clear and present danger to the rights of many veterans who served our country only to face the peacetime threat of death because of exposure to asbestos during their military service,” said Brian Chase, CAOC president. “ALEC is adding insult to lethal injury by meeting in the city that is home to one of California’s biggest military bases as well as a vast veteran population, some of them sadly fighting the deadly repercussions of asbestos exposure…”
…ALEC’s asbestos bill was mothballed earlier this year in the face of major opposition by Consumer Attorneys of California and a broad coalition that includes the California Labor Federation, the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, the Sacramento Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the California Professional Firefighters, the State Teamsters and the Environmental Working Group.
But the coalition remains concerned that Cooley will attempt to push the bill anew early next year in an attempt to appease ALEC’s wealthy benefactors.
Cooley’s bill was modeled on language drafted by ALEC and corporate backers such as the conservative Koch brothers. Georgia-Pacific, a Koch Industries company, has faced massive liability stemming from its use of asbestos in drywall products. Not coincidentally, Georgia-Pacific is on the board of directors of the organization sponsoring AB 597, the Civil Justice Association of California.
The GOP’s Nehring Plays the Fool for ALEC
The KPBS MidDay Edition program on Tuesday featured Francine Busby, chair, San Diego County Democratic Party, Ron Nehring, vice chairman, Republican Party of San Diego County and Ron King, professor of political science, San Diego State University discussing the ALEC annual meeting.
Given that the Democratic Party is actively urging people to attend protest rallies outside the Manchester Grant Hyatt, it wasn’t surprising to hear Busby preach against ALEC.
Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, called ALEC a group of extremists that organizes “secret meetings” between lawmakers and corporate lobbyists.
“This is legalized corruption,” Busby said in a statement released to the media. “There is no accountability and no transparency. The public isn’t at the table at all.”
I thought the more interesting coverage of this program came from Ken Stone at the Times of San Diego:
Speaking to Nehring, who in 2014 ran for lieutenant governor, the SDSU professor said: “You’d be a C-minus student in my class because you can’t really answer a question directly.”
When Nehring began to reply to moderator Maureen Cavanaugh’s query about what he hoped would come out of the conference, he labeled Busby and King “leftists.”
“Excuse me, that’s unfair,” King shot back angrily, “and it’s cheap, and you should apologize.”
Nehring declined to apologize, and King replied: “Then you’re a fool, and I’m going to say that bluntly.”
FYI– Here are some of Professor King’s “leftist” credentials, via SDSU:
He has received two Fulbright awards and research grants from the American Philosophical Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, and the Twentieth Century Fund.
More articles on ALEC from the San Diego Free Press
Planned Local Demonstrations in Response to ALEC
The Center for Media and Democracy Source Watch (A great resource)
The Times of San Diego will stream appearances by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Bookmark this page for the live feeds via Periscope or follow Times of San Diego on Twitter.
Common Cause Panel on Thursday: During the ALEC conference, Common Cause will sponsor a panel discussion on ALEC and the power of corporate money in politics at 6 p.m. PST on Thursday, July 23 at the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island at 1960 Harbor Island Drive.
The panel will be moderated by Jay Riestenberg, a Common Cause research analyst who has done extensive work on ALEC’s activities. Speakers include State Representative Chris Taylor, D-WI; Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy; Diallo Brooks, director of Outreach and Partner Engagement at People For the American Way; Jane Carter, Labor Economist at AFSCME; Brant Olson, Campaign Manager at ClimateTruth.org, and Rey Lopez-Calderon, Executive Director of Common Cause Illinois.
Tomorrow in San Diego Free Press:
How San Diego is a Petri Dish for the ALEC Agenda (Via PRWatch)
Coverage and Photos of Demonstrations Outside the ALEC Meeting
On This Day: 1376 – The legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin leading rats out of town is said to have occurred on this date. 1886 – Newly unionized brewery workers in San Francisco, mostly German socialists, declared victory after the city’s breweries gave in to their demands for free beer, the closed shop, freedom to live anywhere (they had typically been required to live in the breweries), a 10-hour day, 6-day week, and a board of arbitration. 1933 – Caterina Jarboro became the first black prima donna of a U.S. opera company. She sang “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
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