By Brendan Fischer / PR Watch
This week, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or “ALEC,” will bring together hundreds of corporate lobbyists with state and local politicians at a posh hotel in San Diego for the group’s annual meeting.
ALEC alum Scott Walker, who has signed over 20 ALEC bills into law, will address this month’s meeting, as well as Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, who participated in ALEC meetings before he joined the U.S. Senate. Community groups are planning on bringing a little transparency to the proceedings, by welcoming the candidates and ALEC participants on July 22.
ALEC has had a mixed year. Over a dozen companies, including tech giants Google and Facebook, stopped funding the group over its role in promoting climate change denial, yet after the 2014 elections gave Republicans control of 68 out of 98 state legislative bodies, some states have had few impediments to the corporate-friendly legislation that ALEC peddles. For example, in just the first half of 2015, Wisconsin became a “right to work” state and repealed the prevailing wage; Michigan blocked local control over minimum wage and paid sick days; and Texas banned cities from regulating fracking.
A look at the San Diego ALEC agenda tells us more about what ALEC has planned for 2015 and beyond.
Attacking Federal Efforts to Rein in Carbon Pollution
Even though California is suffering from a historic drought, the climate change deniers on the Environment and Agriculture Task Force will be working on new ways to stymie action addressing carbon emissions.
In recent years, ALEC has targeted the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” which is a set of rules limiting carbon dioxide pollution from coal plants. At the behest of its funders like Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, and American Electric Power, ALEC has been organizing a state-level campaign against the rules: the group organized legislators to press their state attorneys general into joining litigation backed by the energy industry that challenges the regulations, adopted a model resolution attacking the plan, and last December adopted a model bill that would create new hurdles for the Plan’s implementation.
At this month’s meeting, the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force–which is chaired by American Electric Power– will consider a “State Power Accountability and Reliability Charter (SPARC),” which seeks to undermine the Clean Power Plan by declaring that state agencies cannot implement it. And, the task force’s “Energy Subcommittee” will hold a discussion on “State Responses to EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan.”
Another model bill on the ALEC agenda is the “Environmental Impact Litigation Act,” which effectively allows corporate interests to hire a state’s Department of Justice as their own private attorneys. The bill creates a corporate-backed fund for states to sue over federal environmental laws–such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan–guided by an “environmental impact litigation advisory committee” made up of political appointees and representatives of “individuals representing agriculture and energy trade commissions.”
Undermining Renewable Energy
ALEC will also double-down on its attacks on rooftop solar and renewable energy.
For the last few years, ALEC and funders like Edison Electric Energy have promoted bills to repeal state Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require utilities to provide some power from renewable sources. Despite support from the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity, ALEC has had limited success in pushing these bills into law, so the group is looking for new ways to undermine renewable standards.
The latest effort is called an “Act Providing Incentives for Carbon Reduction Investments.” The industry-friendly bill would free utilities from the requirement that they produce more energy from renewable sources, as long as they claim to make “carbon reduction investments”–which includes controversial programs like carbon sequestration, or campaigns to encourage consumers to reduce energy use. This would undermine the purpose of the renewable standards, which is to promote a shift to renewable energy.
Thwarting Rooftop Solar
Solar will also be on the agenda. ALEC has tried in a variety of ways to reduce incentives for individuals and businesses to build rooftop solar panels by raising the costs. Over the last few years, ALEC and its utility industry funders have promoted bills to eliminate “net metering,” which gives solar users a credit for excess energy they feed back into the grid, and have been behind efforts to impose a surcharge on rooftop solar users. With few exceptions, these efforts have failed, thanks to strong support for solar from conservatives who like the self-sufficiency that rooftop solar provides, and the fact that in many states the solar industry is creating manufacturing and construction jobs.
In San Diego, ALEC will consider a proposal called a “Resolution Concerning Special Markets for Direct Solar Power Sales” that aims to prop-up the monopolies enjoyed by traditional utilities and oppose direct-to-consumer solar sales. It will be coupled with a presentation called “Consumer Protection Concerns Surround Rooftop Solar Model Policy.” In many states, solar developers are allowed to install panels on a customer’s home or business for free, then sell the power directly to the consumer, rather than through a monopoly utility provider like Peabody Energy.
Direct-to-consumer energy sales that bypass heavily-regulated monopoly utilities might be viewed as the sort of “market disruption” that free market adherents claim to support. After all, ALEC has celebrated the emergence of ride-sharing companies like Uber because they disrupt taxi monopolies and allow direct-to-consumer ride sales.
The key difference is that ALEC is bankrolled by utility companies. ALEC funders like Peabody Energy, Duke Energy, and Murray Energy are not pleased about the threat to profits posed by direct-to-consumer solar, so therefore it must be crushed, free market principles be damned. Incredibly, the “Resolution Concerning Special Markets for Direct Solar Power Sales” declares that direct-to-consumer solar is “antithetical to free markets.”
The proposal appears to come from the climate change deniers at the Heartland Institute.
At this meeting, ALEC is denying more than climate change. It also is apparently denying the mass die-off of bees, which threatens food supplies–two-thirds of crops require bee pollination–and which scientists have linked to type of insecticide produced by ALEC member Bayer and other companies. Until recently, Bayer had a representative on ALEC’s corporate board and has been listed as the ALEC corporate co-chair in states like Massachusetts, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas.
Bayer has been actively pushing back on the notion that its products contribute to a bee colony collapse. According to a report from Friends of the Earth, Bayer recently launched a “Bee Care Tour” as well as a children’s book “in which a friendly neighborhood beekeeper tells young Toby that the bees are getting sick, but ‘not to worry’ it’s just a problem with mites, and there is special medicine to make bees healthy”–medicine that Bayer produces, of course.
At this month’s ALEC meeting, bee die-off denialists took a clumsy stab at being clever: in an apparent reference to “Apocalypse Now” (or perhaps Wayne’s World), they titled their presentation, “‘Beepocalypse Not.”
ALEC’s new offshoot focused on local government, the American City County Exchange (ACCE), will also meet in San Diego.
Local democracy has led to some significant policy wins in recent years, with cities like Philadelphia guaranteeing workers paid sick days, and places like Denton, Texas banning fracking. ALEC’s response to cities and counties acting as laboratories of democracy has traditionally been to crush it, through state “preemption” laws that prohibit local governments from raising the minimum wage, or regulating GMOs, or building municipal broadband.
With ACCE, ALEC and its corporate backers are taking the fight directly to the local level, urging city and county officials on the one hand to give up their authority to protect the health and economic well-being of their constituents, and on the other to push policy measures to advance corporate interests.
The biggest proactive ACCE initiative is a push for local right to work laws. In the months following a local right to work workshop at ACCE’s meeting last December, twelve Kentucky counties have enacted the anti-union measures, and similar proposals have been floated in states like Illinois and Pennsylvania. But enacting right to work on the local level likely violates federal law, so groups like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the state Chamber of Commerce are bankrolling the legal defense of counties that get sued.
Local right to work is again on the ACCE agenda for this month’s meeting, with the group expected to officially adopt a Local Right to Work model bill.
It will also hold a workshop aimed a propping up another ACCE funder, the payday loan industry: the presentation is titled “Payday Loans; ‘Local Free Market Solutions for a Difficult Policy Problem.’”
Besides pushing policy measures that advance the interests of ACCE’s funders, ACCE is also urging local electeds to accept state preemption laws.
In a workshop titled “Understanding State Preemption Laws,” ALEC and ACCE will pitch local officials on why they should let state legislatures steamroll their authority to protect the health and economic well-being of their constituents. The workshop will be moderated by Libby Szabo, a former Colorado state legislator and ALEC state chair who is now a local official: she resigned from the state legislature just two months after winning reelection to take a county commissioner appointment, leading to charges from the editorial board of the conservative Denver Post that she was “thumbing her nose at voters.”
The lesson here is that ALEC supports local control when it advances the interests of its funders, yet actively works to undermine local democracy when it threatens corporate profits.
ALEC’s hypocrisy around the idea “government that is closest to the people governs best” isn’t just limited to city-state relations. Even though ALEC has fought federal policies like healthcare reform and the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of carbon emissions under the guise of “state’s rights,” at this month’s meeting it will push policies that run contrary even to that notion. Here again, corporate profits trump anything resembling principles.
ALEC will hold a workshop telling state legislators that they should embrace federal preemption of state chemical regulation, which happens to benefit ALEC funders like the American Chemistry Council. The “Environmental Health and Regulation Subcommittee” will hold a presentation titled “Supporting Chemical Regulation Preemption Supports Manufacturing,” where legislators will apparently be told it is just swell that the federal Toxic Substances Control Act will prohibit states from enacting tougher chemical regulations.
And, the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force will consider a proposed “Resolution Urging Congress to Eliminate Discriminatory State and Local Taxes on Automobile Renters,” which calls on Congress to preempt discriminatory state and local taxes on car rentals. It is hard to imagine a more blatant piece of corporate-friendly legislation, yet ALEC continues to insist that only legislators can propose model bills at its meetings.
Amending the Constitution
In recent years, one of ALEC’s top priorities has been to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And it will be a major focus of this month’s meeting.
A balanced budget amendment is an idea that has been bouncing around for decades–even though it would cripple the federal government’s ability to spend on earned benefit programs like Social Security, and block Congress from responding to economic downturns or natural disasters–but what is unique about ALEC’s push is that they are trying to do it via an Article V Constitutional Convention.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides that thirty-four states (two-thirds) can trigger a convention to propose an amendment, which must then be ratified by 38 states (three-fourths). Although this seems like a tall order, in the past year over a dozen states have passed resolutions calling for an Article V convention, adding to at least twelve other states that enacted resolutions years ago. The proposal has been supported by Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
Key to the Article V push has been the “Jeffersonian Project,” the 501(c)(4) group that ALEC formed in 2013 amidst complaints from Common Cause and CMD that ALEC was violating its 501(c)(3) charitable status by engaging in excessive lobbying. In order to deflect allegations of lobbying, the “Jeffersonian Project” is now used to urge legislators to pass ALEC model legislation, an activity that ALEC used to do directly.
This year, the Article V strategy dominates the agenda of ALEC’s Task Force on Federalism and International Relations, with five presentations and two pieces of draft legislation. The task force’s private sector chair is a representative of Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax group founded by Grover Norquist. And, there will be two separate ALEC-wide policy workshops on the Article V effort, as well as a reception and dinner titled “States Constitutionally Saving “The American Dream” Summit Via Balanced Budget Amendment Convention.”
Throughout U.S. history, the Constitution has only been amended through a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress on a specific amendment, which is then ratified by two-thirds of state legislatures. In contrast, the Article V strategy triggers a full constitutional convention, and it is unclear whether the delegates could be confined to only passing one amendment. This fear of a “runaway convention” has led critics on both the right and left to oppose the Article V strategy.
ALEC has tried to quell these fears through a companion bill declaring that delegates to a convention may not vote on other issues besides a balanced budget amendment. Yet, at least some amendment supporters want to open up the Article V process and amendment the constitution to address an array of issues, like limiting the Commerce Clause, banning international law in the U.S., and placing term limits on the Supreme Court, among other items from a right-wing wishlist.
The key driver of the broader Article V amendment effort is Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG), a group led by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, and whose board includes Wisconsinite Eric O’Keefe. CSG, which receives most of its funding through foundations such as DonorsTrust that cloak their donors’ identities, has also backed multiple lawsuits related to the “John Doe” investigation into coordination between Governor Walker’s campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth, where O’Keefe is a director.
CSG’s Convention of States effort has been endorsed by Mike Huckabee (who will be addressing the ALEC conference) and also attracted support from the likes of Glenn Beck. CSG’s “Compact for America” appears on the ALEC agenda with both a presentation and a model bill, and Meckler will also address the conference on July 24.
Another group pushing an Article V amendment is Compact for America, a Texas-based group advised by Nick Dranias, formerly of the Goldwater Institute, and chaired by former Goldwater chair Thomas C. Patterson. This group also is promoting a model bill at the ALEC meeting, and will hold a full breakout session on July 23.
Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor attended a session on ALEC’s Article V plans at the group’s 2013 conference. When she expressed hesitation that the public would support the effort, she was told, “You really don’t need people to do this. You just need control over the legislature and you need money, and we have both.”
Continuing to Fight “Obamacare”
ALEC has long tried to undermine the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act. It produced the “State Legislators’ Guide to Repealing Obamacare,” and has promoted bills to try blocking the individual mandate in states, and to prohibit insurers from providing subsidies to low-income residents, and to reject the insurance “exchanges” where individuals can buy insurance (which would have had serious repercussions if the U.S. Supreme Court ruled differently in King v. Burwell).
Despite repeated failures to overturn the Affordable Care Act through Congress and the courts, ALEC is continuing to fight the law through the states.
At this month’s meeting, the Health and Human Services Task Force will consider a bill to limit expansion of Medicaid benefits within the state, and the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force will have a resolution on the purported negative impact of Medicaid expansion under the healthcare law. The task force will also consider a resolution opposing federal “maintenance of effort” requirements, like those in Obamacare and also with education funding.
Fighting to Protect Dark Money
After spending hundreds of millions of undisclosed funds on state and federal elections, ALEC’s corporate members will also demand that state legislators preserve their “right” to anonymously spend money on politics and buy influence in state legislatures.
A July 23 workshop titled “Dark Money Debate: What Lawmakers Need to Know about the First Amendment and Anonymous Political Speech” will promote the idea that transparency in elections is a bad thing. David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics and Jon Riches of the Goldwater Institute are listed as presenters.
It is little surprise that corporate interests would peddle secrecy to the hundreds of Republican state legislators at ALEC.
ALEC’s funders, like the billionaire Koch brothers, have spent millions in “dark money”–electoral spending that evades donor disclosure laws–in recent years, secret spending which has increased exponentially since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.
Disclosure of electoral spending has widespread support among the public, and it still has support among many Republican state lawmakers. ALEC, it seems, is trying to change that.
This isn’t ALEC’s first foray into this issue. Its 2010 “Resolution in Support of Citizens United” opposes both the disclosure and shareholder participation endorsed by the majority in Citizens United. In 2011, ALEC lobbied legislators in states like New York urging them to reject a proposal requiring corporations get shareholder approval for political spending. And at ALEC’s meeting last December, ALEC held a similarly themed workshop called “Playing the Shame Game: A Campaign that Threatens Corporate Free Speech.”
CMD’s Mary Bottari contributed to this article.