By Doug Porter
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is holding its 2015 annual meeting July 22-24 at San Diego’s Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel. This is a big deal, and over the next three columns I’ll try to explain why.
Today we’ll take a look at the featured speakers at this event. Both local and national activist groups have organized events in response to this year’s gathering. I’ll report on those plans on Monday. On Tuesday, we’ll examine the inner workings of the ALEC meeting.
ALEC and its affiliates exist to bring together corporate lobbyists, conservative policy advocates and more than two thousand state legislators. Behind closed doors they’ll generate measures designed to tilt the political and economic landscape to favor the wealthy, usually at the expense of the rest of us. Then they turn around and pitch these “ideas” as something for the public good.
These fill-in-the-blanks bills get introduced around the country. The mainstream media typically report on them as unique events, not realizing these laws are part of larger effort aimed protecting profit over the public good. When legislation will have the effect of destroying the environment, derailing the democratic process or denying basic rights to working people, you can count on ALEC being behind the scenes, making it happen.
Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant
As ALEC and its ultra-conservative agenda have gained exposure via the efforts of public interest advocates in recent years, the organization’s effectiveness–while still considerable–has begun to wane.
From the Times of San Diego:
ALEC is the target of a 2012 “whistleblower complaint” by Common Cause, which alleges that the nonprofit group “misuses charity laws, massively underreports lobbying, and obtains improper tax breaks for corporate funders at the taxpayers’ expense.”
In recent years, ALEC has lost dozens of corporate members.
“Thanks to pressure from shareholders, unions and public interest organizations, more than 90 companies have severed ties with ALEC since 2012,” says the Center for Media and Democracy. “The list of deserters comprises a veritable Who’s Who of U.S. business, including Amazon, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Kraft, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart.”
From the Washington Post:
Facing a loss of high-profile corporate sponsors, a conservative state-level policy group — the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — threatened action in recent weeks against activist groups that accuse it of denying climate change…
…The activist groups refused the request, saying ALEC’s advocacy of legislation on climate issues and its public discussion of the topic support their claims.
The legal demands from ALEC follow an exodus of some of its best known corporate members, including Google, British Petroleum, Facebook, Yahoo and Northrop Grumman. Activist groups had pressured these corporate sponsors in recent years to abandon their support for organizations that they believe oppose action to stem climate change. Google publicly connected its decision to stop funding ALEC to the climate change issue.
Preaching to the Choir
The 2015 speakers list for the ALEC annual meeting includes no less than three Republican candidates for president, a handful of right wing policy experts, a spinmeister extraordinaire and San Diego’s Mayor, Kevin Faulconer.
I could easily pound out thousands of words about each the high profile speakers, but I’m assuming readers have an inkling of what Mssrs. Cruz, Huckabee and Walker stand for, so I’ll just present a brief description of why they appeal to ALEC.
This Year’s Star-power at ALEC
Senator Ted Cruz is the Republican looking to upset the apple cart on Capital Hill. We can thank him for many of the more outrageous statements and actions that have led many Americans to consider cockroaches more popular than Congress.
While he’s willing to play a disruptive role in Washington, he heads right for the corporate teat on the weekends.
From the Center for Media and Democracy, via Huffington Post:
Senator Ted Cruz, raising cash for a 2016 presidential bid, was to meet privately Monday in Denver, Colorado with executives from major oil and gas corporations, all members of the pro-fracking lobby group Western Energy Alliance (WEA), according to details of the secret meeting shared with the Center for Media and Democracy.
The Republican presidential candidate, a climate change denier, is also a leading proponent of opening up federal lands in the west — in fact virtually all lands everywhere — to energy development, and for scrapping regulations on oil and gas development.
Members of the forty year old Western Energy Alliance include massive fracking corporations like Devon Energy, Encana, Whiting, and Halliburton, as well as Koch Exploration Company, the fracking arm of the Charles and David Koch’s sprawling energy business.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, having failed at gaining interest in his economic platform thus far, will be pushing a socially conservative agenda for ALEC delegates to include in their planning. Statewide legislation prohibiting cities and counties from writing anti-discrimination (for instance) statutes is part of the process.
He had some interesting thoughts about our system of government in response to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same sex marriage, expressed via an op-ed for USA Today:
Too much power concentrated in the courts is a threat to our republic. Our next president must fight judicial tyranny and return power to the people. Sadly, several Republican candidates for president have suggested the courts have the final say on marriage and that a court ruling is “the law of the land.”
Let me be clear: When the Supreme Court abuses the limits of its power and attempts to create a right that doesn’t exist in the Constitution, it is the duty of the president to reject this threat to our religious liberty as “the law of the land.” As president, I will never bow down to the false gods of judicial supremacy.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could be the “first ALEC president,” according to the Center for Media and Democracy:
Walker could be the first ALEC president with the backing of the Kochs. On the campaign trail, Walker has boasted of a long series of legislative “reforms,” failing to mention that almost all of them have their roots in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
At ALEC, lobbyists and politicians vote behind closed doors on ‘model bills’ that benefit the corporate bottom line, such as the perennially-popular “Minimum Wage Repeal Act.” Walker has spoken out against the minimum wage, rolled back the prevailing wage for public construction projects, and proposed or signed into law over 20 ALEC bills including Voter ID, anti-consumer tort reform legislation, school vouchers, and a deadly asbestos bill that narrows access to the courts for asbestos victims. His ties to ALEC run deep. He was a member of ALEC when he was a state legislator from 1993 to 2002.
The Kochs are among ALEC’s biggest funders and also major Walker supporters, with the Kochs and their affiliates spending some $11.6 million backing Walker since 2010. David Koch, the billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries, told Republican donors in April that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was his man for president. “We will support whoever the candidate is,” Koch said, “but it should be Scott Walker.”
Walker will be welcomed warmly at ALEC’s conference in San Diego, Thursday July 23.
The Wonks of ALEC
Where do bad ideas come from? A collection of policy experts will be on hand throughout the ALEC meeting, offering up suggestions on how to turn the screws more tightly on the not-so-fortunate.
At the top of the list of wonks will be Dr. Arthur Laffer and Travis Brown, proponents of “pro-growth” tax policies, which is 21st century Republispeak for trickle down. These guys worship at the altar of private wealth as the ultimate measure of a successful society.
A contemporary example of their sort of ideas in action would be Kansas. From US News & World Report:
“Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” Brownback wrote in a Wichita Eagle editorial in July 2012.
What followed, however, was an economic face-plant: growth flatlined, state revenue dried up and the conservative brain trust found itself on the business end of consecutive nine-figure deficits.
“The tax cuts fundamentally had little or no impact” on job creation or attracting entrepreneurs to the Prairie State, [Kansas Institute of Politics Mike] Peterson says. At the same time, he adds, ‘taxes were going up on regular wage earners” as struggling localities hiked property taxes and raised user fees to make up for lost revenue.
The latest spin on the glories of the Kansas economy from the right is that the good citizens of that state will have to wait ten years to see the birth of a right wing utopia.
Up and Coming
The rising stars in the world of right wing wonkdom at the ALEC gathering are:
- West Virginia Solicitor General Elbert Lin, a leader in the legal battle to keep king coal mainlining in America.
- Texas State Representative Rick Miller, whose plan for preventing cities in the Lone Star State from writing anti-discrimination laws aimed at LGBT humans is so odious that his son is actively lobbying against it.
- California Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, whose campaign against marijuana includes the novel approach of warning that any tax receipts collected on pot sales in California could be seized by the federal government.
Finally, we have two characters whose experiences in bending reality enable bad policy.
Dr. Frank Luntz, is the man responsible for the GOP’s success in re-branding healthcare reform as a “government takeover.” That nifty bit of mis-speak landed him the Politifact “Lie of the Year” award in 2010.
From the Atlantic Magazine:
In the ’90s, he became known as the man who could sell any political message by picking the right words. “Estate tax” sounds worthy and the right thing for a democracy to do, but “death tax” sounds distasteful and unfair. “Global warming” sounds scary, but “climate change” sounds natural or even benign. Luntz became a well-compensated speaker, TV commentator, and convener of on-camera focus groups, which he led with manic curiosity to shed light on what the people really thought about political debates and presidential speeches. “It’s not what you say,” goes his oft-repeated slogan, “it’s what they hear.”
At the end of this list of distinguished speakers we have our own Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The interesting part of the ALEC program is, although they tout him as a speaker, his name appears nowhere outside the speakers page.
On Monday I’ll take a look at the events organized to keep the world from thinking San Diego is the kind of place that welcomes ALEC’s ideas. On Tuesday we’ll examine the agenda and workshops during the ALEC confab.
On This Day: 1944 – Two ammunition ships exploded at Port Chicago, Calif., killing 322, including 202 African-Americans assigned by the Navy to handle explosives. It was the worst home-front disaster of World War II. The resulting refusal of 258 African-Americans to return to the dangerous work underpinned the trial and conviction of 50 of the men in what is called the Port Chicago Mutiny. 1954 – The first Newport Jazz Festival was held at the Newport Casino, in Newport, RI. 1975 – An Apollo spaceship docked with a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit. It was the first link up between the U.S. and Soviet Union.
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