They meet in secret. They write our laws. And they want us silent.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a controversial organization dedicated to bringing together state legislators, corporate lobbyists, and conservative think thanks to push anti-social legislation. This spring Professor William Cronon wrote a post on the role this group has played in the coordinated war on the working class that we see playing out in numerous state legislatures, particularly in Wisconsin. Despite their utter lack of transparency that ALEC operates with, they targeted Professor Cronon's personal life and attacked his livelihood for the light he shown on their activities.
I want to tell you something here, today. Cronon was right. After a bit of research we can now confirm that 14 of the 19 GOP members are ALEC members, and in all likelihood the others were simply better at covering their tracks. Ironically enough, of the 6 GOP Senators under recall, four are among those whose membership we can't confirm. We need your help.
This is about three things: Membership, money, and model legislation.
As was explained earlier, it's possible to confirm 14 of the 19 GOP members of the Wisconsin Senate as ALEC members.
The boys up and Wisconsin have been better than many at covering it up. For example, the House GOP in Indiana were actually dumb enough to post a letter from ALEC that they signed on to on their delegation website.
But, for the most part it would be hard to track down membership without groundwork done by the crew at One Wisconsin Now.
See 12 of them actually had the gall to put their ALEC membership fees on the state tab.
This gets us to that money thing. See the annual fee for state legislators is small, only a $100 charge. Others pay big money to join up. As a May 2010 American Association of Justice report noted corporations pay a minimum of $5,000 for a seat at the table. And that's just to get in the door.
ALEC revenue is around $7 million annually. Knowing who pays the bills tells an interesting story.
Hmm. It sure looks like this is a corporate lobbying group. All the more interesting when we know that state legislators are often reimbursed for their costs in attending meetings, up to $1900 a meeting. So legislators get wined and dined, oh my.
And it's not only that. Unlike the other major state legislative conferences, ALEC makes large donations to state candidates campaigns. Wisconsin isn't much of a story on this, but ask yourself why a strictly educational organization would be giving out campaign donations. Might that influence policy?
And what about those corporate members? They get to sit down in a closed room and draft model legislation with elected officials under the cloak of education. Each ALEC task force has a public and private chair.
For example Wisconsin Sen. Leah Vukmir sits on the health and human services task force with Marianne Eterno of the Guarantee Trust Life Insurance. I wonder if that has any sort of influence on her votes back home in Wisconsin.
Almost certainly. Here's the real story. At ALEC meetings model legislation is prepared. This is basically cut and paste legislation. We have no idea what the actual text reads, but I have the feeling that we would be shocked if we did.
What we do know from a FOIA request on Sen. Vukmir's state email is that her relationship with ALEC is twisted.
# Early in 2009 Milwaukee Magazine named Leah Vukmir one of the worst legislators in Madison. They largely based this designation on observations made by several fellow Republicans. In July of the same year ALEC conveniently bestowed upon Vukmir their so-called "Legislator of the Year" award. Here is an email exchange related to that award. In it we discover that Vukmir sent the ALEC PR person a list of media to contact about the award. She emphasizes that a press release be sent to her local media. Only a few hours later Vukmir gets a big "congratulations!" from an associate editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
# Yet another series of 2009 emails to Leah Vukmir was regarding an ALEC task force meant to fight meaningful health care reform in Congress. Those emails encourage members to sign on to a form letter to Speaker Pelosi. They also tout their PR campaign against HCR, and promote an ALEC drafted state constitutional amendment against HCR. Easily the most revealing email is the one from the ALEC donor relations person. It is about "prospect outreach" and it asks the task force members to call two of the big biz interests that are fully listed in the email.
# To get an even better behind-the-scenes view into the inner-workings of ALEC, there are these emails from an executive in a multinational biopharmaceutical company. It shows us how a bill becomes a law ALEC-style. The executive's title is "Director, State Government Relations". In his email he thanks Vukmir for her help with draft model resolution that he has submitted to ALEC. It involves stem cell science and "cord blood/placenta blood banking and research." He suggests that it provides some cover to legislators that oppose embryonic stem cell research. He also makes it clear that it is an area that his company is "actively engaged in".
We know that in the 2009 legislative session that 826 pieces of ALEC model legislation were introduced, and 115 passed in state chambers.
The secrecy surrounding ALEC means that it's difficult to know which pieces of model legislation have passed, where, and which corporations sat on the committees that wrote them. Why lobby when you can just have your lawyers write the bill, and have the legislator cut and paste it into something they are going to pass. And some of America's largest corporations know this. Here's a list of ALEC's Board of Directors.
The bottom line is that we don't know the content of ALEC model legislation. We don't know when it's been introduced in state chambers. And, we don't know who is writing our state laws. We deserve better than this. And that's where you guys come in.
Exposing ALEC Now
Honorable XXXXX XXXXXXX,
City, State Zip
Dear Sen (or Rep) XXXXXXX,
It has come to my attention that there is an organization known as The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that has gained enormous power in American politics, specifically at the state level. This organization is known to work behind the scenes, will not disclose its rank and file membership, will not disclose its funders, and will not disclose the principal product of its work, which is Model Legislation. I see this as a dangerous practice because such failure to disclose who writes and sponsors legislation in our 50 state capitols is a serious breach of transparency which our laws and constitution demands of all legislators. Every voter in our state deserves to be advised of who is writing our laws, the interests behind the laws, and whether they favor special interests at the expense of the residents, voters and taxpayers of our state.
• My first question is; Are you a member of ALEC, yes or no?
• If Yes, when did you join?
• Have you ever sponsored, or co-sponsored legislation written or partially written by ALEC?
• Please identify all ALEC written legislation you have sponsored or co-sponsored.
• ALEC has a series of conferences and workshops throughout the year. The next event is the Annual Meeting which is to be held in New Orleans, LA August 3-6, 2011. Do you intend to attend this event?
• If you attend this event, will you be traveling at Taxpayer expense, Yes or No?
• If you will be traveling at ALEC expense, please identify how much this is costing ALEC for your travel, lodging, meals and other considerations (golf outings and the like).
• If you are not traveling to the New Orleans conference, do you intend to join via teleconference or video link?
• Please explain how legislation written by Washington DC Lawyers, Washington DC Lobbyists, and Corporate interests, some of which do not do business in our state, represents the interests of the residents, voters and Taxpayers of our state better than legislation written by our elected legislators.
• If you are a member of ALEC or any other organization which has a hand in writing the laws of our state, please verify that your listing in the legislative website correctly states this affiliation. Legislative transparency demands this. I want to know who is writing the laws of my state, and I want to know why outsiders think they know more about our problems than our elected representatives do.
In closing, I am very serious about wanting to know who is writing and influencing the legislation that is enacted in our state. Please respond seriously.
email if desired
Below is a list of WI-SEN GOP by ALEC Membership confirmation status.
What we're looking for is this. We need Wisconsin folks to send the letter above to these state senators and see if we can get a response. If you do, you can cut and paste the text of the response here. (With header please!)
To help coordinate, please put the name of the state senator in the subject line and taken in the text. Please post responses in the thread beneath that. We're more likely to get a response if we have constituents, or at least WI voters do the contacting.
This is the first of at least a 99 diary series run. At minimum I want to run 1 diary for each chamber. And I'm looking for volunteers to help do background research on confirming info for the series. If you are interested please join our Daily Kos group Exposing ALEC.
They meet in secret. They write our laws. They want us silent. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a conservative organization designed to bring together state legislators and corporate representatives to craft legislation later introduced in state chambers. We feel that the least the public is owed in a democracy is transparency. That's why we are shining a light on ALEC. On its legislative members, its corporate sponsors, and its anti-social agenda.