I am publishing this now as a companion diary to State Rep Marcia Moody's ALEC article.
This is a paper I did last term examining ALEC and I don't have time to edit it into a dkos format, but if you want to see the view from here, I will paste it below.
Our local Reps ranged from naive to very worried about the whole thing, yet "model legislation" ain't always the worst...please read on for a look back to the 70s:
Introducing “Bill” and ALEC:
Or, How Does a Bill Become a Law?
Begining in 1973, a generation of junior high school students was introduced to a new concept in Saturday morning cartoon television: an animated educational series called Schoolhouse Rock! It made such an impression that many adults today can still sing the refrains that have become part of our cultural lexicon.
Grammar Rock gave Americans the familiar lyrics about ‘and,’ ‘but,’ and ‘or’
“conjunction junction, what’s your function?”
The America Rock series brought us the unforgetable I’m just a bill up on Capitol Hill, which told the story of “Bill,” the bill.
Bill says: “Well I got this far. When I started, I wasn't even a bill, I was just an idea. Some folks back home decided they wanted a law passed, so they called their local Congressman and he said, ‘You're right, there oughta be a law.’ Then he sat down and wrote me out and introduced me to Congress. And I became a bill, and I'll remain a bill until they decide to make me a law.”
“Bill” did make it through both houses and a couple committees, and so he got signed into law and the folks back home were happy. And the students, viewers, and citizens understood the process of legislation as they were told it was, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Also beginning in 1973, was another civic-minded educational group, by the name of ALEC. The American Legislative Exchange Council calls itself “the nation's largest bipartisan, individual membership association of state legislators.”
“-With more than 2,400 state lawmakers as members -- roughly one third of the nation's total,” said Karen Olsson in Ghostwriting the Law, Mother Jones, 2002. But even for state legislators membership is not a public record.
According to Sourcewatch.org. “while ALEC's membership appears to be mostly from the public sector, the group’s funding is almost entirely private sector…ALEC's public-sector membership dues account for only around one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues,” says Sourcewatch, and over eighty percent of ALEC's income comes from corporations.
Mother Jones Magazine put it this way in 2002:
“Funded primarily by large corporations, industry groups, and conservative foundations -- including R.J. Reynolds, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute -- the group takes a chain-restaurant approach to public policy, supplying precooked McBills to state lawmakers. Since most legislators are in session only part of the year and often have no staff to do independent research, they're quick to swallow what ALEC serves up.”
Newly elected New Hampshire State Representative Tom Laware (R- District 5, Charlestown, Acworth, Langdon) serving on the Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitation committee, was quick to respond when asked if anyone had contacted him about any legislation.
“Oh you mean ALEC?” he said. “I haven’t actually joined them yet. It costs about a hundred dollars.” And fifty dollars a year for a two-year session is a significant enough chunk of change to cause a frugal, small-town, average citizen (worked for UPS) to stop and consider how much he needs to join the club. Fifty dollars a year plus mileage is what a NH Representative gets paid for his service to the state.
“It’s a link to other state legislatures,” Laware said, explaining how ALEC had been presented to him by the NH State chairman, Gary Daniels, (R- Milford) who also chairs the Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitation Committee.
“It’s so we don’t re-invent the wheel…so we can see who’s tried it and how it worked out…a brotherhood of other legislatures across the country,” Laware continued. “They have weekend conferences …typical business…” he said.
These “typical business” events, as Laware perceived them, regularly occur at the Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott Hotels across the nation. Just one night in these places often costs more than the biennial legislative membership dues, but when asked if this arrangement was what the ‘70s used to call a ‘junket,’ Laware said, “We have to pay our own way. It’s coming back to me- Gary was telling me a lot of times you can get sponsored, up to $500 otherwise you have to declare it.”
ALEC conducts three major national conferences a year along with many smaller events, and publishes their research in books like Rich States, Poor States, and the members’ magazine Inside ALEC. The Annual Meeting falls in August, the States & Nation Policy Summit in December, and most recently, this year’s Spring Task Force Summit was held April 29-30, 2011, in Cincinnati, OH.
“ALEC’s National Task Forces serve as public policy laboratories where legislators develop model policies to use across the country. Task Forces also commission research, publish issue papers, convene workshops and issue briefings, and serve as clearinghouses of information on free market policies in the states.” This statement comes from a handout in the basic ALEC information folder given to freshmen legislators. So does this:
“Unique to ALEC Task Forces is their public-private partnership, a synergistic alliance that identifies issues then responds with common sense, results-oriented policies. Legislators welcome their private-sector counterparts to the table as equals, working in unison to solve the challenges that face the nation.”
ALEC’s nine Task Forces are:
-Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development
-Energy, Environmental and Agriculture
-Health and Human Services
-Public Safety & Elections
-Tax & Fiscal Policy
-Telecommunications & Information Technology
and they are available at www.alec.org in an interactive form for news, although
the model legislation is for members’ eyes only. And “while these projects produce and disseminate a wide range of research and informational material,” the handout says,
“the centerpiece is ALEC model legislation,” and “the results are policies that will define the American political landscape for generations to come.”
“All bills are written by someone else,” said NH Rep. Laware. “All in by late February. Leadership parcels them out.” “Writing the bills- there’s a really good chance that a lot of the bills are originated from ALEC,” he said. They are “written the way the state rep wants then sent to the Legislative Services Office. They put it into legalese.”
The State of NH General Court website says that “The Research Division of the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) has a long history of providing professional nonpartisan research services to all 400 members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and 24 members of the Senate. The primary responsibility of the division is to assist lawmakers in meeting the challenges and demands of their elective office by providing objective, accurate and timely information to assist in the development of sound public policy.”
Inside ALEC, is a monthly magazine that “shows you the latest trends in state policy.” And it says “on our website we have listed 800 model bills and resolutions ready for you as a member.” Michael Bowman, senior director of policy and strategic initiatives at the American Legislative Exchange Council, writes in the July 2010 issue, that “whether you are looking for legislation on asbestos or vegetative filter strips or everything in between we have model legislation for you.”
NH State Rep. Steven Smith (R-5 Charlestown, Acworth, Langdon) is most emphatically NOT a member.
“They spend too much money on very expensive literature I throw away,” Smith said.
It’s “big, glossy. I don’t go to the republican caucuses because I’m in Concord to represent my district not any other organization.”
“When I see an organization spending that much money…” Smith just ignores it. “One thing I’ve been successful at,” he said, “- it’s hard- I’ve let people know I can’t be- I haven’t been- swayed.” Smith says “I’m not against pre-drafted legislation altogether. Just not for big important policy changes. I don’t think there’s template for what works in NH.”
Smith described his personal experience working with SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association. Smith said they gave him “model legislation for automotive- they make a kit-car for a ’32 Ford. How do you register that? It’s not 1932, but it’s not a 2011 model either. They work with manufacturers to conform to all 50 states.” In this case, Smith said, “pre-made legislation was helpful. Productive and helpful.”
NH State Rep. ‘Chuck’ Weed (D-Keene) agreed that models can sometimes be helpful. “I have to admit-“ he said, “I filed the Death with Dignity bill based on the Oregon model. We do use models. But I don’t think that was either left or right- it’s not political. The republicans tried to make it all about death panels and…and that’s just not what it was. You might call me a lefty but I don’t bring in a leftist or a Marxist agenda to write bills.”
Speaking of ALEC, he said, “I think that they’re horribly biased. I think it’s a terrible thing for society.” Weed is not a member, but like all the other representatives he has been flooded with mail. “I’ve been getting letters, that’s all,” he said, “…and catalogs.”
The “New Tax Report” advertised in Inside ALEC for $20.00 is the same Rich States, Poor States new third edition that the legislators received for free, and it is a thorough description of several states’ experiences with what to do or not do budgetwise, and then a very nice catalog of state by state rankings of various economic factors.
Inside ALEC also advertises “state legislative tracking” software. “Legicrawler” is “celebrating 20 years” with “Free tracking, Mobile Apps, and Web 2.0.”
Another version is “CQ StateTrack.” Their full-page ad says that “As state legislatures tighten their budgetary belts, your interests are given very little wiggle room,” with a graphic of a leather belt buckled around a red America. Because “State legislatures are feeling the squeeze,” the ad says, “ALEC members” can get twenty percent off the CQ StateTrack Standard Rate* *offer only valid for first time subscribers.
Like Laware, Rep. Weed also pointed out the Legislative Services Office for free, non-partisan information and legal language help. And bill-tracking is available and NH’s current legislative information can be accessed at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/ just as many other states’ information can be found at their versions of ‘state.gov.’
“Most of their stuff- it’s labor stuff… said Weed about ALEC. “I haven’t seen the model legislation. You have to become a paying member.” And he added, “there’s usually a big group that goes down to the ALEC/Daniels conference. They’re not exclusive, you just have to pay.”
Model legislation is “an easy shortcut” that might have been a useful tool “under a more ‘responsible’ republican majority,” Weed said, comparing his experience as a representative from 2001-2006 to the make-up of the house in his current term:
“It’s quite a different one than we have now.”
But the new republicans are becoming radicalized and Weed, who is also a professor of political science at Keene State College, pointed to the recent experience of a fellow professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who spoke out negatively online against ALEC back in March.
William Cronon, a history professor, wrote, “I launched my first-ever entry for a blog I had long been planning on the theme of ‘Scholar as Citizen,’ about how thoughtful scholarship can contribute to better understandings of issues and debates in the public realm.”
Cronon went on to write “My little ALEC study guide succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Within two days, the blog had received over half a million hits, had been read by tens of thousands of people, had been linked by newspapers all over the United States, and had been visited by people from more than two dozen foreign countries. Many readers expressed considerable interest in the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and said they were grateful for the guidance I had tried to provide for people wishing to learn more about it.”
Immediately the Wisconsin Republican Party made an Open Records Request to the University seeking access to Professor Cronin's e-mails. Apparently in an attempt to determine if professor Cronon was using his academic e-mail for political purposes.
“My most important observation,” writes Cronon, “is that I find it simply outrageous that the Wisconsin Republican Party would seek to employ the state’s Open Records Law for the nakedly political purpose of trying to embarrass, harass, or silence a university professor (and a citizen) who has asked legitimate questions and identified potentially legitimate criticisms concerning the influence of a national organization on state legislative activity.”
Although ALEC refers to itself as “bi-partisan,” of the 72 state chairmen seats, only three are currently held by Democrats. Youtube from a December 2010 Workshop at ALEC's States & Nation Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., shows Mark Meckler, co-founder and national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, telling the legislators/ALEC members attending the workshop that the Tea Party Patriots has over 2800 chapters. “They’re everywhere, they support you, and they will support you.” That is, he said, as long as the members remain radical, and do not compromise.
Meckler was speaking at the United We Stand: Interstate Compacts and Multi-State Cooperation Workshop, part of ALEC’s States and Nation Policy Summit, Dec., 2010.
“When [“those of us in the Tea Party”] heard about the use of Interstate Compacts to essentially do an end run around the tenth amendment, we liked it. It sounded like a good idea to us.” He said that “ultimately we need to enforce the tenth amendment” but that’s “a long long road, and no one could predict what the Supreme Court might do.”
This “issue” of “Interstate Compacts” is playing out this very day in the NH Legislature in the form of HB519 -Repealing New Hampshire's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and trade program for controlling carbon dioxide emissions. Passed by the House and now sitting in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, after two public hearings in April, it now awaits another, Wednesday, May 4, 2011, at 10:00 a.m.
Wonkroom.thinkprogress.org reports that “ALEC’s text in the repeal bill was ultimately dropped, but the amended legislation to remove New Hampshire from RGGI overwhelmingly passed the House last week. If the bill makes it through the Senate and overtakes Gov. John Lynch’s veto, New Hampshire will be the first state to pull out of RGGI, threatening the wildly successful clean energy program’s future viability for the entire region.”
“That’s something I never thought of,” said Rep. Tom Laware, on considering how much influence ALEC might have. “’Pushing the bill,’” he said, “and then ‘training the legislator,’ then ‘supplying the testifier’…they’d really be influencing the outcome…”
“ALEC enjoys what it calls an ‘impressive presence’ among the leadership of state legislatures,” says Mother Jones Magazine, “with a membership that includes speakers, presidents, and majority and minority leaders in 22 senates and 30 houses. The group's alumni also include nine governors and more than 80 members of Congress, among them House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Tom DeLay.”
“I never thought of it that way before,” said Laware again. “I would be curious to see what you find, because I’m still in the investigative state.”
As far back as 2002, according to Mother Jones, “In a report issued earlier this year, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council denounced ALEC as a vehicle for corporations to buy access to state legislatures -- often with a little help from taxpayers, who in many states foot the travel bill for legislators who attend ALEC meetings. The report found that the group's corporate donors -- some of whom pay membership dues of $50,000 a year -- have included Philip Morris, Amoco, Chevron, Enron, and the American Energy Institute.”
ALEC denies that it is a lobbying group and it is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3 charitable organization that has tax exempt status, although apparently just recently in North Dakota a couple of ALEC people caught roaming the halls at the statehouse did belatedly register as “lobbyists.”
Laware said, “I’m amazed at how involved a certain amount of people are. These people are even more involved than the Reps. [They are] …lobbyists…insurance reps… unions… people from the colleges…they just hang around and keep tabs on things. You can actually wander the halls. Lobbyists have to wear an orange name tag so they can be identified. It’s the People’s House- wide open.”
Then he continued to muse that ‘if that’s how things are- with all those people in the House who are not Reps influencing legislation, then- it must be simply because people in the state have not been educated about where their legislation is coming from.’
“People in NH don’t know they’re being controlled, “ Laware said. “NH people have a streak of pride that makes them not want to be controlled by outsiders.”
Second verse, same as the first:
I'm just a bill
Yes I'm only a bill,
And I got as far as Capitol Hill.
Well, now I'm stuck in committee
And I'll sit here and wait
While a few key Congressmen discuss and debate
Whether they should let me be a law.
How I hope and pray that they will,
But today I am still just a bill.