On July 13, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) spokeswoman Raegan Weber responded to the growing criticism of that the organization is a channel for illegal lobbying with a simple statement.
ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber denied the accusation, saying, "ALEC does not lobby. We employ no lobbyists."
Small problem with that statement.
State records from North Dakota reveal that ALEC has in fact employed lobbyists.
The Public Record
North Dakota's secretary of state shows that from July of 2008 to June of 2009, ALEC employed two Washington based lobbyists:
AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL
1101 VERMONT AVE NW 11TH FL
WASHINGTON, DC 20005- 202-466-3800
#485 BEHRENS, MARK
600 14TH ST NW STE 800
WASHINGTON, DC 20005-2099 202-783-8400
#484 SCHAECHER, COREY
600 14TH ST NW STE 800
WASHINGTON, DC 20005-2099 202-783-8400
As much as the mere fact that Ms. Weber so blatantly misrepresented the truth should bother us, it's the details of the case that are truly disgusting. See ALEC provides its corporate donors something far more valuable than lobbying ever could, it provides an air of legitimacy.
ALEC’s approach of brazenly promoting a corporate agenda as the product of a supposedly objective, nonprofit organization is especially effective in state legislatures, and especially attractive to the corporations that set its advocacy agenda.
A bit of background is in order here. What brought ALEC to North Dakota was asbestos, or more precisely, liability for asbestos. Although asbestos was widely used in a variety of insulation applications through the 1970s, evidence of that asbestos caused harm, up to and including death, to those exposed to it had been published as early as the 1920s. EPA publications on asbestos identify three types of health threat from exposure:
a) Asbestosis - a lung disease first found in naval shipyard workers. As asbestos fibers are inhaled, they may become trapped in the lung tissue. The body tries to dissolve the fibers by producing an acid. This acid, due to the chemical resistance of the fiber, does little to damage the fiber, but may scar the surrounding tissue. Eventually, this scarring may become so severe that the lungs cannot function. The latency period ( meaning the time it takes for the disease to become developed) is often 25-40 years.
b) Mesothelioma - a cancer of the pleura ( the outer lining of the lung and chest cavity) and/ or the peritoneum ( the lining of the abdominal wall). This form of cancer is peculiar because the only known cause is from asbestos exposure. The latency period for mesothelioma is often 15-30 years.
c) Lung Cancer - caused by asbestos. The effects of lung cancer are often greatly increased by cigarette smoking ( by about 50%). Cancer of the gastrointestinal tract can also be caused by asbestos. The latency period for cancer is often 15-30 years.
Between 1979 and 2001, at least 43,073 people died from asbestos related diseases. Below is a map of this. Each dot marks an asbestos-related death.
Asbestos is everywhere. Just because you didn't work in a mine or manufacturing facility doesn't mean you haven't been exposed. If you went to school, have been treated at a hospital, or work in an office, there's a fair chance that you've been exposed.
Faced with the prospect of being held to account for the consequences of their actions, firms with potential liabilities in this area have resorted to bankruptcy reorganization in order to skip out on their responsibilities. One of the few saving graces has been the ability of those afflicted by asbestos related diseases to take successor companies to court for damages, to hold firms accountable for their actions. (Or lack thereof.) This is where ALEC comes in.
ALEC, or is it Crown Cork and Seal, Co.?, goes to Bismarck
In January of 2009, Mark Behrens and Corey Schaecher show up in Bismarck. At the time both worked for Shook, Hardy, and Bacon a Washington, DC law firm representing Crown Cork and Seal, Co. a firm with a potentially large exposure to asbestos claims. On January 15th, two pieces of ALEC model legislation dealing with these types of claims are introduced as bills in the legislature. Behrens and Schaecher showed up on the 12th to shepherd the bills, but don't even bother registering as lobbyist until the 23rd.
On the 27th, Behrens testifies before the Judiciary Committee "on behalf of the American Legislative Exchange Council." Although both Behrens and Schaecher are registered as lobbyists for Crown, Cork, and Seal, Co with the secretary of state, they represent themselves to the committee as acting on behalf of ALEC.
A quick look at the bills reveals why they sought the air of legitimacy that come from acting on behalf of what is supposedly a non-partisan organization acting in the public interest. HB 1430 (An Act Concerning Successor Asbestos-Related Liability) is based on ALEC model legislation of the same name. It limits liability for asbestos-related damages to the market valuation of the predecessor firm at the time of purchase by the successor. HB 1384 is based on ALEC's Transparency in Lawsuits Protection Act. It would limit the ability of a private individual to take legal action where a firm (or other party) has created a liability under the letter of state law. Beyond being grossly unconstitutional in attempting to retroactively strip rights of action, these model bills create practical problems. For example, limiting an implied private right of action deriving from state law could make it impossible for custodial parents to sue where the ex-spouse refuses to pay child support. That's right. ALEC wants to leave kids who've already suffered through a divorce in the lurch when the parent that doesn't have custody wants to be a deadbeat.
If these lobbyists represented themselves as acting on behalf of Crown, Cork, and Seal, Co. a firm with direct financial interests in the passage of these acts, the appearance of public-mindedness falls to the wayside. Corporate greed is revealed. ALEC shields these naked interests beneath the allure of a non-partisan "best practices" organization. And to top it off, ALEC throw a little soiree for their members the following day. No doubt attended by Behrens and Schaecher, allowing them to push for the passage of both bills once they exit the committee. All while using the ALEC affiliation to lobby while being registered as a lobbyist for Crown, Cork, and Seal.
So, on January 29th, North Decoder posts a story about this whole clusterfuck. That post is the source of all the information I've got here about the incident. It's the hard work of folks like North Decoder (ht chet) that allows us to track ALEC's path of destruction. And it was the unwelcome attention this post drew that forced ALEC into drastic action. Caught in the act, ALEC attempted to cover their tracks by retroactively covering their ass by sending a "letter of authorization" to the North Dakota Secretary of State that afternoon.
Despite this, nothing happened. ALEC got off scott free. God knows how many times they've run this scam in statehouses across the country without getting caught. I sincerely doubt this is an isolated incident. And I seriously hope that the IRS will consider this when they review ALEC's 501 (c) 3 status.
We need your help. We need folks to look through the archives at Alecexposed.org and find where state legislators have used ALEC model legislation. Then we can start the process of digging out the rest of the dirt like this.
Join us in New Orleans when we protest at ALEC's national meeting. We deserve a democracy. We won't get it until we can get ALEC out of our state governments.