Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Miles Mogulescu Headshot

ALEC: The Behind the Scenes Player in the States' Fight Against the Middle Class

Posted: Updated:

It is no coincidence that Republican legislators and governors -- not just in Wisconsin, but in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee and many other states -- are rushing to pass laws to undermine the collective bargaining rights of both public sector and private sector unions and pass budgets to drastically cut funding for education and other services that serve the broad middle class. It is part of a concerted corporate-funded campaign to continue shifting power and wealth from middle class majority to the richest 1%.

It includes conservative think tanks, lobbying organizations, corporate campaign cash, and corporate-funded astroturf organizations. While the Koch Brothers are poster boys for this campaign, it goes far beyond the Koch Brothers and includes some of the largest corporations headquartered in America from the energy sector to health care to telecommunications.

One of the most influential organization which connects state legislators with corporate money and corporate think tanks to influence pro-corporate, anti-union state legislation is the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council, often known as ALEC. Funded by some of the largest corporations based in the United States, ALEC takes the policy ideas of corporate-friendly think tanks, turns them into hundreds of "model legislation" bills undermining unions, blocking environmental protections, opposing health care reform, and supporting the tobacco and private prison industries.

ALEC then sponsors junkets, such as one recently " target="_hplink">reported by the Arizona Republic, which bring together state legislators (and often their families) with corporate executives and lobbyists to participate in meetings where participants endorse ALEC's model legislation, share meals, enjoy cocktail parties and booze, and often play golf and engage in other recreational activities. Although this sounds an awful lot like lobbying, somehow ALEC is able to skirt the legal label of a lobbying organization and keep its tax status which allows corporate contributions to be tax deductible.

Not surprisingly, ALEC has been active in sponsoring legislation to rein in the influence of unions at the state level, both public sector unions through banning collective bargaining and private sector unions through "right to work" (i.e. right to freeload) legislation. ALEC has been successful in passing hundreds of state laws based exactly or closely on its model legislation. The American Prospect labeled ALEC "The Most Powerful lobby you've never heard of."

So what is ALEC, who funds it, how does it get hundreds of corporate-friendly bills passed in state legislatures throughout the country, and why is it a key player -- perhaps THE key player -- in efforts by Republican Governors and legislatures in numerous states to bust unions?

The vice president of the environmental group, Defenders of Wildlife, which issued a critical report on ALEC along with the National Resources Defense Council called ALEC a "Trojan Horse" that allows "corporate America to exercise significant influence over state legislation in almost every statehouse in the country".

ALEC has two kind of members:

1. State legislators who pay $50 per year in dues and in exchange get junkets to luxury resorts, free or heavily subsidized vacations for their families, and other fringe benefits including free child-care and medical tests, Broadway shows, and dinners at expensive restaurants. ALEC's membership includes 2,400 state legislators, which is over 30% of all state lawmakers in the country.

2. Over 300 corporate sponsors who pay up to $50,000 per year in dues plus up to $5,000 to sit on industry-specific task forces in their areas of interest such as energy, healthcare, telecommunications and taxes. The task forces write and approve the model legislation that conforms to the business interests of their corporate members. Tax records indicate that corporations collectively pay as much as $6 million a year. The corporate executives and their lobbyists then get substantial face time with the state legislators at ALEC's retreats and other events.

According to its website, the corporate funders currently on ALEC's Private Enterprise board include Koch Industries, Altria, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKlein, Pfizer, Reynolds American Inc. (the parent company of cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds), Energy Future Holdings, Peabody Energy, PhRMA, AT&T, UPS, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and State Farm Insurance.

A striking example of how ALEC's corporate sponsors work hand in glove with conservative legislators and governors to pass legislation is Arizona's "breathing while brown" anti-immigration law which allows police officers to stop anyone they believe might be an illegal immigrant and imprison him if their papers aren't in order. The model legislation on which the law was based was written by an ALEC task force which included the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prisons corporation in the country which financially benefits from imprisoning immigrants. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's current spokesman is the former chief Arizona lobbyist for the Corrections Corporation of American. According to a report on NPR:

A review of two dozen states now considering Arizona's immigration law shows many of those pushing similar legislation across the country are ALEC members. In fact, five of those legislators were in the hotel conference room with the Corrections Corporation of America the day the model bill was written.

A senior ALEC staffer says that over 200 of ALEC's model bills became law over the past year.

According to In These Times, following are some of ALEC's other legislative initiatives:

"Backed by the oil industry, ALEC has lined up legislators to lower taxes on gasoline and to undermine regulations aimed at curbing the carbon dioxide emissions leading to global warming.

Backed by the drug companies, ALEC has mounted a full-scale campaign to defeat initiatives by cities and states to promote importing lower-priced select medicines from Canada.

Backed by low-wage employers, ALEC has promoted legislation to block local governments from raising local minimum wages or even requiring government contractors to pay a fair wage to their employees.

Backed by the telephone companies, ALEC has worked to bar or hamstring cities that have sought to build cheaper or even free Internet services for their residents.

Backed by the insurance companies, ALEC has been promoting a campaign to stop state insurance commissioners from requiring insurance companies to meet the same accountability and auditing rules that were imposed on publicly-traded corporations in the wake of the Enron debacle."

Bringing it all back to Wisconsin and the other states which are today trying to limit or take away worker rights, ALEC has been a key driver of most of these campaign anti-union initiatives.

ALEC has been at the forefront of attacking state minimum wage laws, blocking cities from implementing living wage laws, and leading efforts to privatize government services in order to turn them over to non-union for-profit contractors. It has also been active in undermining the pensions of government workers and in providing private school vouchers in order to weaken the public school system and its unionized teachers.

Even more crucially, it has in years past been active in "right to work campaigns" which would undermine unions by allowing employees to gain the benefits of union contracts without having to pay union dues, and "paycheck" protection which prevents unions from using dues for political purposes without specific authorization from each member each year, which, where implemented, has drastically reduced the political clout of unions.

Wisconsin Gov. Walker claims to have campaigned on taking away the collective bargaining rights of public works. But while he did campaign on having state employees pay more for their health insurance and their pensions, he suspiciously didn't make his proposals to take away collective bargaining rights until after the election. Rather, after the election, according to Wisconsin's Capitol Times, Walker and Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald jetted off to an ALEC conference where they met with Governors from states where labor rights are weak such as Mississippi's Haley Barbour and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal. Commenting on the ALEC session on right-to-work legislation and other anti-union legislation, Fitzgerald commented that "he was surprised how much momentum there was around that discussion." In the infamous prank phone call in which Gov. Walker believed he was talking to David Koch, Walker bragged of being in daily contact with other Governors proposing anti-union legislation.

ALEC's finger prints are all over the current anti-union legislation being proposed not only in Wisconsin, but in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and numerous other states.
Along with corporate-funded think tanks, corporate PACS, and astroturf organizations like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, ALEC is a key link in the chain of corporate-funded organizations trying to break the back of unions in states throughout the country