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When you try to talk to people about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) it's common to have the charge of conspiracy theory thrown against you.  The problem for the corporate lobbying deniers is that there's a mountain of evidence to demonstrate ALEC's role in pushing a variety of controversial bills at the state level.  For example, the recent Right to Work (For Less) bills passed in Michigan most definitely have ALEC DNA. Brendan Fischer from the Center for Media and Democracy lays it out clearly, comparing the language of ALEC's "Right to Work Act" and the text of HB 4003 and HB.

Chain of Influence

This is where things get interesting. Text matching is interesting, but ultimately it's influence that we are after.  That requires more evidence. Which requires that we have a very good notion of how a bill becomes a law.

Although we know that the plagiarized from ALEC's model bill, every bill begins with legislative sponsors. HB 4054 never made it out of the House, however at least 2 of its sponsors have a confirmed relationship to ALEC:

Rep. Tom McMillin
Rep. Peter J. Lund
In the Right to Work (For Less) bill that made it out of the Michigan House was HB 4003.  Here again, at least 7 of its sponsors have a confirmed relationship to ALEC:
Rep. Dave Agemma
Rep. Judson Gilbert
Rep. Kenneth Horn
Rep. Kenneth Kurtz
Rep. Tom McMillin
Rep. Aric Nesbitt
Rep. Amanda Price
After first reading, HB 4003 was referred to the House Commerce Committee.  On April 26, 2011 the bill was introduced and passed with little comment beyond a statement of support filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, the recipient of ALEC's 2011 Private Sector Member of the Year Award. Among those Representatives referring the bill to the Committee on Family, Children, and Seniors, was Rep. Peter Lund, who sits on ALEC's Commerce task force, the one one responsible for their "Right to Work" Act.

On May 24, 2011 the Committee on Family, Children and Seniors passed the bill on to the House floor. Oddly, the minutes of that meeting are not available on the committee's website, although those of the meetings before and after are.  As well testimony from an AFSCME rep is similarly available. I would hope that this is a clerical error, but it does raise eyebrows. From the House Journal we can get an abbreviated version of the committee report. Here, we find out the the committee chair, who voted for the bill, is an ALEC member, as is Rep. Gail Haines, another Republican member of the House Committee. Needless to say this makes me very curious what's in those missing committee minutes.

After emerging from committee, HB 4003 was passed on the House floor on June 8th 2011 in Roll Call #166. Again, among the legislators supporting the bills, ALEC ties pop up:

Majority Caucus Chair Dave Agema
Rep. Peter J. Lund
Rep. Amanda Price
Rep. Kenneth Horn
Rep. Tom McMillin
Rep. Aric Nexbitt
Rep. Mike Shirkey
Rep. Gail Haines
Rep. Ellen Kowall
Rep. Kenneth Kurtz
Rep. Judson Gilbert
Rep. Matthew Lori
After passing the house, the bill was sent to the Senate, and referred to the Committee on Reforms, Restructuring, and Reinventing the next day.  There it sat until the end of November of 2011.

On November 30th, 2011, the Committee on Reforms, Restructuring, and Reinventing heard testimony on HB 4003.  Representatives from the SEIU and AFSCME spoke in opposition, while the National Federation of Independent Business spoke in favor. Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is recorded as taking a neutral position, which I find hard to belief. First, Mr. Wright has a record which indicate that he would most likely support the bill under consideration.  Second, the Mackinac Center itself is a an ALEC member.  The House Committee itself has members with known ALEC ties who voted to pass the bill:

Sen. Mike Kowall
Sen. David Roberson
After passing the Senate committee, the bill sat for over a year waiting to be heard. On December 6, 2012 the Senate brought HB 4003 to the floor, and inserted language which applied the "Right to Work" provision to the private sector. Again, ALEC members stick out among the supporters of the bill:

 

Sen. Darwin Booher
Sen. Dave Hildenbrand
Sen. Arlan B. Meekhoof
Sen. Bruce Caswell
Sen. John Moolenar
Sen. David B. Robertson
Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker
Sen. Geoff Hansen
Sen. Mike Kowall
Shortly afterwards, the bill was returned to the House.  There it was passed, and yesterday Gov. Snyder signed the bill.

The Final ALEC Connection

One of the weirder aspects of the long, strange trip of HB 4003 is that it just now, after a year of inaction, emerged from Senate committee onto the floor.  The timing is made all the more interesting, because the week before it was resurrected ALEC held its annual States and Nation conference in Washington, D.C.  And, it's hear that transparency almost totally breaks down. What we do know from documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy is that the "Right to Work" bill was on the agenda at this meeting.

Every 5 years, ALEC requires that its model bills be renewed, or fall to a sunset provision.  This sunset provision meant that the "Right to Work Bill" was  put back on the table for renewal.  Moreover, James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation gave a presentation entitled, "How to Limit Union Influence and Expand Worker Choice."  We don't have the text of this presentation, but I imagine that there was a work or two there about the "benefits" of "Right to Work."

Troubling as this all is, the final kicker is that for those Michigan legislators who did attend, all expenses were almost certainly paid for by by ALEC scholarships. These scholarships are coordinated by state chairs, in this case Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, who accept unregulated funds from corporate donors in order to fund them. We have little idea who provided these funds.  We have little idea which legislators have accepted them.  And we have little idea how much access they buy.  Typically, state ethics rules prohibit legislators from accepting any gift valued in excess of $25 from a lobbyist.  From the little information that we have about the amounts granted in scholarship, we know that legislators have been reimbursed thousands of dollars from these funds.  

The scandal here is that just twenty short years ago, illegal contributions of as little as $20, drew FBI scrutiny in Operation Boptrot which ended up sending 15 members of the KY Legislature to federal prison. How times change.

Originally posted to ManfromMiddletown on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 11:40 PM PST.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  KA-CHING!! SHOW THEM THE MONEY!! nt (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, zenox, MartyM, eru, myboo, elwior, antirove
  •  Using the law to dominate and subordinate the (9+ / 0-)

    general public is not new. After all, before the ink on the Constitution was dry, some percentage of the populace was deprived of all it's human rights in the interest of those who had purchased them as property. Thus ownership was enshrined as superior to human rights. People who couldn't afford people had to be content with owning things, especially since owning themselves continued to be out of the question for women, children, native Americans and indentured laborers. Even after the ownership of slaves was outlawed (taken out of the law), respect for human rights hung on a thin thread, for even the ones enumerated in the first amendments to the Constitution are conditional. Speech, writing and religion are to be respected, along with one's domicile, unless it is warranted that they not be. When you come right down to it, according to the provisions of the Constitution, the people governing was largely an aspiration. Government BY the people was barely given lip service and it wasn't until Lincoln that it was clearly enunciated.
    Meanwhile, the members of legislative bodies continued to rule by making rules, usually making sure that only small unimportant segments of the population were directly affected. Even increasing respect for human rights was piecemeal and then, starting in the aftermath of World War II, perhaps because the face of legal evil had been to blatantly revealed in Germany, restraints began to be applied. First, I think, came the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1947, a first step in holding negligent and derelict public servants to account. (Potentates are only powerful as long as nobody can make them account for their actions and dismiss them for doing wrong). Then, in the fifties, came the demand for civil rights -- i.e. the ability of citizens to actually participate in governing (voting, holding office, serving on juries and all the rest). The historical narrative focuses mostly on people not being shut out. That it was really about citizen participation is largely ignored because the traditional rulers (lawmakers) didn't relish citizen participation from any quarter, no way, no how.
    Still the hits kept coming. Thinking the public beast could be pacified, freedom of information acts were passed at all levels, no doubt in the expectation that the public would be turned off by all the paperwork. But, periodic documentary evidence of shenanigans was enough to whet the public interest and to support the eventual conversion to electronic records and access. Also, things denied are increasingly valued.
    It's my sense that, for a while, labor unions were considered a preferable alternative to political organization-- sort of a lesser evil. Until unions no longer delivered reliable votes at the polls. If unions can't deliver, then perhaps employers can be squeezed to do the job by threatening to cut employment.

    What we need to remember is that private corporations are creatures of the state. State legislative bodies authorize their creation and, as is being shown via the labor unions (which are, after all, also private corporations), legislators can unmake them.
    The lust for power is lodged in many a breast and masked as public service.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 03:56:12 AM PST

    •  What a sad, dark (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Citizenpower, jomsc

      world you describe.
      I just sent a check to my favorite union.  They do much good.

      Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire

      by barnowl on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 12:20:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "We organize governments to deliver services and (0+ / 0-)

      prevent abuse". That said, what is the recourse of the citizen if the government doesn't do its job?

      Common cause is a great uniter. It would be nice to live in a private sanctuary with no ill effects from the outside world but that just isn't reality for most of us. Unions were a response to the failure of government to protect its citizens from abuse. They aren't perfect but what is?

      When we connect with others on worthy causes like the prevention of harmful labor practices, we gain a since of purpose and dignity that cannot be supplied by just waiting for a legislative body to do the right thing. Public participation is the very soul of democratic citizenship and it greatly enriches our very lives.

      Occupy is a great example of citizens getting fed up with harmful economic practices and responding in a genuine, creative way.

      Waiting around for legislators to undue the damage they caused in the first place is a little ridiculous. They have everything to lose and nothing to gain by giving up the power they have claimed as their own.

      Unions can be reclaimed and made to do their original purpose. Its cynical to think otherwise.

  •  will be interesting to see the Pay to Play (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rubyduby7, myboo, elwior, newpioneer

    "open secrets" donations to Michigan ALEC Republicans.

    "Tax cuts for the 1% create jobs." -- Republicans, HAHAHA - in China

    by MartyM on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 05:51:24 AM PST

  •  This: (9+ / 0-)
    When you try to talk to people about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) it's common to have the charge of conspiracy theory thrown against you.
    Not on this site you won't.

    Here ALEC is recognised for what it is ... a conspiracy against the American people designed solely for the purpose of establishing a ruling class, and removing opposition.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 05:55:46 AM PST

    •  Not to anyone who knows about Alec. Furthermore (3+ / 0-)

      Bill Moyer's recent expose was absolutely chilling.

      Unless, of course, you think the law is there to be manipulated like a clown's balloon. In that case, you might think it's funny.

      Until the balloon busts, and spews its' toxic filled gas. Right into your face.

      I just hate the fact that the left continues to find ourselves outmaneuvered, out flanked....the hell I'm going to do about it?

  •  Just think of that? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, marzook, gregsullmich, jomsc

    That was my thought a week ago, or whenever I first heard of this. Without reading a word of the bill.

    Just listen to the talking points - it had AKEC fingerprints all over it.

    Either you're wit' us or a Guinness -- Brilliant!

    by Unforgiven on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 10:26:23 AM PST

  •  Progressive, Democrats need to fight (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Citizenpower, jomsc

    the WAR and not be satisfied with winning a few battles. The recently past campaign against ALEC by progressives and Democrats using the power of the web was successful in knocking a large number of corporations off of ALEC's membership rolls. Then we all turned our attention of Mitt Romney and the general presidential campaign. ALEC was weakened by our campaign but we didn't follow up to assure its death. What we failed to do was focus on those ALEC members who were in elected positions in state legislatures. Rooting these guys out as depicted in tne post above on a state by state basis is a lot of work and will require considerably more resources than thousands of emails and written letters.

    Another thing that I wish to point out is the fact that regardless if every corporate sponson leaves ALEC, the Koch Brothers will still be pouring millions into the organization. Thus it is important to know how the Koch Brothers think. Koch has bestowed millions on the arts in New York, and their name is well known within these circles as benevolent founders and contributors. Yet these are the same people who are also pouring money into foundations setup primarily to destroy every political and institutional entity established to aid the well being and security of the common American citizen.

    We need to exploit this contridiction in the Koch Brothers character  if we are to do battle with them in the future.

  •  Can they be prosecuted? (0+ / 0-)

    Could the unions call the FBI or some fed agency and nail their asses?  

    If money is speech, then speech must be money.

    by dkmich on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 02:44:05 PM PST

  •  What difference does it make? Getting rid of (0+ / 0-)

    unions is a Republican priority. Why does it matter who wrote specific legislative language to do that? It's not some obscure provision in some law stuck there by a lobbyist.

    •  The difference is this is 'boilerplate' law being (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jomsc, socindemsclothing

      foisted upon 50 state legislatures via ALEC related lobbyists and elected leaders who aso have ALEC memberships and can be assumed to subscribe to ALEC's agenda. ALEC has been working for more than a generation to achieve it's hyperconservative agenda.

      When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

      by antirove on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 07:36:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is much more important who votes for (0+ / 0-)

        laws rather than who writes them. It's not like the law would have been different if it was written by a Republican legislative staffer in Michigan.

        •  And (0+ / 0-)
          It is much more important who votes for
          laws rather than who writes them.
          ALEC has a huge rule in influencing state legislators.  Again, it's not just the model legislation, it's the whole chain of influence created by the unregulated nature of lobbying that ALEC allows members to get away with.

          http://www.economicpopulist.org

          by ManfromMiddletown on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 11:50:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  The difference is that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FG, jomsc

      if the people pushing RTW legislation in Michigan were to do what they have done without the cover of ALEC, there would be mandated transparency in the form of lobbying regulations.  And the "scholarships" given to legislators?

      At best a violation  of lobbying regulations, most likely a serious crime.  ALEC allows corporate influence to avoid the scrutiny provided by lobbying regulation.

      Writing model legislation?  That's the least of it.

      http://www.economicpopulist.org

      by ManfromMiddletown on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 07:54:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  In this particular case it's only model (0+ / 0-)

        legislation. I agree that there are other problems with ALEC as you describe but they don't seem to have anything to do with this particular law.

        •  The keynote speaker (0+ / 0-)

          at the for ALEC's November 2012 Commerce committee meeting gave a presentation about how to bust unions, but sure I'm certain that there is no relationship.  Because of course we have open access to the minutes of that meeting and the cash donations responsible for bring the legislators in attendance there.

          http://www.economicpopulist.org

          by ManfromMiddletown on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 12:43:13 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I don't think you're seeing the big picture (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          socindemsclothing, FG

          The Bill Moyers show explains it better than I can. The Voter ID laws came out of ALEC. Didn't it seem strange that WI, OH, and IN all decided to go after unions at the same time? And that a dozen states all decided to require Voter ID just in time for the election? Think Big Business, Karl Rove, and a "permanent Republican majority."

    •  Why is getting rid of...... (0+ / 0-)

      ...unions a Republican priority? According to Snyder, this is merely a law to advocate for the "rights" (read liberty) of the worker. Where are the crowds of workers demanding this? It matters who wrote it in order to discern what motivated its creation. ALEC is an enterprise whereby lawmakers and business people write laws together (out of public view) that will benefit business and the GOP. No "workers" are consulted.

  •  Fighting back and calling attention to ALEC (0+ / 0-)

    is half the battle. Trusting our instincts that we can make a difference are the heart of the matter.

    I don't think this battle will be won overnight. My children will still be fighting back against the affects of ALEC in their lifetime. They are beginning to realize that. They were scared at first and now they see it as their duty to their children. If you see us as foot soldiers in this battle, it begins to shape into a realistic fight that can and must be won.

    Obama's election set the tone for the change ahead. He doesn't like confrontation but he is in the middle of it whether he likes it or not. So are we.

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