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ALEC Brings Power, Protest To Scottsdale

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These corporations are part of the private enterprise board of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
American Legislative Exchange Council Hosts Politicians, Corporations While Occupy Phoenix, Others, Plan Protests

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By John Monahan
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 23, 2011 — The American Legislative Exchange Council is bringing its States & Nation Policy Summit to Scottsdale next week, and Occupy Phoenix and other groups opposed to the policy organization are planning protests to highlight what they claim is undue influence of corporations on the political process.

Events scheduled by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC are planned from Wednesday to Friday next week at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, 6902 E. Greenway Parkway, Scottsdale. Over the same three days, a variety of labor and activist groups, including the Arizona AFL-CIO, Occupy Phoenix, Common Cause, MoveOn, AZ Justice Unitarian Universalist Collective and others, are planning events throughout the Valley.

ALEC conference schedule

Protests and meeting spots

The American Legislative Exchange Council was started in 1973 by former Rep. Henry Hyde, conservative activist Lou Barnett and Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation. ALEC began to become a factor in conservative circles in the 1980s. Others vital to the foundation of the organization include Robert Kasten and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin; John Engler of Michigan; Terry Branstad of Iowa, and John Kasich of Ohio, all of whom moved on to become governors or members of Congress. Congressional members who actively supported the organization early in its development included Senators John Buckley of New York and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, as well as Congressmen Phil Crane of Illinois and Jack Kemp of New York.

Lou Barnett was a senior member of Ronald Reagan’s 1968 presidential bid and during Reagan’s presidency from 1980 to 1988, ALEC grew into a force. In 1981, ALEC published and distributed 10,000 copies of Reagan and the States, detailing methods for decentralizing government from the federal to the state level. In 1982, ALEC began developing its first health care initiatives.

In 1986, ALEC launched internal “task forces” to develop policy covering virtually every responsibility of state government. Within a year, nearly a dozen ALEC task forces had been formed, and they quickly become policy powerhouses.

After the Reagan Administration, ALEC began to morph into the organization that it is today. Under the leadership of Delaware state Senator Jim Neal, ALEC gradually began to shift from clearinghouses of ideas submitted by ALEC members into freestanding think tanks and model bill movers. They began to actively solicit more input from private sector members, seizing upon ALEC’s long-held philosophy that the private sector should be an ally rather than an adversary in developing sound public policy.

Although ALEC calls itself a membership association of state legislators, besides its board of directors, board of scholars and executive staff, it also includes a private enterprise board. This board is led by National Chairman W. Preston Baldwin of Centerpoint360, First Vice Chairman Sandra Oliver of Bayer Corp., Second Vice Chairman, John Del Giorno of GlaxoSmithKline, Treasurer David Powers of Reynolds American and Secretary, Maggie Sans of Wal-Mart Stores.

Other companies with employees currently serving on the private enterprise board include Energy Future Holdings, Johnson & Johnson, PhRMA, American Bail Coalition, Kraft Foods, Pfizer, Reed Elsevier, DIAGEO, AT&T, Peabody Energy, UPS, Intuit, Inc., Koch Companies Public Sector, Coca-Cola Refreshments, Altria Client Services, ExxonMobil, Salt River Project, and State Farm Insurance Co. Many other large corporations are also members of ALEC.

According to ALEC’s 2010 tax returns, nearly $6 million of their $7.1 million budget come from their corporate benefactors. The remainder of the organization’s revenue comes from profit earned at three conferences, membership dues, advertising and through their publication, Inside ALEC. Many state legislators are “granted” their travel and accommodations when travelling to ALEC events.

According to ALEC statistics, their task forces have, “considered, written and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law.”

Some of the high-profile topics that ALEC has helped to shepherd include mandatory minimum sentencing, teacher competency testing, pension reform, immigration, and enterprise zones.

Operating mostly out of the limelight throughout the 1990s, ALEC came under scrutiny from national publications and activist organizations such as Common Cause after the millennium. In fact, Common Cause is currently fighting to have ALEC’s non-profit status revoked since they claim that the group is little more than an effort to circumvent lobbying restrictions.

"ALEC is a stunning example of how deeply corporate influence penetrates our democracy and undermines the public interest. Its corporate sponsors underwrite annual meetings, often at lavish resorts, where their executives sit side-by-side with state legislators — in meetings closed to the public and press — to draft 'model' bills designed to enhance the companies' profits, often at a cost to the public interest," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "Then the companies put their muscle behind that legislation at state capitols and invest millions of dollars to elect and re-elect lawmakers who support it."

Locally, approximately half of the republican members of the Arizona legislature are members of ALEC. According to Common Cause, corporations on the private enterprise board have spent approximately $316 million in state elections over the past decade, including nearly $17 million in Arizona.

“In Arizona, where firms on ALEC’s private enterprise board have put nearly $16.6 million into state campaigns since 2001, the legislature attracted national attention and sparked a bitter partisan debate when it passed ALEC-backed legislation that gives state and local police new authority to detain suspected illegal immigrants. An investigation by National Public Radio found that one ALEC-member firm, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), was a key player in the ALEC task force that drafted the model bill that spawned Arizona’s law. CCA, which builds or runs prisons in 21 states and reported 2010 revenues of $1.7 billion, has identified immigrant detention as an emerging market,” according to the Common Cause report Legislating Under the Influence.

Occupy Phoenix is planning on making the ALEC conference its prime focus next week.

“ALEC is at the core of what is wrong with our political system today. This organization promotes and enacts the sale of local and national legislation. We will no longer remain passive while our country is sold to the highest bidder,” according to an Occupy Phoenix press release.

Arizona companies involved in ALEC include Apollo Group, Arizona Public Service, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Raytheon and SRP. According to the Arizona Capitol Times, ALEC claims Arizona passed 19 of the 36 ALEC model bills that were introduced in the legislature in 2010.

ALEC conference schedule

Protests and meeting spots

John Monahan is a freelance writer living in Connecticut.
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