Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting Act 10. Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 – the infamous “show your papers law.” Pennsylvania’s brand new voter suppression law. And now Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law. The common denominator is the organization known as ALEC, and a new report from the New Jersey Star-Ledger details the influence of ALEC on Garden State politicians – and the agenda of Governor Chris Christie.
Our regular readers know about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a DC-based organization that brings state legislators together with corporate lobbyists and right-wing think tankers to produce “model legislation” that the representatives can return home and introduce as their own.
98 percent of ALEC’s $7 million budget is funded by large corporations like ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart. These companies pay between $7,000 and $25,000 to become ALEC members, or even more if they want to join one of ALEC’s nine policy task forces that produce “model legislation.” According to ALEC themselves, 1,000 of those model bills are introduced into state legislatures annually, and one in five become law.
The Star-Ledger report gives examples of bills introduced in Trenton that bear striking resemblance to ALEC model legislation: banning fair share clauses, weakening teacher tenure, protecting charter schools, and helping companies get around environmental legislation.
It also details the extensive connections between the Christie Administration, ALEC, and the corporations that comprise ALEC’s membership. For instance, Gov. Christie’s former chief of staff Richard Bagger was a member of ALEC’s board of directors on behalf of Pfizer from 2002 to 2004. After serving with Christie, he’s now with the pharmaceutical firm Celgene Corp – also an ALEC member – whose executives have donated thousands to Christie’s campaign. It’s almost like he literally went through a revolving door.
New Jersey legislators who are ALEC members or have sponsored bills resembling ALEC models have raked in a combined $202,000 in campaign contributions from ALEC member corporations – $57,700 since 2010.
This sobering report is definitely worth a read, but here’s the simple question we keep asking: Between the creation of these model bills, their introduction into the legislature, to their passage, when do the people – the taxpayers who are ultimately affected by these policies – get consulted? Is it still a democracy if our elected officials only act on the whims of corporations who have paid enough for privilege of contributing to these model bills?
We call them “representatives,” but if the politicians who we elect are simply getting their bills from some corporate-backed bill-writing consortium, they aren’t really doing any “representing.” They are just delivery systems for policies that favor corporations.
“The public has a right to know how these bills are being shaped,” said Gabriela Schneider of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group, “ALEC is a group that wields tremendous influence in shaping public policy that affects a huge number of people. Those same people aren’t at the table.”