ALEC shifts legislation drafting focus from guns, voter requirements to economic growth

Monday, April 23, 2012 at 12:38am
By Steven Hale
Rep. Steve McDaniel

In an apparent nod to public pressure and the exodus of corporate members like Coca-Cola and Kraft, the American Legislative Exchange Council last week announced it was getting out of the guns and ballots game.

The organization — better known as ALEC — said it was eliminating its Public Safety and Elections task force in order to “sharpen [its] focus on jobs, free markets and growth.” Unmentioned was that task force’s fundamental involvement in the spate of new voter requirements and gun laws being pushed through state legislatures around the country.

As an arm of ALEC, the task force birthed gun legislation like the “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws, as well as voter-ID requirements, all of which have passed and become law in recent years in Tennessee. 

The group’s brochure definition describes an innocuous effort to advance the principles of free markets and limited government through a public-private partnership. But critics see a shadowy conservative legislation-factory that gives corporations undue power and influence.

For $7,000 to $25,000 a year, business interests can obtain a membership with varying degrees of access to legislators and events. State legislators can join for $50 a year and some, in Wisconsin for example, have been caught using taxpayer dollars to pay the fee.

Legislators and corporate representatives alike can then join any number of task forces, where the two groups discuss and create model legislation that is then made available for legislators around the country to download and introduce in their state’s legislature.

After an anonymous whistleblower leaked some 800 of ALEC’s model bills to the liberal Center for Media and Democracy, it’s more easily recognized as the force behind various legislative weather patterns, like the expanding gun rights and voter requirements, which it now says it will abandon, as well as the tort, education and union-focused bills it will presumably continue to push. 

The occasional mishap has helped too. In January, Florida Republican state Rep. Rachel Burgin mistakenly revealed her use of an ALEC bill, when she forgot to remove their name from the preamble of a resolution urging Congress to reduce the federal corporate tax rate.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy, there are 44 Tennessee state legislators with ties to ALEC. The largely Republican list includes the highest-ranking Republican leadership in both chambers of the legislature, but it also names five Democrats.

On a board of directors made up of 15 legislators — with eight more serving on an executive board — two are Republicans from Tennessee: Rep. Steve McDaniel, who has been an ALEC member since 1989, and Rep. Curry Todd, who serves as the state’s public sector chairman.

Each state has a public and private chairperson. Tennessee’s private sector chair is Patricia Cannon. She was formerly the director of state government affairs for pharmaceutical corporation Allergan Inc. According to her LinkedIn profile, she now holds the same position at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.

Todd could not be reached for comment and phone calls and emails to an ALEC spokesman were not returned.

After ALEC’s announcement, the group sent out a statement attributed to McDaniel in which he applauded the decision to “refocus [their] efforts.” In an interview with The City Paper, he confirmed his position with the organization as well as Todd’s and Cannon’s. Not surprisingly, his view of ALEC is unfailingly positive.

“Because I believe in the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, personal responsibility and all those things, I think that business ought to be involved with coming up with legislation,” he said. “If you don’t communicate with the people who are creating the jobs and who are being regulated by government, you don’t get a rounded full story of what’s going on. I think ALEC’s a good model to allow that to take place.”

McDaniel said he couldn’t point to a single ALEC bill this session and argued that even when model bills are used in the state, they’re often changed throughout the legislative process to a point where he wouldn’t call them “ALEC bills.”

Along with the aforementioned gun and voter-ID laws, watchdog groups have pointed out parts of the scientific education bill, which Gov. Bill Haslam recently allowed to pass into law without his signature, that mirror sections of an ALEC model bill. Indeed, some language from the model, focused on classroom discussions about climate change, can be found in legislation across the country.

But state legislators have not been prone to announcing the origins of their legislation — at least, not on purpose — and increased media attention doesn’t seem likely to change that. Last year, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner introduced a bill that would have required legislators to identify legislation that came from outside entities like ALEC or the Tennessee Eagle Forum. It quickly failed.

Throughout this session, Turner has pressed legislators — as he did Rep. Judd Matheny about an Eagle Forum-backed bill that would restrict the number of foreign workers in charter schools — about the groups behind the bills they’re pushing.

“A lot of what we’ve done here this year, a lot of the bills we have passed, I don’t know what it would be, but I dare to say, if you researched it, probably a good 25 percent of the bills that we’ve passed this year were from some outside entity,” he said.

Asked if groups like ALEC give an unfair advantage to wealthy corporations, McDaniel said he believes in his colleagues’ integrity.

“If a legislator can be bought ... most can’t,” he said. “Their vote can not be bought in any form or fashion. They’re going to do what they think is right for the people who sent them here. That’s the way I am, that’s the way all legislators I know are. It’s just like [when] some association gives you a campaign contribution. My door’s open to them and my door’s open to everybody to present their case.”

That raises the question, then: Why wouldn’t legislators disclose the unelected entities who craft the legislation they’re sponsoring? Although he didn’t bring his bill again this year, Turner said he’ll push it in the future.

“I’ll probably bring it back up,” he said. “But they’ll kill it.”     

13 Comments on this post:

By: jasonweaver on 4/23/12 at 10:15

Amazing! McDaniel's words on Jeffersonian principles in free markets are right out of the ALEC talking points. Jefferson supported an agrarian society as well with a large middle class. The great patron saint of free market capitalism Adam Smith advocated progressive taxation. "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in proportion."

By: Moonglow1 on 4/23/12 at 10:46

Moonglow1: ALEC is driving legislation shaped to protect corporate interests. Who represents the citizens? Our elected officials are bought and paid for by corporations. ALEC is a "front" organization for multinationals. The USA is no longer "for the people by the people. "

ALEC with Koch brothers money has run a systematic campaign against climate change. Why? Because the $44 billion that the Koch brothers are worth from their oil refineries is not enough. Oh, they want more. They want to bleed the American public dry.

Haslam has allowed ALEC-based legislation to pass. Legislation that is not good for Tennessee but good for Pilot and The Koch's.

Who speaks for you??

And Todd Curry has received generous campaign donations from ALEC. Follow the money and you will get educated.

Boycott ALEC corporate supporters like A T& T, Comcast, BOA, etc.

By: Moonglow1 on 4/23/12 at 10:55

Moonglow1: P. S. No way should ALEC be classified as a non profit. They are a strong and influential lobbying firm who has "purchased" legislative influence to have corporate interests protected. We are not talking small business either. ALEC protects multinationals. You want our pristine TN mountain tops blown off for coal (ALEC is there for you), you want pristine TN rivers polluted (ALEC is there for you), you want high gas prices (ALEC is there for you), you want to eat pink slime (ALEC is there for you), don't believe is science (ALEC will make sure you don't )

By: pswindle on 4/23/12 at 3:40

Has the TN Legislative Branch been bought by ALEC. Alec's true motives are being exposed.

By: pswindle on 4/24/12 at 8:32

After the election of 2010, ELEC has brain-washed each GOP to go back to their state and make laws in removing human rights from each individual. I still cannot believe that the Tennessee Legislative Branch has done the damage that they have done to the people of this great state, and there is noting that we can do. We do not have enough democrats left to stand up for the forgotten. The churches have taken control, and this is the reason that we must have separation of church and state. The GOP wants to follow the Constitution, but when they are in power be damn the Constitution, they need to go back and read the Human Rights that has been given to us as citizens of this great nation. The GOP demands gun rights, but women cannot have control of their own bodies. I hope that TN wakes up, but I'm afraid that it is almost too late to have a voice.

By: JeffF on 4/24/12 at 11:07

hoo hum, the left will soon tire of this boogeyman and move onto another. Meanwhile Soros keeps rolling along.

By: Shadow63 on 4/24/12 at 2:27

They’re going to do what they think is right for the people who sent them here. That’s the way I am, that’s the way all legislators I know are.

You really don't think it's the voters, do you?

By: Moonglow1 on 4/24/12 at 4:38

Moonglow1: yup the legislators will do what they think is right (legislate issues of concern to their handlers).
The far right has hijacked the Rep party. The party's over and the Nuts have taken control.
The voters? Well most are brainwashed by Fox News. They are too dumb to know what the legislative process is all about. They don't understand or refuse to understand the big picture. At least the French are getting it!! Sarkosy is in trouble and may not be re-elected. Europeans are sick of the extreme right. Too bad we are not as enlightened.
Also anytime the Tea Nuts can't figure out what to say they point to George Soros. So what. George made money, but he is not behind ALEC and other shadowy non profit groups that use your tax dollars to get legislation passed that harms the masses.
You gotta love this country.

By: pswindle on 4/24/12 at 9:20

I knew someone brain-washed Haslam, Maggart, Dunn and others to come up with such crazy bills that was signed by our wimpy Governor.

By: R A Clark on 4/24/12 at 9:40

SB0401 matches the ALEC model almost word for word

Paycheck Protection Act Model Legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council

Campfield SB0401

By: R A Clark on 4/24/12 at 9:43

SB2171 closely matches an ALEC model bill

ALEC Public Pension Model Bill Click on Worker’s Rights, Trade, Pensions and Privatization Bills, then after download, open “Public Employees Portable Retirement Option Act”

By: R A Clark on 4/24/12 at 9:54

ALEC's SB2171 would defund TCRS, threatening the pensions of state, local and state university employees as well as state legislators.ALEC really wants to hurt a lot of Americans. I wonder why.

By: Moonglow1 on 4/25/12 at 8:07

Moonglow1: R. A. Clark, I agree that ALEC is trying to hurt many Americans. It doesn't really make sense. I heard a US Senator from North Carolina is quitting ALEC. He (cannot recall his name) says ALEC was hijacked by these extremist right wings and has gotten out of control. Thank you for referencing all of the bills that use ALEC's model legislation.
I also know that "friends of ALEC" like most Repub Congressmen and our TN legislators and Haslam have declared "war" on the electric car and on solar energy. Their actions are un American and you've got to wonder if they have a hidden agenda. America was at one time an innovative country proud of its accomplishments. Now solar and electric cars are being vilified. So crazy!! The TN legislators want to slap a 33 percent increase in tax if you have solar panels. Why? Perhaps less $$ for TVA? Just nuts.