Wednesday, August 10, 2011

States’ legislation packaged and promoted by big business

Anyone who has watched national politics closely has noticed eerily similar new laws proposed in several states within months or weeks of each other.

Last winter, Idaho embraced a public-union-busting bill just before government employees in Wisconsin took to the hallways of their own statehouse and to the streets outside to protest a similar bill.

Idaho also approved a bill that requires voters to present a valid photo identification in order to vote. Voters without one may sign an affidavit to affirm their identity. Idaho joined six states that passed such measures last year. Seventeen states now have such requirements, which opponents claim were designed to stifle minority voting. An amazing total of 33 states considered such laws within the last year.

In 2010, Idaho passed the Health Freedom Act, designed to set the state squarely against a national health-care plan that had been approved by a Democrat-controlled Congress. Supporters claimed that the health-care law violated states' rights under the 10th Amendment.

These bills were no accident, no coincidental upwelling of popular sentiment. They are just three examples of legislation first designed by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a benign name for a tax-exempt nonprofit group funded by wealthy corporations including Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, BP, Bayer, Allergan, Johnson and Johnson, Kraft, Coca-Cola, State Farm Insurance, AT&T, Walmart, Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, to name a few.

For fees from $3,000 to $10,000 plus membership fees that range from $7,000 to $25,000, member corporations get to sit down with state legislators from all over the country and create templates for legislation that the legislators can take home for use in their home states.

ALEC offers "scholarships" to some legislators to enable them to attend. And, surprise: Membership for legislators costs just $100 for two years. ALEC's meetings, like the one last weekend in New Orleans, are held behind closed doors.

Last month, the Center for Media and Democracy created a website on which it posted more than 800 pieces of ALEC's model legislation that had been leaked. In its scope, ALEC has no progressive counterpart.

Are conservatives just more organized than liberals? Maybe. But the idea that the political and legislative agendas for all 50 states are being not only driven but also written by rich corporations and cooperative conservative state legislators stinks to high heaven.

State legislators should wise up, protect the public interest and disclose where any proposed legislation got its start—long before it's even debated.

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