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The ALEC Attack

Corporation-written legislation pushed through Wisconsin

Jul. 20, 2011
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The American Legislative Exchange Council—more commonly known as ALEC, the corporate-sponsored national think tank that produces bills to be introduced in state legislatures around the country—is behind a wide range of Wisconsin legislation introduced this session.

ALEC pairs a legislator—typically a conservative Republican—with a representative of a corporation to write pro-business, anti-worker legislation. The legislation is written in secret and only ALEC members know the true extent of its influence. The organization claims that more than 1,000 ALEC-created bills are introduced annually in statehouses nationwide.

ALEC's current corporate board members include Koch Companies Public Sector, AT&T, Wal-Mart Stores, Pfizer Inc., Coca-Cola Co., ExxonMobil Corp., State Farm Insurance Co., PhRMA, Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris), Kraft Foods, Reynolds American and others.

According to an investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), ALEC's model legislation passed in Wisconsin this year includes:

  • Tort reform, which protects corporations from legal suits from damaged consumers.
  • Telecom deregulation, which prohibits the state Public Service Commission from setting phone rates for consumers.
  • The super majority act, which requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature on bills to increase taxes.
  • The health savings account act, which creates a tax exemption for HSAs, costing Wisconsin $48 million in revenue annually.

The Center for Media and Democracy also found ALEC's influence in proposals to racially profile immigrants, mandate voter IDs, end public financing of campaigns, attack public employee unions, promote charter and voucher schools, legalize for-profit bail bondsmen, reinstate the "Las Vegas loophole" to allow corporations to pay less income tax in Wisconsin, and carve out constitutional protections for road builders.

Thompson, Walker, Fitzgeralds, Vos

CMD noted ALEC's long influence in Wisconsin. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson boasted of being influenced by ALEC, and his "Welfare to Work" (W-2) and school choice legislation appear to have been ALEC inventions.

As a state representative in the 1990s, Gov. Scott Walker pushed truth-in-sentencing legislation, which extends the amount of time offenders must spend in prison. CMD's investigation found that the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America, an active member of ALEC, benefited from the bill, since its institutions housed overflow inmates from Wisconsin.

Both state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and state Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) are also avid ALEC members, CMD reported. Scott Fitzgerald boasted of considering turning Wisconsin into a "right to work" state after attending an ALEC conference last fall.

The current state chair of ALEC is state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington), the co-chair of the powerful budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. The state budget as crafted by Vos shows the influence of ALEC's pro-corporate agenda, from its promotion of private road builders, bail bondsmen and voucher schools to its slashing of funds for public schools and safety net programs.

January Conference Call on Redistricting

According to documents the Shepherd obtained through an open records request, Vos attended two ALEC meetings in 2010.

PSC Chairman Phil Montgomery, formerly a state representative, attended six ALEC meetings in 2009 and 2010. State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) attended five ALEC conferences in 2009 and 2010. Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, a former state representative, attended four meetings in 2009 and 2010.

The documents also show that ALEC provided its Wisconsin members with talking points about tort reform legislation introduced during January's special session on jobs. That legislative package was based on various ALEC model bills, according to the Jan. 11 email. ALEC later provided talking points to help members deny ALEC's influence on Wisconsin legislation.

ALEC also sponsored a Jan. 27 conference call on redistricting, led by Utah legislator Paul Ray; former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee Mark Braden, now with the law firm Baker Hostetler; and Richard Leadbeater, state government industry manager for ESRI, a corporation that uses GIS technology to develop redistricting maps, among other products.

"The working group will host a conference call on the potential legal issues of redistricting, as well as the software available to help make the process easier," stated a Jan. 20 ALEC email sent to Sen. Fitzgerald's office.

There's no indication in the documents that any Wisconsin legislators participated in the conference call. Sen. Fitzgerald's spokesman said the senator did not participate in the call.

Republican legislators are due to sign off on their redistricting plans this week amid criticisms that the new districts unfairly and illegally promote Republicans' electoral outcomes.

ALEC's annual meeting will be held in New Orleans Aug. 3-6. Speakers include former Republican Congressman Dick Armey, currently the chairman of FreedomWorks; conservative pundit Tucker Carlson; supply-side economist Arthur Laffer; and Steve Moore of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal. According to ALEC's website, topics include K-12 education reform, the "benefits" of increased carbon dioxide, and "private sector solutions" to the "Medicaid crisis."

On Friday, Gov. Walker's legal adviser contacted the Shepherd to say the office was still working on its ALEC-related open-meetings request.


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