When the role of money in politics is discussed, the conversation usually focuses on the effects that campaign contributions have on the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. However, corporate political influence and lobbying also cause significant corruption at the state level. One organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has had the most success exerting corporate influence in state legislatures across the country.
ALEC, which describes itself as a “organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions,” works to pass bills which favor corporations and the wealthy over middle- and working-class Americans through state legislatures. The American Association of Justice describes ALEC as “the ultimate smoke-filled back room.”
ALEC is largely funded by corporate sponsors, including tobacco industry leader Philip Morris USA and oil giant Exxon Mobil. The organization also receives funding from the foundations of conservative billionaires, including the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Coors Foundation. ALEC, which claims about one-third of all state legislators in America as members, holds all-expenses-paid conferences in premier vacation spots to promote its corporate-friendly agenda to those legislators.
ALEC’s efforts, which are not legally considered to be lobbying and are therefore not heavily scrutinized, have produced widely favorable results for its corporate sponsors. A bill written by ALEC opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulating of greenhouse gases was introduced in 22 states, and the organization’s bill opposing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was proposed in 44 different states. Other ALEC bills, including those promoting voter suppression through complicated ID laws and opposing collective bargaining rights for workers, have been introduced and passed in a number of states.
The powerful influence of ALEC on state legislatures was illustrated through a careless but significant mistake made by Florida State Representative Rachel Burgin (R-56) in November 2011. Burgin, an ALEC member, introduced a bill calling for the federal government to reduce taxes on corporations. According to Common Blog, the bill she introduced was written word-for-word by the Tax Foundation, a member of ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Tax Force. Burgin submitted the bill exactly as written and failed to remove the following crucial paragraph that directly stated ALEC’s interest in the bill:
WHEREAS it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government federalism and individual liberty…
When the ‘mistake’ was discovered and pointed out by groups opposing corporate influence in government, Burgin quickly withdrew the bill and submitted a new version without the incriminating paragraph. Rep. Burgin’s thoughtless error reveals the powerful influence that ALEC and its corporate sponsors wield over state legislatures, persuading legislators to introduce bills written by and for those corporations and against the interests of their constituents.
For more information about the role that ALEC plays in corrupting our government and promoting the agenda of its corporate sponsors, visit ALEC Exposed or the website of the American Association for Justice. Bill Moyers also discussed ALEC extensively on an episode of his PBS program, Moyers and Company, which can be viewed here.