State Rep. Chris Taylor
Op-Ed

The Inside Story on ALEC

Rep. Chris Taylor attends conference to detail the agenda and techniques of the corporate-funded group.

By - Jun 5th, 2014 10:24 am
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I recently traveled to Missouri to attend my second American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference.

As a state legislator from Wisconsin, I joined ALEC last year. That was the beginning of my journey into a parallel world. In the ALEC otherworld, the three branches of government are: 1. Multinational corporations, including Anheuser-Busch and Koch Industries, 2. Rightwing think tanks networked together through the State Policy Network, and 3. State legislators like me — although, as a progressive Democrat, I don’t fit the mold. Most of my colleagues who belong to ALEC are Republicans and many are tea partiers.

The three branches work together to construct and advance model bills in state legislatures throughout the country to further ALEC’s agenda of corporate dominance.

The gathering in Missouri was smaller and more intimate than last August’s annual conference. But it started the same way. I received no pre-conference materials and had to ask the hotel clerk when and where to check in.

Strict conference rules applied. One attendee registering next to me was denied entrance because she did not have a photo ID. Signs throughout the conference reminded participants that ID badges “were required at all sessions,” with sign-in sheets and, in smaller sessions, individual introductions.

Secrecy reigned supreme.

When I asked one of my fellow attendees to take my picture, an ALEC employee forbade it.

But unlike my first experience at an ALEC conference, this time I no longer had anonymity. This conference was dominated by individual workgroups and subcommittees rather than large workshops and receptions. According to a right-wing blogger, an unidentified ALEC staffer had divulged that they were expecting me. For an organization that depends on secrecy to function, including refusing to disclose its members and member fees, revealing attendees was extraordinary.

In this smaller setting, ALEC’s internal inconsistencies were more evident.

A part of ALEC’s battle is to preserve an old economy, where coal, oil and gas remain supreme. Their defense of these industries represents the will of corporate members Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and Peabody Energy. Yet their regressive approach to energy policy conflicts with their professed allegiance to Jeffersonian “free market” principles and consumer choice.

Though the renewable energy sector is growing, is popular with the public, and is generating new jobs — and the solar industry now employs 140,000 more people than our nation’s coal mines — conference attendees focused on hindering this sector, especially solar. Minnesota Rep. Pat Garofalo, who recently received national attention about a racist tweet concerning NBA players, quipped “solar is dumb.”

Legislators from Utah and Oklahoma bragged about slowing the development of solar energy in their states. Oklahoma Sen. A.J. Griffin passed a bill to tax individuals using distributed generation from solar panels or wind turbines to “protect our most vulnerable utilities.” ALEC wants to tax people who use small-scale solar or wind or who drive electric cars. According to ALEC, property owners should have a right to kill a person on their property, but not use solar or wind energies on their property without paying a tax.

ALEC’s guiding principle — supporting big business — turns the small-c conservative ideal of individual liberty and local control on its head. As Utah Sen. Howard Stephenson stated to an education subcommittee, “We need to stomp out local control.” School boards and city councils take away liberties quicker than the federal government, he insisted. Local governing entities can be a roadblock to the ALEC agenda, so their power needs to be pre-empted and removed.

And as ALEC convenes a new working group on public school financing, the model bill that is in the works is a funding formula based on school performance with criteria set by state legislators. One ALEC legislator stated that school boards should be taken out of the equation altogether, as they merely use children as “human shields.”

Finally, there are the economics of the ALEC otherworld. I chuckled at the scorn directed at Minnesota, where, Rep. Garafalo remarked, “the inmates are running the asylum.” Minnesota raised taxes on the rich and invested the resulting revenue in public schools, including all-day kindergarten. In “Rich States, Poor States,” an ALEC publication that ranks states in terms of a 2013 State Economic Outlook, Minnesota ranks 46th, Wisconsin 15th and Mississippi 10th. Yet in 2012 Minnesota had one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation, and currently has higher median incomes and lower unemployment and poverty rates than both Wisconsin and Mississippi (where a whopping 17.5 percent of families have incomes below the poverty level). The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts Minnesota near the top of private-sector job growth in the Midwest, while Wisconsin lags near the bottom. In the ALEC otherworld, actual economics do not count.

It’s all about a business-friendly environment. Hello, Third World.

Unfortunately, under Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature, ALEC model bills of today become the Wisconsin laws of tomorrow. At the last conference I attended, ALEC kicked off an initiative to amend the federal Constitution to shut down the federal government. Several months later, AB 750, a resolution that came from that workshop and calls for a federal balanced budget amendment, passed the Wisconsin state Assembly. There have been many other ALEC bills that have become Wisconsin law, including one that makes it more difficult for sick and injured patients to access the courts, several that reduce citizens’ access to the ballot box, including voter ID, and a spate of efforts to privatize public education. Other ALEC model bills have passed the state Assembly, such as pre-empting local living wage ordinances, but did not get through the Senate. Not yet.

These policies hurt actual people. And it is, after all, the people who elect state representatives, not multinational corporations pushing their profit agenda.

By the end of the conference, one Texas attendee asked me “Are you that Wisconsin blogger?” He was the only person at the conference to acknowledge that I was not of the ALEC ilk. When I saw him again at the airport, he waved, “See you next time.”

Indeed he will.

Chris Taylor, D-Madison, represents District 76 in the Wisconsin Assembly. This column originally ran in The Progressive.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

5 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Inside Story on ALEC”

  1. PMD says:

    Minnesota versus Wisconsin (written in late 2013):

    “Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth. Mr. Walker’s defenders blame the higher spending and taxes of his Democratic predecessor for these disappointments, but according to Forbes’s annual list of best states for business, Wisconsin continues to rank in the bottom half.

    Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business. Republicans deserve some of the credit, particularly for their commitment to education reform. They also argue that Minnesota’s new growth stems from the low taxes and reduced spending under Mr. Dayton’s Republican predecessor, Tim Pawlenty. But Minnesota’s job growth was subpar during Mr. Pawlenty’s eight-year tenure and recovered only under Mr. Dayton.

    Higher taxes and economic growth in Minnesota have attracted a surprisingly broad coalition. Businesses complain about taxes, but many cheered Mr. Dayton’s investments in the Mayo Clinic, the new Vikings stadium, the Mall of America and 3M headquarters.

    The lion’s share of Minnesota’s new tax revenue was sunk into human capital. While the state’s Constitution required that half of the new revenue balance the budget in 2013, Mr. Dayton invested 71 percent of the remaining funds in K-12 schools and higher education as well as a pair of firsts: all-day kindergarten and wider access to early childhood education. Minnesota was one of the few states that raised education spending under the cloud of the Great Recession.

    By contrast, Mr. Walker’s strategy limited Wisconsin’s ability to invest in infrastructure that would have catalyzed private-sector expansion, and he cut state funding of K-12 schools by more than 15 percent. Per student, this was the seventh sharpest decline in the country.

    Health care presents another difference. When Mr. Walker refused to establish a state health insurance exchange or to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government covered all costs for three years and most costs after that, ideology trumped pragmatism. The uninsured and the ill bear the burden. Many of the 10 percent of uninsured Wisconsinites were denied new Medicaid benefits and were shunted off to the federal exchange’s stumbling website.

    Mr. Dayton is on course to improve Minnesota’s already low uninsured rate. He expanded Medicaid to cover an additional 35,000 people and accepted Washington’s offer to pick up the cost — as half the states, including a growing number with Republican governors, have. Mr. Dayton also created a state insurance exchange, which enrolled more than 90 percent of its first month’s target. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s tradition of innovative medical care and nonprofit insurers produced premiums in its insurance exchange that are, on average, the lowest in the country, well below premiums in Wisconsin.

    Mr. Dayton’s embrace of progressive fiscal policy is matched by a fierce crackdown on lenient payments to insiders. Cuts in payments to managed care organizations serving Medicaid saved $175 million and produced lower rates in 2013 than in 2010, despite higher costs over all.”

  2. Gregg Lain says:

    Thank you for writing this – this kind of corruption will hurt us – a house cannot remain divided and flourish. ALEC is sad really – however I am glad to see it is getting exposed. Please keep writing!

  3. David Ciepluch says:

    Laws from ALEC written by corporations and ultra wealthy, the secrecy, anti-worker anti-union, anti-voting rights, exclusive entry into their club, etc. are all characteristics of what could be called a version of 21st Century fascism. If most citizens understood this and the history that we fought against this form of governance and madness in WWII. Our fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins and neighbors fought and beat it back during WWII when the country was united in its stand. During times of economic stress, fascism always seems to rear its ugly head (the early 1900s, 1929-40s, and today).

    MJS is totally absent on this topic and is part of the media problem.

    Fascism feeds on ignorance, hatred, fear, loathing, divisiveness, rascism, someone, a group, or something else is to blame, and we have to beat it back again this time. Huge wealth is on their side much as it was during the run-up to WWII.

  4. Brutus says:

    Chris Taylor is a liar and hypocrite. If ALEC is so evil why di they let her in? She is a party whore

  5. Sheryl says:

    This article by Chris Taylor is laughable. To think the left is not equally organized is pure ignorance. If you love redistribution of wealth, and disincentiviziing the creators, producers and job creators in our country, then you can join the ranks who are destroying the greatness of this nation and joining us with the ranks of third world countries. Leftist policies do nothing but turn our country from liberty and freedom to socialism and communism. I’m glad we have powerful organizations like ALEC to counter the degradation and corruption the left is pouring out. All you Obama lovers can take a hike as far as I’m concerned!

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