… for two decades through to this day, ALEC has been at the forefront of peddling climate change denial to state policymakers. Its legislative agenda is replete with an array of bills to block almost every effort by the Environmental Protection Agency or other governmental bodies to respond to the climate changes underway.
By Lisa Graves, PR Watch | News Analysis truthout.org
Originally published in PRWatch December 3, 2014
Only nine funders of the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s annual winter meeting in Washington, DC, are listed on ALEC’s conference brochure this year.
The small number comes at a time when ALEC is crowing about the November 4 elections, which swept in more Republican legislators and potential recruits for ALEC’s operations–where elected lawmakers vote as equals with corporations behind closed doors on “model’ bills to change Americans’ rights.
The way ALEC works has been called a “corporate dating service” by U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who has observed ALEC’s closed-door votes of corporate lobbyists and state legislators. But with nearly 100 private sector funders having left ALEC since CMD launched ALECexposed.org in 2011 and citizens across the country began learning about how special interests wine and dine lawmakers through ALEC to push controversial bills into law, ALEC brochures listing corporate sponsors are not as full as they used to be. (The list of sponsors is uploaded below.)
Only Nine ALEC Funders Listed, While Nearly as Many Dumped ALEC in Recent Weeks over Climate and More
In the past several weeks, the corporate exodus from ALEC has continued with Google, Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo, Overstock.com, SAP America, AOL, and Emerson Electric all announcing that they had left ALEC or would soon leave ALEC. Microsoft announced earlier this year that it had stopped funding ALEC, joining General Electric, General Motors, Walmart, and other Fortune 500 firms in leaving the controversial group.
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Then in September, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt went on NPR’s Diane Rehm show. Following a question from a caller about ALEC, Schmidt admitted that Google had made a mistake in providing ALEC with funding because of its position on climate change and its opposition to renewable energy. “We should not be aligned with such people. They are just literally lying,” Schmidt said.
Within weeks, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp, Overstock.com all announced that they too had or would soon leave ALEC. Most recently, SAP America, the German software firm and the ALEC corporate board chair, announced that it would immediately cease support for ALEC, telling CMD in a statement that this was because of the groups “strange policies” on climate change, renewable energy, guns and voting rights.
– See more at: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2014/11/12669/emerson-electric-latest-confirm-alec-exit#sthash.1j7PpWUC.dpu, Yelp, Overstock.com, SAP America, and Emerson Electric all announcing that they had left ALEC or would soon leave ALEC.
This fall, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt admitted on NPR that ALEC’s disinformation on climate change and its opposition to renewable energy made Google’s funding untenable:
“We should not be aligned with such people. They are just literally lying.”
Similarly, SAP America, the U.S. part of a German software firm that was the chairman of ALEC’s corporate board told the Center for Media and Democracy–which publishes PRWatch.org and ALECexposed.org–that SAP was leaving because of ALEC’s “strange policies” on climate change, renewable energy, and other issues, in addition to SAP’s concerns about corporations playing such a role in a democracy.
In response, ALEC has claimed that it does not have any policies on climate change and ALEC’s new executive director, Lisa Nelson, dodged a reporter’s question of whether man-made carbon emissions are causing climate change with the talking point: “I don’t know the science of climate change.”
However, as CMD, the Climate Investigations Center, Energy and Policy Institute,Forecast on the Facts, Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, NRDC, Sierra Club, Common Cause, and other organizations have documented or noted repeatedly, for two decades through to this day, ALEC has been at the forefront of peddling climate change denial to state policymakers. Its legislative agenda is replete with an array of bills to block almost every effort by the Environmental Protection Agency or other governmental bodies to respond to the climate changes underway.
As CMD and Forecast the Facts documented in response to ALEC’s climate claims this fall, at its annual summer meeting in Dallas, ALEC featured climate change denier Joseph Bast of the Heartland Institute telling lawmakers, among other things:
- “There is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change.”
- “There is no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and no point in doing so.”
- The International Panel on Climate Change “is not a credible source of science or economics.”
As CMD uncovered, that ALEC meeting a few months ago included a powerpoint presentation by climate change deniers who call themselves the “Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow” in which lawmakers were coached on how to talk about what it called “man-made climate fears.”
ALEC has also routinely featured climate change deniers, including Sherwood Idso, who has asserted the virtues of increased carbon dioxide include longer lifespans, in a session called “Warming Up to Climate Change” that Rep. Pocan attended where he was astonished to see fellow lawmakers believing the ALEC spin on climate.
In fact, despite ALEC’s PR claims this week, this conference in DC has a session titled “The Greening of Planet Earth,” which does not list who paid for that session or who is speaking at it, but that “green” sounding title is actually the same title as a video and set of work by Sherwood Idso’s co-author and fellow climate change denier Craig Idso, as documented by DeSmog Blog.
ALEC’s Anti-Climate Antics Have Repelled Silicon Valley, but Peabody Coal, UPS, Altria, GTL, and Stink Tanks Remain
With all the public attention on the reality of ALEC’s track record on climate change denial and its obstruction of legislation to deal with carbon perhaps it should come as no surprise that one of the only corporations publicly identified as underwriting ALEC’s winter conference this year is the largest privately held coal corporation in the US., Peabody Energy. In recent years, Peabody has expanded its efforts to ship high-sulfur coal from the western U.S. to China while spinning off its east coast coal operations to Patriot Coal, loaded up with pension and health care liabilities for the miners who toiled for decades, which it then tried unsuccessfully to void in bankruptcy proceedings. Meanwhile, the Peabody CEO’s compensation is more than $15,000 a day.
Along with Peabody as a “vice chairman” level sponsor of ALEC on the brochure is UPS, whose slogan is “What Can Brown Do for You?” UPS is underwriting a conference where ALEC’s legislative agenda (and its counterpart American City County Exchange (ACCE)) includes more union-busting along with efforts to thwart popular moves to increase the minimum wage, to limit access to Medicaid and life-saving health insurance options, and other bills that do not help make life better for UPS customers.
This is the first official meeting of ACCE, an effort to spread ALEC’s corporate agenda to local elected officials by providing them with measures like those designed to try to cut off private sector union organizing through local restrictions.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has received funding from Koch Industries and from the part of the Koch family fortune housed in its philanthropies, is also a vice chair level sponsor of ALEC’s meeting. TPPF is part of the State Policy Network (SPN), a sibling of ALEC’s created to make the national legislative agenda of ALEC corporations pushed by ALEC look more local through “think tanks” branded with local names. (CMD has launched two efforts that document the activities of SPNand its affiliates: Exposed: The State Policy Network and Stinktanks.org.) Koch Industries’ lobbying arm, Koch Public Sector, also continues to support ALEC andhave a seat and vote on its corporate board; Koch money has been funding ALEC for about two decades.
SPN itself is one of the top four spenders on the ALEC conference that are listed in the brochure, along with Altria (the rebranded Philip Morris global tobacco corporation), PhRMA (the special interest trade group of global drug companies that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars funding trips, called “scholarships,” for ALEC lawmakers, as CMD has documented), and an entity called “Citizens for Self-Governance” (CSG).
CSG was founded by Mark Meckler who helped launch the political operation called the Tea Party Patriots. CSG’s investment in ALEC comes at a time when proponents of a constitutional convention believe they are gathering steam to win enough states to launch a convention to amend the Constitution to force drastic cuts to the federal budget. Meckler has paid for breakfast for ALEC legislators on Thursday morning to hear talk show jock Mark Levin, who leads a firm called the “Landmark Legal Foundation,” urge state legislators to make Meckler’s wish of a constitutional convention a reality. Levin’s group has repeatedly sued to try to force taxpayers to fund private religious education or home schooling, among other things.
While Meckler is pushing a convention on what’s named the “balanced budget amendment,” Levin has pushed for a broader series of amendments to the Constitution, including repealing the amendment that allows for the direct election of U.S. Senators by the people and an amendment to constitutionally require restrictions on IDs to vote, among changes. ALEC helped push Voter ID restrictions that made it harder for Americans to vote bills from 2009 to 2012, when it sought to distance itself from that part of its agenda after public outcry, although the legislation it ratified continues to be promoted by ALEC legislators. Alongside the ALEC meeting, CSG’s “Convention of States” is meeting to maximize opportunities to recruit state legislators to push for a constitutional convention.
Also willing to share the ALEC spotlight as a funder of ALEC’s convention is the Guarantee Trust Life company, which markets life insurance to schools and universities to cover students, who have a very low mortality rate.
For years, Guarantee Trust Life has paid for a seat and a vote on ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force, which has been focused on stopping the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which provides protections against children and adults with pre-existing health conditions from being denied health insurance coverage and which has become the most controversial legislation signed into law by President Obama. The efforts to prevent implementation of the ACA will almost certainly be aided by the new ALEC alums in Congress that ALEC touts in its brochure: SenatorsThom Tillis, Joni Ernst, and Cory Gardner, who join nearly 100 other federal legislators who cut their teeth in ALEC’s corporate bill mill.
Rounding out the nine named underwriters of ALEC’s DC convention is ccAdvertising, which provides “constituent research and data acquisition.” One of the sessions for lawmakers at the conference is titled “The New Knock on the Door!–How Mobile Phone Channel Voter Targeting and GOTV Affected the 2014 Elections!” It is not known how many ALEC legislators hired the firm for their election campaigns in prior years.
ALEC Continues to Mislead Lawmakers about its Critics and More
ALEC’s brochure opens with its celebration of the election results that it says it has been preparing for since 41 years ago, when it was founded. ALEC was created in 1974 after U.S. Chamber of Commerce lawyer Lewis Powell called for corporations to fund a new infrastructure to push the corporate agenda in the wake of an American awakening about how corporations were polluting the planet.
In its welcoming message to lawmakers and lobbyists, ALEC also smears citizens and groups that have opposed ALEC’s agenda–which has included making it harder for Americans to vote and making it easier for killers to get away with shooting people–by describing their opponents as embracing “the scare tactics and anti-liberty ideas propagated by those motivated to weaken our society.”
Yet, the Americans opposing ALEC hail from working families across the country who are concerned about how a shadowy group puts special interest legislation in the hands of lawmakers whose trips may be underwritten by those same special interests. ALEC’s opponents contend that ALEC is the one weakening democratic society by creating a forum where unelected corporate lobbyists actually vote in secret with legislators on bills that advance corporate interests but undermine their constituents opportunities for better wages, benefits, health care, public schools, air, and water.
ALEC’s smear basically recasts people and groups speaking out about their personal rights–such as the right to collectively bargain, for example, which ALEC has long assailed–as “anti-liberty.”
Meanwhile, one of ALEC’s sessions this week is about trying to stop shareholders from exercising their rights to manage whether corporations spend money to influence elections or legislation through groups like ALEC, without the consent of the owners of the corporation. In the ALEC universe, it is anti-liberty for people to exercise their liberty to constrain corporations, which cannot vote in a democracy, from exercising undue influence in a democracy, but it is pro-liberty for corporations to spend shareholder money in ways that drown out the voices of real people in elections and on the laws that should be passed in a representative democracy.
Despite ALEC’s rhetoric and its PR outreach to select reporters to claim it is transparent–even as it cleanses its public agendas of which special interests are the real writers of the bills it is promoting–ALEC has continued to lose corporate funders once its actual legislative agenda and its operations receive public scrutiny. As CMD has reported, ALEC’s funding was down by at least $1.3 million in 2013, nearly 20% of its budget.
Although some ALEC members are boasting that it has more legislators attending its winter session than ever before, the $50 per year paid by lawmakers–or paid unwittingly by the taxpayers–as nominal ALEC dues in some states, cannot offset the loss of the core funders of ALEC, the corporations that pay thousands of dollars for seats for their unelected lobbyists on ALEC task forces where they vote as equals with legislators and thousands more for the privilege of using ALEC’s one-stop shopping for lawmakers from across the country to pitch their legislative wishlists for the new year.
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Lisa is Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief. She previously served as the Chief Counsel for Nominations on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice, among other roles.