IPFS Dave Hodges

More About: Politics: General Activism

Ignoring the Will of the People: The Smart ALEC Quotient (Part Three)

Federalism is a concept that is predicated on the notion of separation of powers. The founding fathers believed that dividing the powers of government, along with the introduction of a Bill of Rights, was the best protection against an incremental, dictatorial take over of the United States. Under the constitution, the federal government was provided with certain enumerated powers (e.g., levy taxes, declare war, and regulate commerce). Powers that the Constitution did not delegate to the federal government, or forbid to the state (i.e., reserved powers) were reserved to the people or the states…..and the people were safe from tyranny; or, so it seemed

The civil liberty protections provided for by the division of governmental powers are seriously being eroded in the United States. For example, election laws and administering education are supposedly reserved powers. Further, recent passage of Public Law 109-364, provided for the "repeal" of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) which constitutes a deadly blow on this long-standing prevention of U.S. army units intervening in local disputes. From No Child Left Behind to the U.S. military assisting with Texas SWAT activities and the servicing of local warrants along the Texas I-35 NASCO Corridor, we are increasingly witnessing the federal government's domination of every facet of American life.

Hypothetically, State legislative agendas are supposed to be far more sensitive to local concerns than are the two national houses of congress. State legislatures have the potential to serve as a buffer against an overbearing and abusive federal government. Now we discover that much of our state legislation is being "ghost-written" by the major corporations, with the assistance of several congressmen even before our 50 State legislatures have been formally convened.

Nowhere is the separation of powers so dangerously being eroded as it is in the little known organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has a membership of 2400 State legislators from all 50 states. ALEC is hosted and sponsored by the top multinational corporations in the United States and abroad. The corporate members educate the leadership of ALEC who in turn convince legislators to return to their home state in order to enact legislation (e.g., education reform, corporate-benefiting tax revisions, the implementation of various land use policies such as concepts like global sustainability and the new communitarian legal concepts related to private property ownership, etc.).

Since most legislators are in session only part of the year and often have no staff in which to do independent research, many are quick to follow the ALEC agenda. For example, in the 2000 legislative cycle, ALEC boasted that its State legislative members introduced more than 3,100 bills based on its models, passing 450 into law. We know that the pharmaceutical and the oil industries donated millions to George Bush's two presidential campaigns. Even in recent Senate races, such as the heated 2006 Arizona senatorial campaign of Jon Kyl vs. Jim Pederson, Kyl accepted large sums of money from these same two industries. This is emblematic of the fact that Americans have come to expect that special interests will dominate politics on the national stage. But at least the American people had State and local government to act as a buffer from federal government abuse, until recently. In short, both your federal senators and State representatives are being fed the same corporate propaganda, from the same sources, resulting in the passage of strikingly similar bills at all levels of government in all 50 States.

As a reasonable person would suspect, many of these bills benefit the companies that helped write them. Consider ALEC's version of what is referred to as the "Environmental Audit Privilege," This is a measure that relieves companies of legal responsibility for their own environmental pollution. The bill received its impetus in 1992, when Colorado regulators fined Coors for smog-inducing air emissions at several of the beer plants. ALEC was quick to come to the aid of Coors by drafting a measure to prevent firms from being fined if they report environmental violations at their facilities. Further, the ALEC provisions required government to keep such corporate-polluting disclosures secret from the press and public. Not surprisingly, Coors is a corporate member of ALEC, and company executive Allan Auger is a past chairman of ALEC. Further, the Coors family's Castle Rock Foundation is an ALEC donor. Other States have also passed audit-privilege laws like the one drawn up by ALEC on behalf of Coors.

Much of the scientific evidence in the areas of science, medicine and psychological research frequently utilizes the statistical technique of correlation which establishes a relationship between two variables based on the concept of covariance in lieu of cause and effect. Despite the long-standing and universally accepted practice of using correlation methods, ALEC saw fit to draft the "Common Sense and Scientific and Technological Evidence Act." Not since, the Catholic Cardinals declared it heresy to otherwise state that the Earth was not the center of the universe, have we witnessed such a barbaric bastardization in the field of scientific research! Unbelievably, this ALEC-sponsored legislation bans the use of statistical correlation to be admitted as scientific evidence in trials. This is a thinly veiled attempt to protect corporations from a plethora of wrong-doing much of which can only be statistically exposed through the use of correlation techniques.

In another instance of policymaking which served to benefit ALEC corporate members, ALEC drafted a model commonly referred to as the "Truth in Sentencing" bill. This legislation greatly restricts parole eligibility for inmates. This keeps prisoners incarcerated for longer periods of time. One of the key corporate members which introduced the model, for ALEC members, was the Corrections Corporation of America. This organization is the nation's largest private prison company. The conflict of interest is readily recognizable because the organization stands to greatly profit from the implementation of longer periods of incarceration. By the 2000 legislative cycle, the same ALEC sentencing measures were passed in 40 states.

Other corporate-friendly bills drafted by ALEC would require state governments to deregulate electric utilities, repeal minimum-wage laws, limit class-action lawsuits against companies, privatize public pensions, and place severe limitations on private property rights.

Most internet users should be familiar with how various communications corporations recently tried to get the Senate, in the 2006 lame duck session, to privatize the internet under the control of corporations such as Verizon Wireless and A T & T. Along the same lines, "The Electronic Government Securities Act", an ALEC-drafted bill being repeatedly considered in several states, would limit State and local governments from providing Internet services that compete with the private sector.

ALEC critics charge that the group allows corporations to write public policy in secret. According to Fred Bosse, a Democrat in the Texas House and former ALEC member, lawmakers frequently have no idea that they are voting on bills that have been drafted by the corporations. Democracy only works when we truly know who is behind the law.

Who are these great bastions of power which have such an immense influence on State and local legislation? These powers are the same characters who legally bribe our federal senators and congressmen and women on a daily baiss through the use of campaign donations. A partial list of members who help "ghost-write" our local laws include, American Plastics Council, Amoco Corporation, Bayer Corporation, Glaxco Wellcome, GTE Corporation, Motorola, National Association of Bail Insurance Companies, Pfizer, Philip Morris Corporation, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance Companies, United Airlines, Washington Times, American Express, American Trucking Association, ARCO, Baxter Healthcare Corporation, BellSouth, Center for Education Reform, Chevron Corporation, Chrysler, Coors, John Deere, Exxon, General Motors Corporation, Microsoft, Miller Brewing Company, Peoples Energy Corporation, Pharmacia & Upjohn, SBC Communications, Sprint, Steel Recycling Institute, Boeing, Tobacco Institute. US West, Viad, Arizona Public Service, Bank of America, Blue Cross & Blue Shield Association, Phillips Petroleum Company, Texaco, Union Pacific Corporation, BP America, and Enron was a member of ALEC until its infamous demise.

In addition to the unwarranted and unprecedented influence on legislation at the State legislative level, combined with the fact that ALEC is a mix of both national and State politicians, the benefits resulting from the separation of powers is in serious jeopardy as the protections from the 10th amendment of the Constitution are being seriously undermined by various "think tanks" such as ALEC, the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Governors Association. If you find this hard to believe, ask yourself why property rights laws are being rewritten in nearly every community in America which uses the universal buzz words of Smart Growth, Growing Smarter, 2020 General Amendment, etc. Is this just a coincidence, or is it the work of skillful politicians doing the bidding of the corporations?

So why haven't most Americans ever heard of ALEC and its far-reaching influence? Common sense would dictate that member corporations probably don't want the voters to find out where so much of their legislation comes from. However, a more careful analysis clearly reveals that ALEC is a front for the furtherance of various corporate agendas from coast to coast in all 50 State legislatures.

Why do "the people" tolerate this obvious abuse of power which abrogates the will of the citizenry through this national "think tank" designed to control State and local issues?

Can largely ignoring the will of the people, in all 50 States, be explained by groupthink (part one), profound ignorance (part two) or, a phenomenon known as learned helplessness (coming in part four)?