Posted by Brendan Fischer on November 30, 2011

ALEC Exposed - A project of CMDLast year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) attracted attention when reporters revealed Arizona's SB1070 anti-immigration law was pre-approved by ALEC corporations that stood to benefit from its passage. As ALEC's legislative and corporate members descend upon Arizona for meetings this week, a new report (pdf) shows that ALEC's influence in Arizona goes beyond SB1070 to include bills that suppress voting, attack worker's rights, privatize public education, and limit environmental protections.

"Working side-by-side with elected officials, ALEC uses its resources to shepherd legislation from the corporate boardroom to the governor's desk," said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at the People for the American Way (PFAW) Foundation, which produced the report. Several times each year, ALEC brings corporate lobbyists together with state legislators to rub shoulders and push model legislation that tends to benefit the bottom line of member corporations, or advance the right-wing agenda. ALEC boasts that corporations have "a voice and a vote" in approving ALEC model bills, hundreds of which become law each year.

"There's no way ordinary citizens can match the level of access and influence that ALEC provides to these corporations," Baker said. "So Arizonans are subjected to laws that serve the interests of the rich and powerful instead of everyday people."

Carbon-Copies in the Copper State

Arizona state flagPFAW analyzed (pdf) around 20 pieces of Arizona legislation that they say are "remarkably similar -- if not identical" to ALEC "model" bills, and demonstrate the likeness with side-by-side comparisons.

The best-known Arizona ALEC bill, SB1070, is almost a carbon-copy version of the ALEC "No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act," and was approved by an ALEC task force whose members included the Corrections Corporation of America and American Bail Coalition, both of which stood to benefit from immigrant detention. The role of the private prison industry in the bill (which became law in 2010) was documented by Beau Hodai at In These Times and Laura Sullivan at NPR. Not previously reported is that one year earlier, in 2009, a similar anti-immigrant bill approved by the same ALEC task force was introduced in the Arizona legislature, but failed to pass. SB1159 is a verbatim copy of ALEC's "Immigration Law Enforcement Act," and like SB1070 was sponsored by recently-recalled Arizona Senator Russell Pearce. Pearce also sponsored ALEC bills in the Arizona legislature that would circumvent the Naturalization Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and mandate the use of the E-Verify system for Arizona employers.

Other ALEC legislators introduced ALEC-inspired bills to privatize the state prison system, oppose public financing for political campaigns, create new barriers to voting, and thwart federal efforts to implement environmental regulations that might exceed weak state environmental laws, according to the report(pdf).

Like many states, Arizona's ALEC legislators have also introduced bills that undermine public sector unions by privatizing public services through the ALEC "Council on Efficient Government Act" or limiting union funding with the "Prohibition on Compensation Deduction Act." ALEC bills have also been introduced in the state to implement school voucher programs and online, "virtual" public schools.

The text of ALEC model bills have historically been kept from the public, with legislators introducing ALEC bills in their own name and almost never disclosing the fact that corporations crafted and voted on them. Thanks to a whistleblower, in July 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy was able to post over 800 model bills on a new website, ALECexposed.org. PFAW used that resource to track ALEC's influence in Arizona.

"This side-by-side analysis of bills is a stunning look at the vast amount of influence that corporations are having in Arizona public policy," said Bob Edgar, former Pennsylvania Congressman and president of the good government organization Common Cause. "These companies are putting their muscle behind legislation in Phoenix and investing millions of dollars to elect and re-elect lawmakers who support it."

According to the PFAW report, the 22 corporations on the ALEC Private Enterprise Board spent $16 million on Arizona state political campaigns over the past ten years. Arizona also has one of the highest concentrations of ALEC legislators of any state in the United States.

Report Released as ALEC Members Convene in Arizona

Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, Scottsdale, ArizonaThe report comes as state legislators and corporate lobbyists assemble at the ALEC "States and Nation Policy Summit," starting Wednesday at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale.

State and national advocacy organizations (including PFAW and the Center for Media and Democracy) are planning events to illustrate ALEC's influence on Arizona's political landscape and the daily lives of state residents. The groups held a panel discussion and forum on Tuesday evening, and plan a press conference at 11am MT (noon CT / 1pm ET) Wednesday. The press conference will be live-streamed here.

Other organizations, including Occupy Phoenix, reportedly plan protests outside the ALEC meeting later this week.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.