The chemical industry trade group American Chemistry Council, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has spent $648,600 on ads supporting Tommy Thompson, a former ALEC member and the Republican candidate for Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat.
The generic ads tell viewers Thompson will expand domestic energy production, support small business, and cut spending and red tape. "Tommy Thompson, the experience we need in Washington, a senator who'll work for Wisconsin," the ad says.
The ads appear to be the first reported expenditures from the chemical trade association in 2012, spending made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That decision opened the door to corporations -- including nonprofit 501(c)(6) corporations like ACC -- to use funds from their general treasury to pay for political ads. Some of ACC's spending since 2010 has gone to benefit politicians who have proven their pro-corporate credentials through membership in ALEC.
ACC, Thompson Ties to ALEC
ACC has long been a "private sector" member of ALEC, the corporate bill mill that brings businesses together with state legislators to approve model legislation behind closed doors. ACC has had lobbyist representatives on the ALEC Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force in recent years, and was a "Director" level sponsor of ALEC's December 2011 States & Nation Policy Summit, which cost $10,000 in 2010.
Why is ACC at ALEC? It is hoping to stave off the growing demand for chemical safety both at the state and federal level. At that December 2011 meeting, representatives of the ACC presented a resolution in support of "modernizing" the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law aimed at regulating newer chemicals used in consumer products. However, recent efforts in the U.S. Congress to improve the Act and address the hazards of older chemicals on the market have stalled in the House, largely due to opposition from the chemical industry. Similarly the chemical industry has fought state-level efforts to fill some of the gaps left by the federal law. At least 18 states have moved to restrict chemicals of concern in the absence of federal action. The ACC/ALEC Resolution would not only call for the EPA to rely on industry-funded studies -- the ACC has come up with its own studies, for example, to show that plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA) is safe, despite independent studies suggesting BPA poses health risks, especially to children -- but also prohibit states from passing more stringent chemical regulations that go beyond those in the Toxic Substances Control Act, an incredible position for an organization like ALEC that purports to support "state's rights" and federalism.
Thompson also has deep ties to ALEC. He was an early ALEC member as a state legislator in the 1970s and 1980s, and as Wisconsin's governor, was awarded the ALEC "Jefferson Freedom Award" in 1991. Some of his signature legislative accomplishments as governor resembled ALEC model legislation, the Truth in Sentencing law that extended prison sentences and ballooned the state's corrections spending. In a speech to an ALEC conference in 2002, Thompson said of his time as a legislator that "I always loved going to [ALEC] meetings because I always found new ideas. Then I'd take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare that it's mine."
ACC Tendency to Support ALEC Alumni
Though the pro-Thompson ads are ACC's first foray into the 2012 election, it began funding ads in the 2010 midterms, after Citizens United opened the door to corporate political spending. Its spending in both years went to support ALEC alumni.
As Lee Fang reports in The Nation, the trade group's first ads in 2010 supported Democrat Joe Manchin's successful bid for West Virginia's U.S. Senate seat. Manchin was one of ALEC's few Democratic members when he was a state legislator, and held leadership positions in the organization -- he was ALEC State Chair for Virginia in 1991 and later became ALEC's national treasurer. After being elected to the U.S. Senate with ACC support, Manchin went on to be a key ally of the chemical industry trade group. His support was conspicuously absent from a 2011 bill proposed by fellow Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act -- the same law that ACC confronted with its 2011 ALEC resolution -- and which stalled due to opposition from the chemical industry.
ACC, whose long list of members include ALEC corporations like Dow Corning, Honeywell, and Bayer, also actively opposes regulation of greenhouse gas (a position shared and promoted by ALEC). As Fang notes: "In one of his first acts as senator, Manchin was the lone Democrat to co-sponsor Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's amendment to bar the EPA permanently from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases -- a position being pushed at the time by the ACC's top lobbyist, Cal Dooley."
Perhaps ACC recognizes that its dollars are well spent supporting ALEC alumni -- regardless of party affiliation.
ACC Gearing Up for Election Spending Elsewhere
Though ACC has only reported expenditures on the Wisconsin race, news outlets in Utah are reporting on similar ads in support of incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT). Last year, Matheson co-introduced the TRAIN Act with John Sullivan (R-OK), an ALEC alumnus, which would make it more difficult for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The effort resembled several pieces of ALEC-inspired legislation. After the bill passed the house, ALEC issued a press release applauding Matheson and Sullivan.
With months to go before the election, ACC will likely continue spending big in Wisconsin, Utah, and elsewhere in an effort to elect members of Congress who support their do-nothing vision of "modernizing" chemical regulation.