ALEC Posts Legislative Agendas while Hiding Its Very Special Interests

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has quietly published some agenda details of its corporate-legislator task forces for its upcoming meeting, while keeping the identities of the corporate lobbyists or special interest groups that drafted any of the bills secret.

ALEC Exposed - A project of CMDThe conference in Washington, DC, in December will include a raft of proposed "model" bills to rollback the clock, including limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, undermining the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and cutting federal funding of the states.

Without fanfare, ALEC has posted slimmed-down versions of the agenda material for its task forces, providing the names of new model bills, and language for some bills in full, as well as the title of presentations at ALEC's closed-door task force meetings where corporate lobbyists secretly vote as equals with state legislators. The documents provide some insight into some of the items that may be on ALEC's legislative agenda for when state legislative sessions resume in January 2014. CMD recently filed hundreds of public record requests with state legislators in six states, specifically asking for these materials and ALEC's emails to lawmakers, a tactic CMD has successfully deployed to obtain materials ALEC has sent to legislators as part of its efforts to get laws changed. This latest release by ALEC is likely a response to this success, but the materials released this past week omit key details compared with past materials obtained by CMD.

Crucially, the documents released by ALEC fail to include details of which corporation or special interest group -- such as an affiliate of the State Policy Network -- is really sponsoring the proposed "model" bills. Nor do the newly posted agendas include details of which lobbyists will be making presentations about their legislative wish lists, merely the title of presentations. The materials also do not contain other details that ALEC had included previously in task force mailings, such as the list of corporations, special interest groups, and state legislators who have a seat and a vote on legislation considered by the task force.

Although ALEC has launched a new charm offensive touting its supposed transparency, as CMD's General Counsel Brendan Fischer has noted, "transparency laws are not premised on permitting a group or legislator to pick and choose which communications to legislators will or will not be made public." ALEC has also reportedly claimed recently that only legislators will "sponsor" bills voted on at ALEC task forces; however, that sort of window dressing does not actually mean the bills were not pre-written by corporate lobbyists and special interest groups. It also does not negate the powerful role that unelected private sector representatives play in ALEC task forces as equals to lawmakers elected to represent their own constituents back home.

As the New York Times has reported, past ALEC Task Force documents provided to lawmakers in secret acknowledged the corporations or special interest groups that wrote the bills and supported them: For example, a fracking bill "was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking -- something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home."

Here are some of the details in the model bills on the slate for secret consideration by corporate lobbyists and lawmakers at those ALEC task force meetings, from which members of the press and public have been routinely excluded:

ALEC's economic task force includes yet another bill to undermine unions -- this time in the form of a bill titled the "Public Employee Choice Act" -- that paves the way for public sector workers to opt-out of unions. This comes on the heels of renewed efforts by ALEC and State Policy Network groups to push a variety of anti-union measures in the past two and a half years in particular, including so-called "Right to Work" bills in Michigan and elsewhere.

In the ALEC Health and Human Services task force, legislators will get four presentations attacking the ACA (which is more commonly known as "ObamaCare") and Medicaid expansion. ALEC has been centrally involved in the pushback against the ACA since 2009 and has promoted a "model" bill titled the "Freedom of Choice in Healthcare Act," which proposed a number of legal obstacles to the law's implementation. ALEC recently adopted a new "model" bill called the "Health Care Freedom Act" at its August meeting in Chicago that would prohibit insurance companies from taking any subsidy under the ACA. The latest agenda includes an effort to place potentially burdensome restrictions on the so-called "insurance navigators" that are providing assistance to people in states to sign up for insurance using the ACA exchanges, further undermining the effectiveness of the ACA.

According to documents obtained by CMD under the Texas Public records act, Senator Ted Cruz -- who recently led the country to the brink of financial default trying to force a delay of the ACA exchanges -- will be a headliner at the ALEC conference in December.

Legislators on the ALEC Education Task Force will receive yet another presentation about charter schools before they sit and vote alongside lobbyists from private education providers and agents from special interest groups on a bill titled simply the "Charter School Act." The actual language for this bill is not included in the materials ALEC posted, so it remains a mystery. For decades ALEC has consistently promoted an agenda that undermines public education.

Legislators on the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force will hear presentations against states relying on federal funding. They will then vote alongside special interest groups and corporations on three proposed ALEC "model" bills, all of which concern states receiving funds from the federal government.

Legislators on the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force will receive presentations about the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and to regulate fracking, which will likely focus on undermining that authority to issue regulations to address climate change and to restrict pollution from fracking. Lobbyists from fossil fuel corporations Exxon, BP, Shell, and Koch Industries, all of whom have long paid for a seat and a vote on this task force, will sit behind closed doors with elected officials and vote on bills titled "Resolution in Opposition to EPA's Plan to Regulate Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act" and "Resolution Concerning EPA Proposed Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards for New and Existing Fossil-Fueled Power Plants."

The materials also provide new information on the agenda of the so-called the Justice Performance Project (JPP), which ALEC relaunched last year from the ruins of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force that it publicly announced it had disbanded. ALEC had been forced by public pressure to scrap that task force in response to public outrage over two damaging bills that ALEC corporations had secretly voted on with lawmakers to promote as national models: so-called "Stand Your Ground" legislation -- which, as CMD was first to document, ALEC had ratified after the NRA pushed it into law in Florida -- that was initially cited to prevent the arrest of the man who killed Florida teenager Travyon Martin; and restrictive Voter ID legislation that made it harder for Americans to vote and that disenfranchises countless minority voters, college students, and senior citizens. ALEC says these bills that it helped push for years are no longer its policy but it has done nothing to undo the damage done.

The bills associated with the JPP in these materials appear to continue ALEC's modus operandi of promoting the financial interests of the corporations and special interest groups that fund it, such as the American Bail Coalition.

The abbreviated task force materials can be viewed at the following links:

Earlier this year, ALEC began posting its model bills online, claiming that doing so was a move towards transparency. In truth, CMD had provided an analysis of the entire ALEC model bill library online in 2011 with key information about the context of each, after a whistleblower provided CMD's Executive Director, Lisa Graves, with all of the bills secretly voted on by corporations and lawmakers through that time. According to Graves, ALEC has been dragged kicking and screaming into the sunshine, after pushing the legislative agenda of its funders in the shadows for years.

ALEC has had similar problems keeping its task force agenda secret since CMD launched the project in 2011. The watchdog group Common Cause obtained a collection of 59 ALEC agenda packets, covering the period from 2010 to 2012, which includes every single mailing to lawmakers from that period for all ALEC task forces. [Note: During this period, I was Staff Counsel at Common Cause and led that organization's research and legal work on ALEC, before joining CMD in March 2013.]

Many of these kinds of materials have been obtained via requests to ALEC legislators, utilizing state public record laws. CMD has filed thousands of such requests and has obtained not only task force materials, but also other highly revealing communications between ALEC and elected officials, some of which have formed the basis of IRS complaints by Common Cause, the Voters Legislative Transparency Project, and Clergy Voice against ALEC.

CMD's Executive Director, Lisa Graves, contributed to this report.