By Scott Zimmerman and Arn Pearson
ALEC is registered as a tax-exempt charitable organization and claims not to spend any money on lobbying. But according to a new report from Common Cause, a national nonpartisan government reform group, a number of ALEC-backed and -drafted bills have been introduced and enacted by ALEC-affiliated legislators in Baton Rouge in recent years.
"ALEC in Louisiana" uncovers the power that "the secretive special interest lobbying group" has already utilized in the southern state. According to the report, nearly 50 members of the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives have ties to ALEC. Common Cause found that legislative language in Louisiana is commonly copied and pasted from the ALEC "model bills," making the group's influence "extremely prominent."
"Shining a light on ALEC's undemocratic and secretive operations helps voters know who is really calling the shots in their state legislature," said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. "ALEC's history of rigging the rules against everyday Louisianans on behalf of their corporate funders is not how democracy is supposed to work."
ALEC is a powerful corporate-funded pay-to-play organization that brings lawmakers, lobbyists, and other groups in the Koch's influence machine together to vote side-by-side on bills that legislators then take back and introduce in their home states, usually without any public disclosure of their source. The Center for Media and Democracy teamed up with Common Cause in 2012 to file an IRS whistleblower complaint against ALEC, charging the group with tax fraud and massively underreporting its lobbying activity.
This week's ALEC annual meeting is chock full of union-busting, gerrymandering, fossil fuel promoting, and school privatizing legislation that benefits the economic interests of ALEC's patrons.
While the exact issues the Louisiana bills address are varied, the bills fulfill ALEC's admitted purpose, "to strengthen relationships between 'business leaders' and legislators" and "satisfy corporate needs," according to Common Cause.
For instance, HB 727, was introduced by dues-paying ALEC member, Sen. Joseph H. Major Thibaut, Jr. Thibaut's bill shares text with an ALEC model bill, "The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act." It was signed into law in May of this year amidst growing local opposition to the construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which will bring fracked oil from North Dakota to Louisiana's Gulf Coast.
Senate Bill 364, intended to deal with recent conflicts over controversial speakers on college campuses, is based on ALEC's "Forming Open And Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act." In June, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed the act into law, after vetoing a similar bill last year.
With ALEC's assistance, similar bills have been pushed and enacted around the country at the behest of the right-wing Goldwater Institute and State Policy Network. The American Association of University Professors has criticized Goldwater's approach as "a political agenda masquerading behind 'free speech'" and objects to its "preference for punishment as a means for ending protests and disruptions that obstruct free speech." S.B. 364 does not include those punitive measures, but ALEC's model bill creates a a private right of action and the ability to bring counter claims for alleged violations of the act.
Meg Logue, a 350 New Orleans activist, told Common Cause that, through ALEC, "our legislators jeopardize our democracy by bending toward the priorities of corporations while undermining the peoples' right to self-determination and justice."
This article has been updated for clarity.