The Sidney Hillman Foundation selected the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation magazine for its prestigious "Sidney Award" this month. The award recognizes our investigative journalism exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which the Foundation called "an obscure but powerful conservative group that brings state legislators and corporations together to write laws."
July 29 marked the one-year anniversary of Arizona's controversial immigration law, a year that has seen similar anti-immigrant bills emerge across the country. Thanks to the release of over 800 pieces of "model legislation" by the Center for Media and Democracy, we can now pinpoint the source of the outbreak to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a bill factory for legislation that benefits the bottom line of its corporate members. While it has been reported that more immigrants behind bars means more income for ALEC member Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), less discussed has been how immigrant detention benefits commercial bail-bond agencies, an industry represented in ALEC through the American Bail Coalition.
In late July, shortly after the launch of ALECexposed.org, Lousiana State Rep.Noble Ellington, a Republican from the state's 20th district and the national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, spoke to NPR about the recent spate of criticism leveled at his organization. When discussing the behind-closed-doors process used to craft ALEC model legislation, Ellington dismissed concerns raised by NPR, assuring interviewer Terry Gross that the public "have an opportunity to talk to their legislators about the legislation -- so I don't see how you can get more transparent than that."
On Wednesday morning, a group of Americans from across the political spectrum, and the country, held a press conference in New Orleans to highlight the devastating impact of the "model" legislation voted on by corporations through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The event, hosted by People for the American Way and moderated by Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves, was held directly across the street from ALEC's 38th annual meeting, where corporate lobbyists and state legislators gathered to attend Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall's PhRMA-sponsored keynote address.
The Fans First Coalition, formed in May 2011, appears to be a consumer group formed to oppose scalpers who buy event tickets and then re-sell them to the public at prices greater than face value. What is less apparent is that the Fans First Coalition is and astroturf group created with the help of a Washington, D.C. public relations firm and funded by Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of online ticket seller Ticketmaster. The Fans First Coalition sprang out of a fight between Live Nation and a website called StubHub (a division of EBay) where people can buy and sell event tickets. To defeat ticket re-sellers, Ticketmaster started using a paperless ticketing system in which tickets are issued electronically. Ticket purchasers must present identification to collect their tickets when they arrive at the event venue. To battle Ticketmaster's new paperless ticketing system, StubHub created its own fake grassroots group, the similar-sounding Fan Freedom Project, which, like the Fans First Coalition, was created with the help of a Washington, D.C. public relations firm. The Fan Freedom Project argues that Ticketmaster's restrictive electronic ticketing system infringes on consumers' rights to possess, transfer or resell tickets as they desire. Such fake, grassroots front groups are unusual in the entertainment business, but all too familiar to those involved in politics. Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which monitors lobbying activity, says "This is a classic -- where you find many so-called grassroots organizations financed by interested industries" to do battle with one another. Miller says, "The campaigns present themselves as ground-up activities, but they are really nothing more than fronts for particular interests."
As the first half of 2011 has revealed, Wisconsin is not a moderate "purple" state, but a state divided between staunchly "blue" progressives and righteous "red" right-wingers. That rift is particularly apparent in legislative conflicts over the criminal justice system, a debate spurred by corporate interests represented in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and perpetuated by ALEC legislative members, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Wisconsin's history and public policy reflects the red/blue divide. It is the state that gave birth to the Republican Party, which supported slavery abolition, and the John Birch Society, which opposed the civil rights movement. In the first half of the 20th Century, the state elected both progressive hero Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette and right-wing extremist Joe McCarthy. It is the state that elected both former Senator Russ Feingold (D) and Representative Paul Ryan (R).
Wisconsin also produced Paul Weyrich, who in 1973 co-founded both the Heritage Foundation and ALEC (and in subsequent years, Free Congress and Moral Majority). Weyrich's ALEC, it seems, has been a factory for many of the state's most recent right-wing policy initiatives.
Common Cause has asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for possibly violating its tax-exempt status. The request came one day after the Center for Media and Democracy unveiled "ALEC Exposed," a website uncovering more than 800 model bills created by the corporate-funded organization.
This CMD Special Report cuts through the PR spin and exposes the funding and spending of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Almost 98% of ALEC's funding comes from corporations like Exxon Mobil, corporate "foundations" like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, or trade associations like the pharmaceutical industry's PhRMA and sources other than "legislative dues." Those funds help subsidize legislators' trips to ALEC meetings, where they are wined, dined, and handed "model" legislation to make law in their state. Through ALEC, corporations vote on "model" legislation with politicians behind closed doors. The special report focuses on ALEC's funding. Learn more at ALEC Exposed.
To try and transform their image among the American public, tobacco companies have been trying to keep much of their lobbying and political donations out of view. The companies now channel campaign donations and lobbying expenses through harder-to-track organizations connected to the candidates they favor, like leadership PACs and 527 groups. Contributions directly to candidates and the committees that support them have decreased by more than $6 million between the 2002 and 2010 election cycles. "One thing the tobacco industry has done is stay out of the public view and disguise its efforts in politics," said Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. The two highest-ranking Republican leaders in the House of Representatives -- Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) -- are top recipients of tobacco industry money. In the 2010 election cycle, Boehner took almost $50,000 from tobacco interests, and Cantor took $27,850. Boehner, a smoker, voted against the Food and Drug Administration's regulation of tobacco, calling it a "boneheaded idea." Cantor voted in favor of the bill. Altria Group, one of Cantor's biggest campaign contributors, is the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris -- the tobacco company that planned and helped draft the regulation, and thus the only company that supported it.
In another win for well-connected right-wing interests, Wisconsin Rep. Robin Vos (R-63) squeezed a last-minute provision into the budget on Friday, June 3 that moves Wisconsin towards re-introducing bail bondsmen (and bounty hunters) to the state, a corruptive practice that has been prohibited since 1979. Like much of the dairy state’s recent legislative activity, this latest effort is smudged with the fingerprints of the American Legislative Exchange Council and well-funded lobbying interests.