Next week, at least 12 Virginia legislators will head to Salt Lake City, Utah to meet with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors at the 39th Annual American Legislative Exchange Council conference. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because ALEC has been in the news recently as 26 corporations, 4 nonprofits, and 55 state legislators have fled the organization as their extreme and controversial agenda has been exposed.
You may remember from our January report that Commonwealth taxpayers have already spent over $230,000 on sending our representatives off to these conferences. Those numbers are about to tick upwards as most of those 12 legislators will again be traveling on the taxpayer dime. While they’re in Salt Lake City, those Delegates and Senators will be meeting with lobbyists to find more corporate-sponsored bills in ALEC’s arsenal to bring home and add to the 50+ ALEC bills that have been introduced in Virginia.
But this year, something is going to be different. Thanks to FOIA requests, we’ve identified the 12 legislators who are attending. So next week, ProgressVA and Virginians for Responsible Gun Laws are heading off to Salt Lake City as well. We’re asking all 12 legislators to find just half an hour for us out in Utah to talk about what they’re learning in closed sessions and find out what ALEC bills they intend to introduce in the 2013 General Assembly session.
I’ll be reporting back right here at Blue Virginia (and also at ProgressVA) all next week about the happenings and sightings in SLC. Have a question about ALEC for the legislators who are attending? Leave a comment right here and we’ll try to get you an answer.
Want more information about why you should be concerned about ALEC? Stick with me after the jump!
ALEC is a corporate front group where lobbyists and legislators come together to write model bills designed to increase corporate profits at the expense of consumers and public safety. As the New York Times noted earlier this year, “It is no coincidence that so many state legislatures have spent the last year taking the same destructive actions: making it harder for minorities and other groups that support Democrats to vote, obstructing health care reform, weakening environmental regulations and breaking the spines of public- and private-sector unions. All of these efforts are being backed — in some cases, orchestrated — by a little-known conservative organization financed by millions of corporate dollars.”
While legislators pay just $50/year for membership, corporations can pay upwards of $25,000/year to promote their agendas. Common Cause and Marcus Owens, a former head of IRS’ Tax Exempt Organizations Division, have filed complaints with the IRS challenging ALEC’s contention that they do not engage in lobbying and their status as a tax-exempt 501c(3) organization.
ALEC’s rise to prominence this year was fueled by revelations that they were behind the nationwide push for photo ID laws designed to make it harder for seniors, veterans and minorities to vote and the rapid spread of the Stand Your Ground (or, Shoot First, Ask Later) bill at the center of the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
Here’s a sampling of what else ALEC’s been working on:
- The Campus Personal Protection Act would repeal laws that prohibit guns on campus or allow individual institutions to determine the right policy for their school. According to the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, versions of this bill were introduced in 15 states this year, including Virginia.
- The Great Schools Tax Credit Program is essentially a faux-voucher scheme, providing tax credits for corporations who make (already tax deductible) contributions to private school scholarship funds, draining public school funding. This model bill passed the General Assembly this year in the form of Del. Jimmie Massie’s HB 321. A New York Times investigation earlier this year found that the programs simply funneled public money into private schools while providing ample opportunities for abuse and corruption.
- The Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act is designed to limit liability for asbestos exposure for a single corporation: Crown Cork and Seal. According to the Washington Post, Speaker Bill Howell (a member of ALEC’s national board) repeatedly requested members of the House GOP Caucus carry the legislation and rearranged committee assignments when the legislation didn’t have enough votes. The bill has passed in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Michigan, and has been introduced in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Arizona, and others.
For the entire library of ALEC model legislation, check out the Center for Media and Democracy’s fantastic database at ALECExposed.org.