ALEC continues churning out blueprints for right wing experiments
Teamsters at an ALEC protest. Photo by Scott Foval at People for the American Way.

Misleading but slick marketing names are just one hallmark of ALEC – the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. That’s why ALEC concocted “FACT” in the field of asbestos trusts and “REINS” to put up barriers to safety regulations. They sound great but taste lousy.

Beyond such name deceptions, ALEC creates menu bills for legislators to pluck out from Column A or B what they can sell right now in their home states. That allows individual legislators to disguise the words as their own.

Consider ALEC’s “No Sanctuary Cities” bill, a collection of legal language lazy susans. If you want to make it illegal to carry an undocumented worker in your car, that’s in there. If you want rules limiting who employers can hire, there’s verbiage on that. Overall, the sections head toward one thing – preventing local communities from controlling their law enforcement resources unless those are committed to being ICE agents (the full confusing slate of federal immigration laws).

Immigration bills similar to ALEC’s master contents have caused enormous upset in Texas and Wisconsin The first prompted a fight to break out on the Texas floor. Wisconsin’s two bills prompted an emergency meeting June 8 by Voces de La Frontera, whose alarm was sounded in an earlier Peoples World story.

Funded by big businesses and small ($100 for a two year fee), by member GOP legislators, ALEC is a money saver for elected officials – if they’re on the right wing. ALEC research teams give those state politicians a staff they don’t have to pay for working out legal details and strategies – including field-tested names to fool the public on the purpose of legislation.

ALEC was first exposed six years ago by a mild mannered University of Wisconsin professor whose research curiosity was aroused by the similarities in bills across the states.

It is now one of the major tentacles of political strategy by the Koch Industries, the conservative Bradley Foundation and active players on the right such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP), another friendly sounding name that peppers the nation’s email boxes. Today it can even draw the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, as it keynote speaker for its July 19-21 convention in Colorado, where even more ideas for voucher school expansion are in the works.

Indeed, with Trump at the helm, ALEC has bigger plans than mere state bills. It is going national not just with DeVos but with an ALEC bill that has been around years at the state level – “right to work” legislation. Already approved in half the U.S. states, often encouraged by ALEC “associates,” it is more accurately known to statisticians and unions as “right to work for less.”

Gov. Scott Walker passed “Right to work” in Wisconsin in 2015 despite outright denials to union leaders that he would sign any such thing. Now he’s a national champion. News reports indicate that when Walker visited the Trump administration in Washington he was discussing ways to introduce such legislation.

Members of Congress contacted for this story expect such legislation to unfold soon. ALEC has been pumping for a national bill for a decade. With Trump in the White House, it expects a more sympathetic ear. But it has many other games creeping up into the national spotlight.

Take FACT. It has been around for years and even passed in some states. It requires more reporting from asbestos trusts before they can release money to victims. Pretending to speed service the law actually places roadblocks in the way of processing a claim through the courts – often until the victims of ravaging lung cancer or mesothelioma are dead. Veterans comprise only 7 percent of our population yet account for 70 percent of the deaths due to mesothelioma, which makes FACT a doubly shameful choice of name.

Democratic legislators in Wisconsin fought back in vain against FACT (Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency), but this ALEC-inspired bill became state law in 2013. National versions have gone through the US House mill several times – always rejected by President Obama and sometimes by the Senate.

In February of 2017 Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold reintroduced FACT in the House.

REINS – which ALEC first wrote up in 2012 — sounds all about reducing regulations (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny). But it actually requires a 70-day review by each house before a standard can be made law. It was reintroduced in the Wisconsin Senate and passed this session. In national form, though Trump is unlikely to order any safety regulations, it has already quietly passed the US House and been introduced in the US Senate by Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Kathleen Vinehout, the Wisconsin state senator exploring a run in 2018 against Gov. Walker, has called REINS “the most dangerous bill you’ve never heard of.” The same framing comes from the respected EcoWatch, which points out that REINS would effectively neuter the 2016 Chemical Safety Act, itself a compromise by the Congress to set standards on 10 dangerous chemicals.

Wisconsin seems integral to many ALEC efforts. Highly regarded in the past as the most legislatively progressive state in the nation — and still capable of turning blue in general elections — Wisconsin has been taken over wholesale by the Republicans for seven years, with control of both legislative chambers and the executive mansion. Its largest cities, Milwaukee and Madison, remain liberal and quite economically successful, but state actions are chipping away.

The Republicans have succeeded because of voter neglect or misdirection about tax policies but also through severe gerrymandering (finally facing a strong judicial attack).

In the process, Wisconsin has become THE nationwide test tube for the rightist wing of the Republican Party.

The state is headquarters for the Bradley Foundation, famously anti-union but, in a curious ideological turnabout, recently hacked much like the Russians did to Clinton in 2016. Journalists may be troubled by using such stolen stuff, but they couldn’t resist revealing how heavily the foundation is involved in right-wing bills, including nearly $700,000 to help ALEC.

Most recently in Wisconsin was a double ALEC whammy to weaken licensing regulations on occupational professions (beware, other states!). Promising fewer training hours and more work opportunities for low-income citizens, the bills are actually designed to keep them low income without the safety nets and educational regimen that comfort consumers.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO, which fiercely tracks such legislation, points out it’s not just about unorganized barbers, hair stylists and cosmetologists (and who is comfortable with them losing hours of training?). Other professions include anesthesiologist assistants, electricians, acupuncturists and even dentists.

ALEC’s main enemy so far has been state Democratic legislators who paid the membership fees and reported back to their state’s public what was going on. The national push may require a higher level of exposure. One proven path is publicity – the exposure of sponsorship that makes ALEC too toxic for many businesses to participate in.

That could be the unintended consequences of having DeVos as a speaker. Along with alerting your national representatives about ALEC, never forget the value of sunshine.

 

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Dominique Paul Noth
Dominique Paul Noth

Dominique Paul Noth for the past decade was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, milwaukeelabor.org. He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.

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