Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is your legislator a "Smart-ALEC" ?

I was a Wyoming state legislator for 10 years and a professional lobbyist for twice that long. In one capacity or another including serving a few times as the chaplain, I was involved in every session of the state legislature from 1967 until 2011. Some may question how much I learned in those 44 years but I will tell you this. I know lobbying when I see it.

Those who appear not to be lobbying do the most effective lobbying. Lobbyists are about as popular with the public as are politicians. We used to joke among ourselves, “Please don’t tell my mother I’m a lobbyists. She thinks I play piano in a cat-house.”

The game is that lobbyists pretend not to be peddling influence and legislators pretend not to be swayed by those who peddle influence. When damage is done to the public interest, they each stand there like Pontius Pilate, washing their hands.

The best lobbyists are amateurs compared to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Legislators, who’ve been wined and dined by ALEC, if honest, would be as stunned as I to read this disingenuous disclaimer on ALEC’s webpage. “ALEC does not lobby in any state.” Even more stunning is to learn they are a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation.

Their board of directors is not exactly a list of the American Public Interest Hall of Fame. It includes executives from Wal-Mart, AT&T, Exxon-Mobile, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Glaxo-Smith-Kline, Koch Brothers Companies and, interestingly, the American Bail Association.  If that sounds like a group of folks out to protect your family, you need a refresher course on political science. Which of these organizations has a reputation for simply seeking good government in spite of their own special interests?

In a highly technical sense, ALEC doesn’t lobby “in any state” as it claims. They leave that to legislators who fall under their spell. They host legislators at expensive resorts. Their May meeting is in Charlotte. During these conferences corporate folks spend quality time with your legislators, time you would never be afforded, costing what you could never afford. When they aren’t attending receptions or playing golf together, they participate in drafting “model legislation” for their legislative minions to carry home.

By the time the meeting ends, your legislator is fully equipped, returning home with a draft bill and all the talking points. It doesn’t take a political scientist to see what’s going on here. ALEC uses tax-deductible corporate donations to entertain state legislators who then carry home the bills these corporations want enacted. ALEC doesn’t need to lobby because its members have legislators doing not only the legislating but the lobbying as well. It’s genius! It also seriously undermines the independence of those we elect.

More than a third of Wyoming legislators belong to ALEC. They downplay the ALEC’s influence.  ALEC downplays its influence. It doesn’t serve either to acknowledge ALEC’s clout. But you can see it in the bills introduced and enacted. Wyoming legislators have returned from ALEC meetings to introduce bills supporting the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporate funding of election campaigns, directing the attorney general to join lawsuits against federal Obamacare, regulating immigration, denying citizens access to courts when injured through corporate negligence, and preventing the state from regulating greenhouse gases.
Last weekend a guest editorial about why Wyoming should not implement a health insurance exchange appeared. It supported Wyoming legislators who have decided not to move ahead with an initiative to help uninsured Wyoming people find health coverage. An ALEC staff person wrote the editorial.
Perhaps the definition of lobbying has changed since I lobbied and was lobbied but I think I know it when I see it. ALEC member-legislators are not citizen-legislators as they claim. They are lobbyist-legislators, serving national corporate interests rather than the public interest.

Before you vote this November, remember the sum total of the special interest protected by ALEC and their members-legislators does not equal the public interest.

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