Friday 28 September 2012

Screwing the public, one state bill at a time

If you still think the US is the last best hope for humankind, have a look this weekend at Bill Moyers's PBS documentary on ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is a consortium of US corporations and legislators who work behind closed doors to design “model” bills for US state legislatures. It includes hundreds of corporations, dozens of lobbyist organisations and thinktanks, and about a thousand legislators (mostly Republican). Forty-nine of Arizona's 90 state legislators belong to ALEC.

They design bills to cut the size of government and help corporations. Up to a thousand bills a year. Lisa Graves of the Center for Media Democracy has copies of 850 of such “model” laws from ALEC. “Stand your ground" gun laws that give you legal cover to kill someone. Voter suppression laws. Union-busting laws. Laws to help insurance companies deny health insurance to patients with pre-existing conditions. Laws to to diminish your legal rights if you're killed or injured by a corporation. Laws to block climate change agreements. Laws to dismantle public education in favour of privatised education. Laws to privatise prison administration and facilitate corporate use of prison labour.

And though ALEC not only lobbies but writes legislation, it's registered as a charity, so it pays no taxes and its corporate members get a tax writeoff.

Why does ALEC aim at state legislatures rather than Washington? State Rep. John Nichols says “If you really want to influence the politics of this country, you don’t just give money to presidential campaigns, you don’t just give money to congressional campaign committees. Smart players put their money in the states.”

How much of this hookumsnivvy do you suppose is seriously corrupt? An ALEC prison industry lobbyist tells Moyers “if I can talk you into doing this bill, my clients are going to make a—some money on the bond premiums.”

ALEC didn't write the Florida “stand your ground” law that George Zimmerman used to justify killing Trayvon Martin, unarmed but for a bag of candy and a cup of iced tea. The NRA got that done in 2005. 

What ALEC did was get a model of that law passed in 24 other states.

That kind of publicity isn't good for corporations. Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Mars, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson now say they've pulled out of ALEC.

But BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Koch Industries, Shell, and hundreds of others remain.
In March 2011, ALEC held one of its boot camps for legislators at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh, on how to keep the average Joe from successfully suing a corporation for damages. The day after the boot camp, two state reps presented a draft law, copied almost word for word from the ALEC model, to limit corporate product liability in North Carolina.

What's turning the US into a corporate kleptocracy? A big part of the answer is ALEC.

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