This week the Center for Media and Democracy released 800 model bills, legislation that is straight out of the corporate playbook and drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The group’s membership includes both state lawmakers and corporate executives who gather behind closed doors to discuss and vote on draft legislation. ALEC has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months for its role in crafting bills to attack worker rights, to roll back environmental regulations, privatize education, deregulate major industries, and pass voter ID laws. Thanks to ALEC, at least a dozen states have recently adopted a nearly identical resolution asking Congress to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop regulating carbon emissions. We are joined by Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media Democracy. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The Internal Revenue Service has been asked to investigate the nonprofit tax status of a Washington-based organization that its critics say has played a key role in helping corporations secretly draft model pro-business legislation that has been used by state lawmakers across the country. The American Legislative Exchange Council was formed nearly four decades ago and has become, in its own words, "the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators."
But the organization, often known simply as ALEC, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months for its role in drafting bills to attack workers’ rights, roll back environmental regulations, privatize education, deregulate major industries, and pass voter ID laws. Thanks to ALEC, at least a dozen states have recently adopted a nearly identical resolution asking Congress to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to stop regulating carbon emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, the Center for Media and Democracy released 800 model bills approved by companies and lawmakers at recent ALEC meetings. Unlike many other organizations, ALEC’s membership includes both state lawmakers and corporate executives. At its meetings, the corporations and politicians gather behind closed doors to discuss and vote on model legislation. Before the bills are publicly introduced in state legislatures, they’re cleansed of any reference to who actually wrote them.
According to the Center, beneficiaries of recent model bills by ALEC include the tobacco firm Altria/Philip Morris; the health insurance firm Humana; the pharmaceutical company Bayer; and the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America, CCA.
For more, we go to Madison, Wisconsin, to speak with Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. We invited a member from ALEC on to join us, but they did not return our phone calls or emails.
Lisa, talk about your findings.
LISA GRAVES: Well, this week, the Center for Media and Democracy made available to the public a wide array of bills from the secretive ALEC, from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council. And what these model bills, these wish lists for corporations, show is that corporations and politicians, state politicians, voted behind closed doors through ALEC task forces on a set of radical proposals to rewrite our rights in almost every area of the law. And so, this trove of documents that came to us by way of a whistleblower, we felt it was very important for the American people to see these bills, to be able to analyze these bills, to see what was happening in their own legislatures, and to trace these bills back to ALEC and to the corporations that actually voted for them behind closed doors. We were astonished, in these documents, that ALEC touts to its members that corporations have a, quote, "voice and a vote." They have a voice and a vote, through ALEC task forces, on our lives, on bills before—in many instances, they are introduced in any legislature across the country.
These bills have published, these resolutions, against things like windfall taxes—windfall taxes for the oil companies, resolutions on all sorts of things involving the budget, to try to stop any revenue increases to help address spending crises—or, pardon me, to help address the crises that we’re seeing in terms of the budgets, so that we can deal with the needs of our country. And so, what you see in bill after bill, resolution after resolution, is this radical agenda that has been put forth since the 1970s, funded by some of the wealthiest, wealthiest people and corporations in the world. Corporations like Koch Industries, billionaires Charles and David Koch, who run that company, many other companies, Exxon, the wealthiest of the wealthiest on the planet, have been part ALEC and part of this agenda.
And so, we made these bills, with analysis, available to the public, so the American people can see where bills that are racing through their state legislatures this spring—to radically write worker rights, consumer rights, the rights of Americans killed or injured by corporations, tax law, budget laws, the rights of local democracy, efforts to stop reforming healthcare—where these things are, in many respects, coming from. They’re coming in prepackaged bills to legislators across the country through ALEC.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Lisa, you’ve written about, in particular, a meeting that occurred in April of this year in Cincinnati, I guess a plenary of the members of ALEC. And also, you’ve written extensively about—specifically, what is the role of the Koch brothers in this organization?
LISA GRAVES: Well, this spring, ALEC had its annual meeting of its task forces. These are task forces on tort law, on environmental law, on tax law, health law, in which corporations and politicians vote. ALEC says they vote separately. I’m not sure that makes a whole lot of difference. The fact is, is that these bills have, in essence, been pre-approved by some of the biggest global corporations in the world, and then, in essence, they are ratified by the politicians who lead ALEC, and then they are put out throughout the country.
So, this is an organization that has been around since that radical ideology that Jeff talked about that really started to take root in the early 1970s. It’s been funded—this movement, this network, this infrastructure of think tanks and organizations, has been funded by individuals like Charles and David Koch. Their roots are some pretty extreme roots, I would say. The fact is that their father was on the national council of the John Birch Society. Their father was an outspoken speaker and pamphleteer as the leader of what became Koch Industries. And in his writings and speeches, he suggested and claimed that the NEA was basically filled with communists, that our public school system and textbooks were filled with communist rhetoric, that President Eisenhower was soft on communism, that the Supreme Court was pro-communist.
And some men might rebel. Others might spend their life spending their wealth and their will to basically repackage these ideas and market them through these think tanks and through groups like ALEC to make an effort to privatize public education, to privatize public institutions, to stop taxes, progressive taxation on the wealthiest Americans, on the wealthiest companies. This is what this agenda has done.
And as a consequence of their unity of vision with ALEC, ALEC rewarded the Koch brothers, both of them, by naming them their Adam Smith Award winner in the early '90s. And since that time, Koch Industries has had a seat on ALEC's corporate board, and Koch Industries’ lobbyists have been involved in ALEC’s activities, which include these bills that cover a range of topics. They’re not just topics that would necessarily benefit Koch Industries, one of the richest privately held companies on the planet. They are part of an ideology that radically seeks to change America, to undo the gains of the 20th century—
JUAN GONZALEZ: And—
LISA GRAVES: —and to return us to the days—yeah?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, and Lisa, one of the other areas that the Koch brothers and ALEC have been heavily involved in are free trade initiatives. Could you talk about that, as well?
LISA GRAVES: Sure. So, ALEC has a number of resolutions, through one of its task forces, that embrace nearly every free trade agreement that has been proposed. We traced back to see some of the origins of these provisions, in terms of the think tank world, and we found that David Koch had founded an organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy. It’s since split off and, in essence, become FreedomWorks, which is one of the arms of the Tea Party, run, you know, separately. And David Koch has been instrumental in a new group that many Americans have heard about called Americans for Prosperity, which is also, in essence, arming the Tea Party with misinformation, with disinformation.
And so, this group, this Citizens for a Sound Economy, started pushing really hard for free trade agreements in the 1990s. And that was an era of, you know, tremendous, what was called "protectionism" for American industries—America’s steel industry, the steelworkers, our timber, a whole set of industries that were the backbone of the American economy, the backbone of the American middle class, the backbone of fueling the American Dream. And so, Citizens for a Sound Economy was pushing for free trade. These groups aligned with it, corporations aligned with it, were pushing for free trade. Those sorts of resolutions became—those sorts of ideas became resolutions within ALEC, within a network of the right-wing think tanks. And they have been pushed forward.
We also found that Citizens for a Sound Economy used the sort of stock shock in the late 1980s, in 1987, as a basis for calling for repeal of Glass-Steagall, which are the protections that were passed just after the Great Depression to protect against banks gambling in the stock market. And so, an early call—the early call to repeal Glass-Steagall came from David Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy.
And, of course, what you see in provisions that are throughout the trove of documents from the secretive ALEC, that are on our site, alecexposed.org, what you see in those documents, in the tax and budget area and the trade area, is this extreme corporate agenda to basically be able to outsource American jobs, to ship U.S. jobs overseas, and limit taxation on corporations, which is helping to lead to the revenue crisis that we have. We have a crisis in being able to raise money from the wealthiest corporations and make them pay their due, ensure that they’re not just banking profits, ensure that they’re actually paying their fair share. While these politicians, who are working at the direction and the aid of these corporations, are insisting on cuts to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, proposals that are in this secret set of documents, this trove of documents, meanwhile, they’re insisting that we cannot possibly raise revenue from the wealthiest corporations in the world and that we have to cut taxes, cut capital gains, cut spending. And what we’ve seen from the Bush tax cuts is that that money was banked. It wasn’t used to create jobs. That policy has failed as a job creation tool.
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Graves, very quickly, we’re talking to you in Madison, Wisconsin, of course the home of the great uprising this year of public workers and all of their supporters. It’s also the home of the John Birch Society, in Appleton, Wisconsin. Can you talk specifically about the Koch brothers, ALEC, and its effect on Wisconsin and on healthcare in general, the issue of repealing the healthcare legislation that’s been passed?
LISA GRAVES: Sure. Well, one of our fellows, our senior fellow for healthcare, Wendell Potter, has talked about that at length in The Nation magazine this week as part of this joint effort to make the public aware of what’s been going on. And it’s quite clear, from the materials that are in this trove of documents at alecexposed.org, that ALEC has been moving behind the scenes on an array of issues to privatize Social Security, to privatize Medicaid, to privatize Medicare with these voucher systems. And we know their public face is obviously that they are against healthcare reform, and they’ve been moving in the states to try to help foment a resistance in the states to healthcare reform. But when you look at the set of materials that’s in this trove, you can see for your own eyes, beyond the rhetoric, the real details of what’s in these provisions.
And I would say that this hostility to public institutions, to the public having its own set of ways to move our country forward through public education, through public institutions, is under attack, and it has been under attack, by really the radical ideology that David and Charles Koch have fueled through their foundations and fueled through the funding of Koch Industries and ALEC and other organizations. And this ideology is one that seeks to basically increase private profits at public expense. What a voucher program is in the public school system, for example, basically takes your tax dollars, gives them to a private institution—in many instances, a private, for-profit school company—and basically pays their profits, pays for their CEOs, at the expense of actually putting that money into a school system for all children in America.
And so, these roots, I think, do trace back to a radical agenda, to seeds of an idea, ideas that were planted by their father and others. And they have nurtured these seeds with literally millions and millions and millions of dollars through this infrastructure of think tanks. What ALEC does for people like David and Charles Koch and others is it makes—it gives them a way to make their vision of the world legally binding on the rest of us, when these resolutions, these so-called model bills, are then pushed out through legislators into legislatures across the country and become law.
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Graves, we want to thank you very much for being with us, executive director of Center for Media and Democracy, speaking to us from Madison, Wisconsin. We will link to your website at alecexposed.org.