On Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton issued his 12th veto of the current session, returning Senate File 1236 to the Legislature accompanied by a sharply worded letter. The so-called corporate successor liability law would have curtailed the legal liability of a company that buys or merges with another company that in any way dealt with asbestos.
“The true impact of this legislation should not go without comment,” Dayton wrote, detailing the deadly legacy of asbestos manufacturing and exposure. “I opposed efforts in the United States Senate to limit exposure of asbestos manufacturers and to shift the costs of these injuries to taxpayers and others.”
The bill was the seventh vetoed measure this year that originally was drafted and disseminated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive, far-right group that has birthed much of the virtually identical pro-business, anti-labor legislation that has swept through statehouses nation-wide over the last two years.
Five of the vetoed ALEC bills would have reduced corporate exposure to lawsuits and potential damages in Minnesota. The other two are the Voter ID bill and the Castle Doctrine or “Shoot First” bill.
In total over the last two years 60 ALEC-generated bills have been introduced in Minnesota, according to a comparison of model and local bills conducted by Common Cause of Minnesota.
Scrutiny leads to defections
The vetoes also may have marked a watershed moment for ALEC, which arguably owes its success to its ability to seed model legislation while avoiding the public scrutiny lobbyists are typically subject to. Yesterday, McDonald’s became the sixth concern to withdraw from the group in the wake of efforts by Common Cause and others to expose ALEC’s workings.
Last week, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Intuit confirmed they had left ALEC; on Monday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would stop making grants to the group.
A year ago, few Minnesotans had heard of ALEC, which bills itself as a membership group and thus not subject to campaign finance laws. Corporations and think tanks pay tens of thousands of dollars in dues each year, while lawmakers — virtually all of them Republicans — pay just $50.
ALEC spends the money putting on lavish, expenses-paid conferences at posh resorts where private-sector members share model legislation they’ve drafted with elected officials. The bills are then introduced, sometimes verbatim, in multiple states simultaneously.
Those who don’t want to take advantage of the junkets can log onto ALEC’s website to download model bills.
Many of the education-reform efforts promoted by House and Senate GOP leaders here over the last two years were lineal descendants of bills on ALEC’s wish list, which the advocacy group Parents United has tracked closely.
Generous donors to campaigns
ALEC’s corporate members also can be generous during campaign season, spending heavily to influence legislative races. In 2010 affiliated groups spent more than $600,000 in Minnesota, according to an exhaustive Common Cause preview of the 2012 session released in January. One of the largest donors to local candidates, State Farm, stood to benefit from several of the vetoed bills.
SF 530 would have changed the computation of interest on verdicts, awards and judgments; SF 429 would have limited attorney’s fees awarded in lawsuits; SF 373 would have shortened the statute of limitations from six to four years; and SF 149 would make it harder for class-action lawsuits to go forward.
By contrast, the asbestos liability bill likely would have benefited just one company, Crown, Cork and Seal, which has operations in Minnesota. Identical legislation has been passed in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi and has been proposed in a number of other states.
SF 1236 was introduced by Waseca Republican Mike Parry, who serves on ALEC’s telecommunications and information task force. MinnPost was unable to reach Parry, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the First Congressional District.
Its House counterpart was introduced by Belle Plaine Republican Kelby Woodard, who is not known to be an ALEC member and who did not return MinnPost’s call asking for comment. Several of House File 1418’s 13 other co-sponsors are active in ALEC.
Denials of association
In the past, lawmakers have protested reporting by MinnPost and other news organizations linking their legislation to ALEC. Some, including Burnsville Republican Rep. Pam Myhra, author of a bill that requires Minnesota high schoolers to take at least one digital class in order to graduate, have complained that they have not attended ALEC events or that particular bills originated elsewhere.
In February, after Dayton decried ALEC’s likely role in the Minnesota tort reform bills, Parry told the Faribault Daily News that the group did not play a role in any of his legislation. “I don’t know about the other [ALEC members]. If we were to do something [from ALEC], we’d take it right back to our revisor and legal staff,” he said. Regarding the asbestos bill, “ALEC didn’t even get in the picture,” he said.
Other ALEC-authored measures introduced in 2011 and 2012 would make Minnesota a right-to-work state, designate English as the official state language, require a “supermajority” vote to enact certain tax changes affecting corporations, bar agricultural whistleblowers — including journalists — from reporting on diseased animals entering the food chain, lower taxes on smokeless tobacco, prohibit the creation of the health insurance exchanges and individual mandate to purchase insurance that are central features of Obamacare, and lock up more illegal immigrants, presumably in member Corrections Corporation of America’s empty private prison in Appleton, Minn.