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In wake of corporate exodus, ALEC announces a ‘refocus’ on economic issues

Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed seven ALEC-supported bills this session.

Want to get the attention of a corporation or trade association at this point in time? Suggest that they are, or at one time were, affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

In an apparent attempt to quell an exodus of corporate members upset by recent headlines, ALEC announced on Tuesday that it was suspending the activities of its public-safety and elections task force, which generated controversial model voter ID and “shoot-first” bills.

“Today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades,” the group said in a statement. “Fostering the exchange of pro-growth, solutions-oriented ideas is precisely why ALEC exists.”

To recap: ALEC is a far-right policy incubator whose members include corporations, think tanks and lawmakers, who introduce its model bills simultaneously in statehouses nationwide. The proposed legislation ranges from industry-specific measures such as a bill vetoed last week by Gov. Mark Dayton limiting liability in asbestos injuries to the ideological, such as voter ID and shoot-first.

It claims that because it is a membership group its activities do not constitute lobbying, and it is not subject to lobbying and campaign finance disclosure laws. What the electorate knows about its activities, then, is the product of member self-disclosure — rare as hens’ teeth — and the compilation of documents obtained by advocacy and clean-government groups.

Dayton’s vetoes

In total over the last two years Minnesota lawmakers have introduced some 60 bills identical or very similar to model legislation drafted by ALEC. Seven of Dayton’s 12 vetoes so far this year have been of ALEC-promulgated measures, including a National Rifle Association-drafted shoot-first or Castle Doctrine bill very similar to the law at issue in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.

Last week we reported in more depth on those vetoed bills, which included four tort-reform measures: 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.

For both stories, we drew on documents posted online by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which maintains a wiki of companies, lawmakers and groups documented to have an ALEC affiliation, and a side-by-side comparison [PDF: The bills in question begin on page 66] by Common Cause of Minnesota of ALEC-drafted or -distributed model bills and locally introduced ones.

That and the fact that when he vetoed the measures in February, Gov. Mark Dayton called out ALEC by name, according to a MinnPost story by Doug Grow:

At the briefing, Dayton held up a copy of a brochure, “ALEC Boot Camp,” produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is an ultra-conservative organization funded by large corporations. ALEC membership includes substantial numbers of legislators from around the country, but it’s often unclear as to just who is a member.

And on Monday, we reported that in response to publicity generated in the wake of Martin’s killing, Common Cause was urging ALEC’s Minnesota corporate members to join the stream of companies withdrawing from ALEC.

The Insurance Federation of Minnesota takes issue with our reports that the four tort-reform measures passed by this year’s Legislature were ALEC-related. Mark Kulda, the federation’s vice president for public affairs, insists that Minnesotans for Lawsuit Reform came up with the measures independently.

“I can assure you after having been intimately involved in the generation of the ideas for the bills and working with the process to see the bills drafted, heard in committee and passed, ALEC had nothing whatsoever to do with any of these four bills,” Kulda told us yesterday. “These are indigenous bills made right here in Minnesota, by Minnesotans for the benefit of Minnesotans and if anybody says otherwise they are just outright lying.” 

To which we reply: Depends on what you mean by “independently.”

Minnesotans for Lawsuit Reform, Kulda explained, was formerly known as the Civil Justice Coalition. It “went dormant” a few years ago and was revived by the federation. It lists Kulda as one of its registered lobbyists.  

In making its case for the measures, the group’s website notes that “Minnesota is given a ‘Dishonorable Mention’ in the recent Judicial Hellholes report by the American Tort Reform Association,” or ATRA. ATRA is a member of ALEC and its Civil Justice Task Force.

‘Judicial Hellholes’

And ALEC’s website links to its report on “judicial hellholes,” which lists Minnesota as one of the nation’s “unfair and unbalanced civil jurisdictions.”

Finally, one of the insurance federation’s members is State Farm, whose general counsel serves on ALEC’s private enterprise board and which has been a “chairman-level” sponsor of its annual confab.

Cargill also disputed MinnPost’s reporting in an e-mail asking that we correct a story reporting that Common Cause had called on Cargill and several other Minnesota companies to withdraw from ALEC. Cargill was never an ALEC member, according to a corporate spokeswoman.

In response, Common Cause supplied us with a copy of what appears to be the program for ALEC’s 1998 annual meeting listing Cargill as a “director-level” sponsor and a new member. We forwarded the document [PDF] to Cargill, which again replied that it has never been an ALEC member.

We called ALEC and asked whether it could confirm or deny any Cargill association, but got no reply.

Some 30 Minnesota lawmakers, all of them Republicans, belong to ALEC. Many confirm membership but none has yet acknowledged introducing model legislation from the group.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/18/2012 - 12:02 pm.

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer group

    Too bad it’s too late to keep the Voter Suppression amendment off the ballot this November.

    And Beth – thanks for not backing down!

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/18/2012 - 12:08 pm.

    Stand firm, Beth, and don’t let them intimidate you. Keep up the good work of tying this thread to that thread, so we can all see the weave that forms ALEC and its legislative initiatives.

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/18/2012 - 12:58 pm.

    Do the ALEC members in our legislature know

    that ALEC says it is getting out the business of social and political law-making? Current legislation like the voter i.d. act will not be supported any longer. Can we now expect those who introduced this legislation to withdraw it? (Whoop-de-doo if so.)

  4. Submitted by John Ferman on 04/18/2012 - 01:46 pm.

    Who are the ALEC legislators

    It will be important for the November election to know who the ALEC legislators are. Their association can be made into a campaign tactic, if handled well.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/18/2012 - 02:25 pm.

      See comments in Trevor Martin post by Beth

      above. A commenter, Ann Galloway listed the ALEC legislators in our state. I think it’s worth asking every legislator, particularly Republican ones, if they are members of ALEC or subscribe to these “lawsuit reform” groups. I asked my legislator, Denny McNamara if he was a member and he said no. I believe him just as I believe he’s not among the Grover Norquist pledge group. If you have pledged to Norquist’s group, in my opinion, as a legislator, you have violated your oath of office to uphold the Minnesota constitution that provides the power to tax shall never be surrendered or suspended.

  5. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 04/18/2012 - 01:55 pm.

    Thank you for the reminder…

    Keep up the good work Beth; sometimes I forget about who and what lurks behind the curtain. I will wander off thinking republicans are just crazy people who think differently than me. I forget most of them are part of a seemingly organized effort that appears determined to foster hate, division and discontent whenever possible.

    I can’t believe I voted mostly republican for longer than four decades and in 1988 and I actually was an endorsed republican candidate for the legislature. It’s amazing the way this political party has been coopted by ideologues and tycoons.

  6. Submitted by Stephen Dent on 04/18/2012 - 02:00 pm.

    Republican representatives are already in denial…

    I have contact Roger Chamberlain 53 B Lino Lakes about his membership on ALEC. He is listed on their website as being on their “public safety and elections” task force. He was in complete denial. Here is what he said to me in an e-mail….”I pay dues to ALEC, for which I receive their magazine. I have never been to an ALEC conference or meeting. I have never met with any ALEC officials at the state capitol or been to any of their retreats, nor have they been involved in any of the bills I have authored.”

    My question back to him is if this is true, why does the ALEC website identify him as a task force member? Of course, no reply. He did go on to state that…

    “All citizens and organizations can lobby; all have a right to have their voice heard.

    Do you have any concerns about lawmakers that are members of other groups? Unions? Lawyers associations? Environmental groups? Planned Parenthood? Greenpeace? These are all legitimate groups. Where do you draw the line?”

    Defensive? I think so. It is interesting the learn first hand of the dishonesty of our Republican lawmakers.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/18/2012 - 05:10 pm.

    Clearly dishonesty and denial is an automatic response.

    I think the fact that their denying ALEC connections speaks volumes in and of itself. Beth, thank you for this series, it’s incredible, this is what journalists are supposed to be doing. You documentation appears solid. Everyone needs to remember that there is no law against lying, so these guys can deny all they want and it’s typically the instinctive PR response.

    ALEC’s “economic” legislation focus is just a thin attempt to re-brand. In theory all of their legislation is “economic” in one way or another.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/18/2012 - 06:01 pm.

    Non Partisan?

    Interesting that ALEC describes itself as a non-partisan organization.

  9. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/19/2012 - 09:16 am.

    Ever see cockroachers scurry for the baseboards…

    …when the light goes on in the cheap motel room? No? Well, it’s just like ALEC when someone shines the light on them.

    My oh my, aren’t those Republican minions QUIET now?

  10. Submitted by Virginia Simson on 04/27/2012 - 12:14 am.

    Great resource/thing to follow up!!

    SHAME ON ALEC CORPORATOCRACY RACKET has a full archive going back to last year.

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