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

ALEC is suspending its task force that generated controversial model voter ID and “shoot-first” bills.

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.

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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.” 

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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.