A couple of weeks ago, Thom Tillis, the Speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, received an award in New Orleans as a "Legislator of the Year" from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Another way you could phrase it is that the Cornelius Republican was given a nice biscuit for jumping through his corporate overseers' hoops. In case you haven't heard of it, ALEC is a corporate-funded "research" group that has had an enormous influence in the past year on the legislative agendas of several state legislatures, including North Carolina's General Assembly. The group puts together hundreds of "model legislation" bills and sends them to its members in the various state legislatures.
In this year's legislative sessions, ALEC pumped out over 800 model bills, with emphases on blocking environmental protections, cutting public education spending and promoting private schools via "vouchers," opposing health care reform, voter ID laws, anti-immigration laws, tort reform, undermining public employee unions, and propping up the private prison and tobacco industries. If those issues sound familiar, it's because several states, including North Carolina, took up those issues via bills that were blatantly based on ALEC's "models." That queasiness-inducing process is the reason NC PolicyWatch's Rob Schofield mused that perhaps Tillis' award had been for "Outstanding Performance in the Use of a Copier."
ALEC has been around since 1973, but recently shifted its focus to suggesting specific state legislation that benefits its corporate sponsors. The organization, which gets 98 percent of its funding from right-wing foundations and corporate membership fees, runs a clearinghouse of legislative strategies, research, and of course, its "model legislation." ALEC calls itself a nonpartisan group with the goal of "promoting Thomas Jefferson's principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism." Jefferson, meanwhile, is spinning at the speed of light in his grave, since he abhorred the influence of concentrated wealth on government — not to mention that the very concept of huge corporations would have infuriated him.
ALEC brings corporate execs and lawmakers together at "training" sessions and big sponsored events, such as the annual meeting in New Orleans two weeks ago. More than 30 conservative members of the N.C. General Assembly — including Mecklenburg County's Tillis, William Brawley and Ruth Samuelson — attended the N'Awlins meeting at the Marriott.
It's unknown how much N.C. lawmakers spent on the trip, but in the past, ALEC has paid expenses for all its "guests." No one from the N.C. contingent has requested reimbursement, so it's easy to figure out that ALEC, as usual, gave lawmakers a nice, free trip, all expenses paid — and all for a mere $50 annual legislators' membership fee. You naturally don't have to charge a higher member fee when you're rolling in money from ExxonMobil, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Walmart, Philip Morris, Coca-Cola, Coors, Verizon, the ever-present Koch Industries (which also largely bankrolls another right-wing group, Americans for Prosperity), and a slew of other big corporations.
If you're wondering, "How in the world do they get away with paying for lawmakers' junkets and obviously illegal lobbying?" you're not alone. So far, ALEC has avoided prosecution by claiming that it's not a lobbying organization, but rather an educational group that just happens to get legislators and lobbying groups together. (How do you spell "weasel"?) And the expenses for hotels, trips, meals and golf outings, etc? Those aren't direct payments to legislators, they're "scholarships" — it's an educational group, remember?
One of the main complaints by ALEC's critics is the overall secrecy of the group's workings. Although prominent ALEC members told the media recently that, "There's nothing sinister, there's nothing secretive about [ALEC]," they failed to tell the bouncers ALEC hired for the New Orleans convention. Two reporters from Think Progress, the news outlet of the liberal nonprofit Center for American Progress, were physically attacked and thrown out by bouncers who said they were "acting on instructions from ALEC."
These are the folks who gave Thom Tillis a big award for successfully carrying out the ALEC agenda to the best of his ability. Isn't it good to know someone in Raleigh is looking out for the interests of poor, defenseless major corporations?
NOrth Carolina government