Frankly, ALEC doesn’t give a damn about what voters want

Kerry Drake

— December 10, 2013

One of the best examples of how states govern to the detriment of their residents is the misguided agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an ultra-conservative group of state lawmakers that promotes bills that are inherently anti-democratic.

ALEC writes model legislation that it pushes in statehouses around the country, most recently the wave of insidious voter identification laws designed to reduce the voter turnout of minorities, the poor and seniors. It’s also responsible for the “stand your ground” laws in 26 states, including Florida, where the effort came unhinged when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black teen who was armed with Skittles and a soft drink.

The response to that tragedy has shaken ALEC to its very core. More than 60 corporations pulled their funding, including Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Amazon, resulting in the loss of about one-third of its operating budget. Meanwhile, the organization’s membership fell by nearly 400 state lawmakers who no longer want to be associated with the right-wing group.

ALEC is trying to rebuild its tattered image, but it may be too late to keep its power and influence from eroding. I hope so. Last week it held a three-day “policy summit” in Washington, D.C., in an effort to bring corporations back into the fold while rolling out even more devastatingly bad proposals.

Surprisingly, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead jumped into the fray, speaking at the conference along with such high-profile GOP stars as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Mead has never been associated very closely with ALEC, beyond writing an article in support of a book written by one of its leading architects of the move to wrest control from the federal government by changing a massive number of state laws.

Video of Matt Mead’s speech became available after the publication of this article. Read highlights or watch the full video here…

Why is our state’s chief executive trying to help breathe new life into ALEC? I was unable to obtain a copy of Mead’s breakfast speech last Thursday, and all of the national political punditry’s ink seems to have been used up on Cruz, who touted the foolish movement to repeal the 17th Amendment and have U.S. senators once again be elected by state legislators instead of directly by the voters.

Mead owes Wyoming residents an explanation about why he participated in ALEC’s recent D.C. summit, effectively showing state support for the group’s attempt to further erode the rights of working Americans while financially benefiting the corporations that fund the organization. Some of these proposals are so outrageous, they border on insanity.

Take, for example, ALEC’s latest push to stall America’s renewable energy resource movement by penalizing people who install solar panels on their homes. That’s right – to protect the profits of fossil-fuel companies, the group wants to stick it to people who dare to try to cut into industry’s huge monopoly in providing the nation’s power. Arizona has already passed the law.

The scheme was exposed last week by The Guardian, which reported that ALEC’s proposed legislation wants to charge homeowners using solar panels for feeding power into the grid. John Eick, the group’s legislative analyst for energy, environment and agriculture program, told the newspaper, “As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially ‘freeriders’ on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non-direct generation customers are being penalized.”

How’s that for a blatant abuse of legislative power at the cost of Americans who are trying to help meet the Obama administration’s goals to increasingly use renewable resources and reduce our dependence on environmentally damaging fossil fuels?

I’ll admit that some of ALEC’s proposals will likely resonate with conservative voters in Wyoming – especially horrendous laws like “stand your ground” that are disguised as attempts to preserve Second Amendment rights. But come on – charging people more to use planet-saving solar energy? What’s next, laws that allow states to destroy commercial wind turbines?

But the attempt to cripple the solar industry is hardly the only energy proposal of interest to ALEC. One of its model bills would strip the EPA’s power to shut down a fracking site or oil industry facility, limiting the agency’s ability to enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. The group also hopes to gut President Barack Obama’s plan to enforce EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing and future power plants.

While Gov. Mead doesn’t outright deny that man plays a significant role in climate change, he’s become adept at playing to those who do. During a press conference in October, the governor suggested that climate change is still up for debate. A reporter asked, so what, exactly, about climate change is still up for debate? “It depends on who you talk to,” Gov. Mead answered. “If it is caused by man-made activities? If so, how much? And then what do you do about it? … I disagree with those who say there’s no debate on it.”

As ALEC noted in its news release announcing the governor would speak at its event, Mead said, “I do recognize we may face challenges presented by those who propose and believe they can change our climate by law with ill-thought-out policy like cap and trade.”

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead gives a keynote speech during the 2013 Wyoming Press Association winter convention in Cheyenne. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

I understand why a Wyoming governor wants to protect the industries whose taxes largely pay for the operation of state government. But that doesn’t mean we have to cut off the solar energy industry at the knees, or excuse ignoring common-sense federal legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions that are critical to saving the world’s environment.

And ALEC can’t justify new laws that allow people to get away with killing unarmed teens in the guise of self-defense, or to rob the labor movement of its right to collective bargaining, or the vast majority of the hundreds of other bills that the group takes from state to state.

ALEC’s proposed loyalty oath for state chairmen – which was ultimately rejected by the members – shows how desperately its leadership wants to control state legislators. The proposed pledge stated, “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”

ALEC wants to demand that its agenda be the first priority of state lawmakers, and not the will of their constituents? It shows what critics of the organization have been arguing for years: ALEC is concerned with power and money, voters be damned.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Thanks to Chris for the inspiration.
    Also sent by email to Gov. Matt Mead http://governor.wy.gov/contactUs/Pages/default.aspx

    Governor Mead:
    As a school teacher struggling to educate students in Wyoming about scientific facts–in the face of media conglomerates WINNING the contest of ideas through their lopsided power and influence, I was demoralized by your association with ALEC. You should immediately end your relationship with this organization that is anti-science, anti-American (in the truest sense of the word), and anti-planet.

    I won’t pretend that the opinion of one Wyoming voter could motivate you more than the financial support of power brokers like ALEC, but your reputation is on the line. Your association with ALEC makes you a tainted person.

    Something I’m sure you already know about Wyoming people is that reputation matters. Down the road, your moves will be remembered. Make the right moves now, for the people of Wyoming.

  2. The governor sent my kid a novel that addressed climate change and predator status (as a really nice gesture for Russell’s achievements in reading), so we know the man can face the truth of our situation with children. Can he do so with adults or is the gravy train just too much fun to ride to the bank, and hope that our kids have got the courage and science under their belts to address the most pressing challenge ever to face the human community. There’s nothing about the Wyoming forests that I’ve walked and packed and skied my whole life, and there’s nothing about the reduction of birds in my lifetime, and there’s nothing about the changing of the growing seasons that does not speak clearly and frankly to us about what is going on. This is no time for ALEC cowardice and denial. Gov. Mead, don’t go to ALEC ever again. Don’t leave the work to Russell. He’s not the person who should be leading us with the focus on the most pressing matter to face adults, ever. That’s your job. Wyoming didn’t teach me to look the other way. Gov. Mead didn’t ask my son to look the other way. ALEC requires that Gov. Mead does.

  3. Nice job on ALEC. On a December 10th NPR program Ed Pilkington, a correspondent for the Guardian, exposed ALEC for what they really are: a lobbying group that carries entirely too much weight in the lobbying process. If people say that’s the way democracy works then they’re either ignorant or intellectually lazy …and probably both. It’s amazing how ALEC has formed a “government within a government” and how quickly they can saturate and pollute the legislative process.

    Keep hammering’ away, Kerry.

  4. Thank you Mr. Kerry, you were loud and clear!
    Keep up the good work, for the … Lies pundits still believe their lies,
    much work left to do!

  5. I read once that those with liberal tendencies tend to resort to personal attacks when their arguments fail and they can no longer support them.

    I pay close attention because the direction the liberal so called leaders of this country are taking us are right down the drain. I stand up because my voice needs to be heard, not stifled by the liberal element. I pay closer attention than you do, I understand the facts, not the rhetoric. Simple math Dewey, the fastest way to the impose your liberal agenda is promise change to the masses with their hands out…..Obama and his liberal friends are the masters at hand outs.

    Lastly Dewey, if ALEC is so strong and powerful, why are we in this mess the liberal element created anyway? Based on the rantings of yourself and Mr. Drake, if ALEC is so powerful, there would be no Obama administration…….

  6. the climate warming global change agenda vs the ALEC agenda. hopefully both are being marginalized, but they do try to justify themselves by the other’s extremism and fear. They are both equally dangerous for the common good of good ecology and good economy. Al Gore is on the opposite side of the coin as Sarah Palin, but still the same coin. Please explain the true science behind catastrophic co2 climate change, and use all the math and chemistry you need.
    Didn,t Hitler and Stalin need each other to justify themselves.

  7. rbd- your Right Wing echo chamber talking points and fog machine are beneath the dignity of a long rebuttal.
    I’ll say it again, so pay attention : ALEC is directly hard coupled into the Legislative machinery from the County Commission level up thru the State houses all the way to Congress in a way not employed by all those dubious groups you cite, most of which you have mischaracterized. ALEC is cogs and wheels in the legislative mill itself…the groups on your list of groups is not. ALEC goes beyond simple lobbying.

  8. Here you go Dewey, happy reading……

    – Liberal media that continue to give Obama a free pass. Hard to count the dollars on this one, we can call this “in-kind” support. Probably #2 on the influence list.
    – League of Conservation Voters – big supporters of Warren
    – ACORN, resurrected as another tax exempt organization getting money for rolling out ObamaCare. ACORN is not dead or comatose, just repackaged. You must have been asleep while it worked behind the scenes to get Obama elected and still sleeping while it lines its pockets with tax dollars supporting ObamaCare.
    – Priorities USA, made up of former Barack Obama campaign aides
    – American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, an opposition research group led by a former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
    – Occupy Wallstreet – although it ended up being an failure, but it was pretty big news for a while, please see my comment about the media. It died because people probably ran out of unemployment and had to get a job.
    – George Soros and his Open Society Institute
    – Hollywood and the liberal entertainment industry. How many millions did they raise at the last fundraising event last month? Probably #3 on the influence list.
    – Any of the Unions, although that may change a bit when they start getting taxed for their Caddy plans under ObamaCare. #4, depending on how badly the Union Members have to cough up for ObamaCare
    – and the most influential of all, the IRS who took it upon themselves to target Tea Party and other conservative groups.

    Fortunately Wyoming has not been infiltrated to badly by the liberal element and we hope to keep it that way.

  9. rbd—ACORN isn’t a dead horse, but it’s mostly comatose these days. You are three years behind the curve in even bringing ACORN up. It went extinct in 2010 when it lost its tax exempt status. ACORN was always a ground up neighborhood organization of low income families , not a top down corporate fueled lobby and legislative monkeywrench consortium that enlisted elected officials and Congress. Even at it’s apex it had little or no sway over the legislative process and did not extrude itself into Statehouses.

    Is that all you have for me? Please cite some other examples of Dem-Left-Blue organizations that have major overt influence from Washington all the way to Cheyenne and Wyoming county boards, if you can.

    I can only think of two bona fide organizations that have as much real or vicarious legislative clout as ALEC…them being the NRA and AIPAC ( American Israeli Public Affairs Committee). Who’s on your list , rbd ?

  10. Actually Phyllis, just the opposite. I can see through the liberal rhetoric and clearly think for myself – unlike the liberal sheep that drink the koolaid on a daily basis. Those more interested in a government handout instead of thinking for themselves and taking advantage of the opportunities this country provides. The liberal element lined up behind a man with no leadership abilities, no experience, but he sure could talk up a good game and is really good at handouts.

    Mr. Drake’s comment about legislative abuse of power because the Obama administration cannot get it’s way is laughable. The Obama administration has issued more “executive orders” than any other administration in the history of this country. If anybody is abusing legislative power, it is the Obama administration continually ducking the legislative process by using the executive order process. The man cannot lead – but then the liberal media have pretty much ignored his abuse of the legislative process.

    Opinions are great. Debate is great too. It’s what made this country great. Unfortunately liberal rhetoric will not save this country – nor will conservative rhetoric. I put Mr. Drake right up there with Rush Windbag – another talking head who happens to be a decent writer, but nothing of substance, just blah, blah, blah……and more blah, blah, blah.

    And in response to Dewey, it is quite simple – a little group called ACORN…….

  11. Please note that the following is from the WY Secretary of State. This is the insidious voter ID law that Mr. Drake is railing against.
    ster to vote in Wyoming.
    1. Register in person
    Voters may register to vote in the office of the county clerk or town clerk within their county of residence.
    Voters may also print out a Voter Registration Form and hand deliver the form to the county clerk in their county of residence. The form must be signed in front of the county clerk.
    2. Register by mail
    Voters who are not currently in Wyoming or who cannot go to the county clerk’s office may register to vote by mail. Print the Voter Registration Form and follow these instructions:
    Fill out the voter registration form in front of a notary or registry agent.
    Show identification to the notary or registry agent.
    Preferred option is a Wyoming Driver License.
    Second option is one form of the following:

    Different state’s driver license;
    ID card issued by a local, state or federal agency;
    U.S. passport;
    School ID;
    Or military ID.
    Third option is two of the following in any combination:
    Certification of U.S. Citizenship;
    Certificate of Naturalization;
    Draft Record;
    Voter registration card from another state or county;
    Original or certified copy of a birth certificate bearing an official seal;
    Certification of birth abroad issued by the Department of State;
    Or any other form of identification issued by an official agency.
    Sign the voter registration oath.
    Have the notary or registered agent sign the form.
    Provide copies of the ID provided to the notary.
    Send the voter registration form and copies of the ID to your local county clerk.
    3. Register at the polls on Election Day
    Wyoming allows qualified voters to register at the polls on Election Day. Bring an acceptable form of ID to the polls (for example: driver license, passport).

    **NOTE
    Wyoming is exempt from the federal “Motor Voter” law and DOES NOT offer voter registration at the Driver License Division.

  12. Thanks again, Kerry, for throwing light on the politics of ALEC. I didn’t go to war and nearly lose my life for the likes of ALEC. And I am sadly jolted to hear that our governor has climbed into bed with them. We are sure to be screwed now.

  13. According to the leaked board minutes from ALEC’s August meeting in Chicago, ALEC claims 32 members in the Wyoming Legislature, for 36 percent of the whole. South Dakota and Iowa legislatures have 100 percent membership, while the New York legislature has 1 percent. Nationally, ALEC claims that 24 percent of all state legislators are ALEC members — often with dues and trip expenses picked up entirely by corporations. — truth-out.org

  14. Unfortunately, “rbd” is like his non-thinkers on the right side that can’t see
    what is directly in front of him. Of course, if he did, he’d still deny it!

  15. Kerry- very heartened to see you throw some strong focused light on this ALEC meeting and MEAD’S appearance. I would hope other Wyoming media are as attentive.

    My question is : given the abundance of Wyoming legislators who actually belong to ALEC or are sympatico to it, did any of our State solons also go to D.C for this partisan pow-wow ? The respected website sourcewatch.org lists 13 Wyoming House reps and 9 state Senators as current members of ALEC. All are Republican, ( the only Wyo-Dem who had ties to Alec, John Hastert, did not re-up his membership last year ). That’s 1/3rd the state Senate and nearly a quarter of the state House rosters, heavily weighted towards the leadership and committee chairs.

    I also challenge the commenter here calling himself ” rbd” to attribute his assertion that there is anything on the blue-Dem-liberal side of the political activist spectrum that remotely approaches the extent , funding, and deep influence of ALEC. Take as much wordspace as you need, rbd. We want to hear you out, factually. If you claim there is a deficit in reporting the facts about ALEC, by all means fill the void here.

  16. Back in 2006, when I covered the legislative session for the CST, I was the first Wyoming reporter to take a probing look at ALEC and how it influences Wyoming legislation. I was stonewalled, but it is clear from other states, that numerous ALEC bills have been introduced in Wyoming as if the bills were home grown, and an alarming number have been passed into law.
    One point of clarification: ALEC is NOT primarily a group of conservative legislators. Corporations write model bills with conservative legislators as junior partners and lap dogs. ALEC bills are carefully crafted to achieve goals that strengthen corporations and weaken unions, worker rights and a wide range of regulations designed to protect families, small business, consumers, minorities and the environment. That Gov. Mead would chose to support ALEC is the clearest sign yet that he has aspirations to either bolster corporate power in Wyoming, or he wants to do to D.C. He’ll need massive corporate support if he wants to run for a Senate seat or even the White House. Yes, Mead owes the people of Wyoming an explanation, but they’re never going to get it from this wannabe 1 percenter.

  17. More far left wing liberal ranting and raving about the right wing doing the same thing……..with half the facts or only those facts that support your position.