Not so smart, ALEC

How a corporate bill mill writes many of our state laws

Aug 15, 2012 at 12:00 am

A new report from the lefties at Progress Michigan (with help from Common Cause and Michigan Citizen Action) shows deep ties between the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC, and Republicans in the Michigan Legislature.

"Michigan citizens have a right to know who is writing our laws," Zack Pohl, executive director of Progress Michigan, declared in a statement announcing release of the report. "It's time for Michigan legislators to cut ties with ALEC and focus on rebuilding our economy and strengthening the middle class."

Or, they can keep on fulfilling the desires of big corporations and other right-wing special interests, cranking out cookie-cutter legislation that attempts to suppress liberal voters and curtails health care reforms — and much more.

This is the way the nonprofit, left-leaning People for the American Way describes ALEC:

"When state legislators across the nation introduce similar or identical bills designed to boost corporate power and profits, reduce worker's rights, limit corporate accountability for pollution, or restrict voting, odds are good that the legislation was not written by a state lawmaker but by corporate lobbyists working through the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation introduced. It's a win-win for corporations, their lobbyists and right-wing legislators. But the big losers are citizens whose rights and interests are sold off to the highest bidder."

Among other things, the new Progress Michigan report contends that "at least 20 corporation-friendly bills recently introduced in the Michigan Legislature closely echo ALEC model bills. House Bill 5221, which was introduced by Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) and requires voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote, is a blatant cut-and-paste job from ALEC's Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act."

That legislation was rightly vetoed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder — but that didn't keep Secretary of State Ruth Johnson from including a question regarding citizenship on primary ballots used in last week's election.

"Michigan should be encouraging all eligible voters to have their say and cast a ballot, not making the process harder," Melanie McElroy, executive director of Common Cause Michigan, said in a prepared statement. "Every eligible voter who wants to vote should not be turned away because of complicated and confusing rules. Unfortunately, that's exactly what this ALEC model bill is intended to do — confuse voters and suppress the vote." 

The good news is that the group has grown too extreme, even for some of its (now former) backers.

Late last month, the national group Think Progress disclosed that General Motors and Walgreens had both decided to stop giving ALEC money.  

"This brings the total to 30 corporations and four nonprofits — 34 total private sector members — that have cut ties to the right-wing corporate bill mill," reported the group PR Watch, which sheds light on corporate stealth and other attempts to thwart grassroots democracy. 

All of which indicates that, contrary to popular wisdom, there really can be too much of a bad thing.