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Corporate Interests Imposed On State Law/Drafts With Veto Power 'Worth King's Ransom' to Whole Crowd of Corporate PowersOp Ed by Henry Clay Ruark for Salem-News.com
While Legislator Members Paid Little, Reaped Political Benefits - ALEC Participants from Oregon Legislature.
(SEASIDE, Ore.) - (Major portions of this three-part report are drawn directly from the original Special Investigation by the American Associates for Justice exposing ALEC first released in May 2010. See sidebar for full detail, link to original for download. Part one: here)
For nearly forty years (since '73), by brazen manipulation, a large crowd of corporations have been imposing their private and very commercial interests on state laws set up for enactment by legislators from every one of our states. In three work-sessions yearly, some 1000 "model bills" are mutually created by this system, with 20% becoming law.
For this imperious privilege to shape and define developing law covering issues, problems, actions, permissions and public behaviors, these corporate perpetrators have paid --and now continue to pay- what the AAJ describes as "a king's ransom", as well as a whole range of fees and charges.
One priceless private-side right is retained and sometimes exercised: Corporate and private-interest participants can veto any bill-developed, on its way to full dialog by ALEC task forces or at the end of that process.
If a corporation participates in any of the ten task forces, additional fees apply, for $2,500 to $10,000. ALEC also receives direct grants from corporations, such as $1.4 million from Exxon-Mobil for the period 1998-2009. It is a process which has now become well-known since the AAJ courageous, probing investigation as "ghostwriting the law" --and some of the consequences coming directly from those distorted and perverted laws can only now be described as ghastly. (See examples from the AAJ original investigative report, linked in our sidebar story.)
More than eighty percent of ongoing costs for the ALEC system demanded for this despicable scam on Constitutional provisions for our carefully-separated legal system is paid directly for corporate membership. For "a seat at the table", those corporations each pay a minimum of $7,000 to $10,000.
To sponsor an ALEC meeting event, others must pony up $50,000 -- and many also pay special fees and other costs for the lavish lay-outs and lush lashings common to all such events when corporate-funded for "persuasive" purposes.
Only 1.3% is supplied --most charged to state expense accounts-- by legislators carefully recruited (read: chosen) from each one of our states. Republicans overwhelm the membership list and hold nearly every lead-role in committees and the task forces.
Those legislators, many of whom serve part-time on a small stipend and without legislative staff, pay only a nominal $50-$200 fee for a 2-year membership.
Many cover their travel costs and working expenses via charges on state accounts, thus using taxpayer dollars for the travel/expenses which make ALEC a working institution.
It is understood legislators found themselves unprepared and unready, in recent years, to produce the level and quality of legislative development demanded under overwhelming modern conditions; but ALEC has operated "successfully" ever since 1973.
Although the organization was formed in the early 70's it did not gain political traction until Ronald Reagan appointed ALEC members to his administration and gave the group credibility.
Over those many years it has become entirely obvious, as AAJ's report states, that the relationship between public and private sector members is simple and symbiotic: Legislators receive vacations, dinners, and prepackaged model legislation that they can take home and introduce in their sessions without the burden of researching and writing, while corporations get open access to friendly legislators who are willing to act as corporate handmaidens to ensure that corporate perks keep rolling.
ALEC is still currently providing an easy --even if manipulative-- mechanism for meetings devoted to its tested-and-proven protocol of sophisticated "closed-door and no press" drafting of new legislation. Highly respected public-interest journalists and their working staff were barred from attendance at the last ALEC session in New Orleans. (See "Secretive Corporate-Legislative Group ALEC Holds Annual Meeting to Rewrite State Laws"; Tuesday 9 August 2011 by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now.)
The ongoing work at ALEC is set up in ten essential-issue groups, each charged to produce research, reports and model legislation --with counsel, advice and full -sometimes insistent-- "support" from corporate and private interests "at the table". welcomed as "colleagues working in unison."
But it becomes obvious where the power lies when essentially unprepared legislators must compete head to head with the sharpest brains in the corporate world, surely well-focused, with unlimited research-in-advance resources, and the off-table counsel of corporate law firms and advertising/communication gurus.
(For full lists of corporate and private-interest gurus participating over the years check out website Alex Exposed - Alex Exposed.)
The essential "contribution" these "colleagues" make is providing the structure of the "model" legislative statement itself, including its grammar, the words making up its content, and the supporting definitions, defining the "legislative necessities" cited for this major effort to develop a new law.
For anyone skilled in work with language, the infinite possibilities thus opened for strong corporate/private interest is completely obvious --and worth that "king's ransom and other costs.
The task force areas of activity are Civil Justice, Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development, Education. Health and Human Services, International Relations, Natural Resources, Public Safety and Elections, Tax and Fiscal Policy, Telecommunications and Information Technology.
The "secret" --secretized only among the leading groups involved in this mechanism-- is to shape such legislation from the moment its concept is born right on through until final passage at the State Legislatures affected by adoption.
As you may have guessed, this whole process soon became Koch-inized and has been heavily "facilitated" and supported by a massive working investment from corporate and private/business sponsors, donors, and gift-givers ever since, in more ways than we can list and explore in this space.
ALEC has also received grants from some of the biggest foundations funded by corporate CEOs in the country, such as: the Koch family Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Scaife family Allegheny Foundation, the Coors family Castle Rock Foundation, to name a few.
Nowadays corporate and private-interest well-experienced "leadership" has learned how to get that key job done --writing the actual working text of new laws-- far more effectively than ever before.
All that is needed is the equivalent of that "hidden tunnel" we heard described by a wealthy lobbyist-veteran, early on --and this one has been "hidden" right out there in the public eye ever since 1973.
The working results are now firmly embedded across the nation in much that state legislatures have seemingly accomplished --ever since '73 !-- with much deeper involvement in the actual construction of current law than was commonly known.
Only in recent months has the institution, the process and protocol and the history become widely known, with some earlier reports, the work of the AAJ, and with intriguing continuing detail at the website ALEC EXPOSED.
It is that basic process of shaping and stating the new legislation which determines any impacts of a new law. That's what has been under way ever since '73, under cover of a very cozy relationship with those whose assistance is eagerly provided by special interests mostly representing corporate and private business.
Nothing as extensive, effective and comprehensive has ever before been devoted to a direct attack aiming to influence the actual development process of the broadly recognized foundations of our American system of laws --the 50 individual states, each with its own needs, demands and development process set up by our Constitution via the state legislatures.
That was the unique opportunity recognized by those who have conceived this now-institutional system, endowed it with the strong organization demanded, and overseen its constant steady growth through all these years --always with the major objective of injecting corporate and private interest impacts on this key legislative process.
You can be sure that there now exists a tremendous stock of state law directly affected --some will state "distorted, perverted"-- by that influence.
THAT doth not happen, even in our demeaning and degenerating system, without the strong intervention of some very elite/select participants.
You can also be sure that in every state and nationally this entire sorry incident is being most carefully investigated in full detail.
We will explore that part of our story in this continuing series.
At 21, Henry Clay Ruark was Aroostook Editor for the Bangor, Maine DAILY NEWS, covering the upper 1/4 of the state. In the ‘40s, he was Staff Correspondent, then New England Wires Editor at United Press-Boston; later Editor for the Burlington, Vermont 3-daily group owned by Wm. Loeb, later notorious at Manchester, New Hampshire UNION LEADER for attacks on Democratic Presidential candidates.
Hank returned to Oregon to complete M. Ed. degree at OSU, went on to Indiana University for Ed.D. (abd) and special other course-work; was selected as first Information Director for NAVA in Washington, D.C.; helped write sections of NDEA, first Act to supply math, science, foreign language consultants to state depts. of education; joined Oregon Dept. of Education, where he served as NDEA administrator/Learning Media Consultant for ten years.
He joined Dr. Amo DeBernardis at PCC, helping establish, extend programs, facilities, Oregon/national public relations; moved to Chicago as Editor/Publisher of oldest educational-AV journal, reformed as AV GUIDE Magazine; then established and operated Learning Media Associates as general communications consultant group. Due to wife’s illness, he returned to Oregon in 1981, semi-retired, and has continued writing intermittently ever since, joining S-N in 2004. His Op Eds now total over 650 written since then.
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