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UP #374 – ALEC Conference Part 3 // Where Corporations Are People Too

Unlike other political organizations of locally elected public officials, corporations, business associations, and think tanks are full voting ALEC members, referred to as the private-interest partners.

From talking to one private-interest member, the cost of joining ALEC is just over $1,000 but to vote in one of ALEC’s task forces that make policies, the cost goes above $3,000. I suspect that a higher contribution allows for greater participation: sort of a pay-to-play model. However, no fee schedule was available. I believe that a dozen corporations paid $50,000 a piece to just sponsor ALEC’s conference, and that another 42 paid at least $10,000 for that privilege.

While I could not attend ALEC’s task force meetings where corporations vote, I saw how corporations participated in ACCE’s meeting. There were five private-sector representatives at the initial orientation meeting of 15 attendees: two represented tobacco interests, including one from RJ Reynolds Tobacco, two bail bond interests, and one from the Americans for Progressive Bag Alliance, the folks who fight plastic bag bans. Some weren’t actually from corporations but lawyers servicing those businesses. At no time did I count more than 7 private sector members at a meeting, and they were always out numbered two to one by the public sector members.

All ALEC task forces, and ACCE in this case, have two co-chairs, one from the private sector and one from the public sector. At our meeting, they were Nicholas Wachinski, an attorney and former director of the American Bail Coalition, and a self-declared Democrat. The other was Mayor John Harkins of Stratford, Connecticut, and former Connecticut House Republican Caucus Chairman.

Over the two days of ACCE meetings, there were never more than 30 people in attendance. Forty-two had registered for the ACCE conference, which was held simultaneously with the ALEC meeting, sharing breakfasts and lunch to hear national speakers.

The ACCE panels covered the following topics: streamlining the permitting process as proposed by one councilmember; increasing the use of PVC piping to replace metal piping pitched by a company selling that product; exploring the use of body cameras by the head of the police union, who made an even-handed presentation; the role of federalism as a defense of state preemption laws and stopping unfunded mandates by law professor Rob Natelson; and lobbyists presenting local free-market alternatives to payday loan companies being put out of business by federal consumer protection laws.

Some panels were just business reps pitching their products within the context of promoting more local control to get around federal regulations. However, in the case of preemption, it was a strategy for passing local right to work laws in states that didn’t have those restricting laws. This clearly promoted ALEC’s goal of overturning existing federal or state laws that provided worker or environmental protections in favor of letting the free market control local decision-making. One piece of advice that came from the attorney promoting his services for this approach: don’t mess with public employees right now, they’re too powerful. There are so many other pickings to go after, wait until you have enough political momentum to focus on them.

At the end of the two-day session the ACCE members broke into 4 small task forces to discuss and propose any resolutions for consideration. Two were brought forward and passed. One called for fair competition for city water projects, which was a way of allowing PVC pipes to be included in all bids. It was probably written with the help of the lobbyist promoting his client’s products.

The other motion encouraged ACCE members to push their state legislators to adopt Arizona’s legislation denying cities from passing any plastic bag bans. I pointed out to a member that this didn’t seem to be in alignment with federalism. He said that it was too confusing to have so many different local laws and this was a more pragmatic approach. Federalism went only so far.

Ironically, in the panel discussion on cities passing their own right to work laws, arguments were made that cities should be able to be exempt from state laws that allowed workers to organize for collective bargaining. In this instance, it didn’t matter if many cities had different rules within the same state. That proposal did not come up for a vote.

It takes a majority vote within both the private and public sectors to pass any legislation in ALEC or ACCE. If one sector disagrees with the proposal it does not pass. The public sector moves the motion and the votes are taken.

In this particular instance, the public officials spoke passionately in promoting the plastic bag bans. The corporate representatives were passive. They didn’t need to beat the drum. One public official emphatically said that she did not want local government to pay for inspectors to check on the thickness of bags. The resolution was packaged as protecting retailers and consumer choice and one amendment was added by another public official, “We believe that the free market is the best arbiter for container choice.” He could have added, “and for all other decisions.” (The Center for Media and Democracy has previously documented how public officials have been scripted by the ALEC private sector to take the lead in the debate over the bills sought by the private sector, as part of ALEC’s PR claims that the public sector is driving the legislation.)

Next up, ALEC’s targeted enemies.

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