NYT shines light on ALEC and The Big Money Behind State Laws

For years, AAJ has been following the shady backroom dealings of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  AAJ released a report in May 2010 detailing how ALEC has been ghostwriting the law for big business on behalf of oil, drug, asbestos and insurance interests. Today, The New York Times shines an additional light on ALEC’s activities in an editorial:

The American Legislative Exchange Council was founded in 1973 by the right-wing activist Paul Weyrich; its big funders include Exxon Mobil, the Olin and Scaife families and foundations tied to Koch Industries. Many of the largest corporations are represented on its board.

ALEC has written model legislation on a host of subjects dear to corporate and conservative interests, and supporting lawmakers have introduced these bills in dozens of states. A recent study of the group’s impact in Virginia showed that more than 50 of its bills were introduced there, many practically word for word.

One important point to add to the editorial is the considerable amount of work ALEC has done to tear down the civil justice system around the country.  As AAJ’s report highlights, ALEC legislation is exclusively written to provide immunity for its corporate sponsors by eliminating the right of consumers and employees to hold negligent corporations accountable.  In fact, ALEC has had a hand in legislation protecting a wide range of corporate interests from big oil companies to chemical manufacturers to Wall Street banks.

Recent anti-civil justice system legislation promoted by ALEC includes a bill introduced in Idaho earlier this year that is solely designed to protect Crown Holdings Incorporated’s bottom line by closing the courthouse doors to workers and their families who suffered the devastating effects of asbestos exposure.

Another bill sold as a “jobs creation bill” in Wisconsin would grant immunity to certain drugs and medical devices manufacturers.   The bill does not require the manufacturer to move to Wisconsin and operate there; it just makes it so injured Wisconsin citizens cannot seek justice.   In fact, despite Michigan having a law like the one proposed, in 2007 Pfizer closed several facilities and eliminated 2,400 jobs in Michigan.   The Wisconsin drug immunity bill (LRB 2890) mimics the ALEC “Drug Liability Act.

ALEC’s efforts to weaken the civil justice system have not gone unnoticed.  Last week, Minn. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed four tort reform bills and publicly suggested that three of the bills were directly inspired by ALEC.   He said, “I've found that Minnesotans don't want their laws written by lobbyists for big corporations.”  The Arizona Republic also highlighted in an article that a tort reform bill in the Arizona Senate is based off of ALEC model legislation.

As The New York Times points out, Americans have the right to know who is actually behind legislation that is aimed at limiting their rights:

Lawmakers who eagerly do ALEC’s bidding have much to answer for. Voters have a right to know whether the representatives they elect are actually writing the laws, or whether the job has been outsourced to big corporate interests.

Be sure to read AAJ’s report, Ghostwriting the Law for Corporate America, to learn more about ALEC.