We are beginning to become aware of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and all that can be said is that it is better late than never. When the Supreme Court Injustices voted in favor of Citizens United it actually may have done a huge favor to the general public as it may have been the decision that brought ALEC to the forefront after having been working in stealth for over three decades.
What people may, or may not, be aware of is the significance ALEC has played in the tearing down of Democratic ideals within our nation's fabric. Even the Citizens United decision was in large part due to the workings of the organization. Prior to that decision Injustices Scalia and Thomas were guests of ALEC at one of their three annual conferences. Thomas was a guest speaker with all expenses paid. If an organization will go to the lengths of influencing Supreme Court Injustices just where do they draw the line?
A prime example of how they work can be seen in the State of Wisconsin where newly elected Scott Walker, an alum of ALEC, was recently elected into the office of Governor.
One of the first things Walker did upon taking over as Governor was to rush a package of tort reform measure through that were lifted from the ALEC playbook. This was known as Act2 and was the first bill Walker signed into law on January 27, 2011.
ALEC's model bills, written by corporations who pay dearly for the right. They are brief and simply give "talking points" that need to be expanded into those hundreds of pages that it is hoped nobody will actually read. Such is the case with Act 2 which adopts parts of the ALEC "Punitive Damages Standards Act", limiting the ability to hold corporations accountable for outrageous acts of negligence or recklessness causing injury or death. It draws liberally from the ALEC "Product Liability Act", giving corporations free rein to manufacture defective products or products with insufficient warnings about hazards. A corporation can now escape liability in Wisconsin by showing that the product it manufactured complied with existing regulations, even if the corporation knew the product was dangerous, a standard drawn from the ALEC "Regulatory Compliance Congruity with Liability Act" and "Product Liability Act". Wisconsin Act 2 also draws from elements of the ALEC "Comparative Fault Act" and "Joint and Several Liability Act" in changing the standards for apportioning fault in a product liability lawsuit. The law also extends liability protections to the nursing home industry (which supported him in the election), using ALEC bills such as the "Non-Economic Damage Awards Act", limiting awards in cases involving long term health care providers to $750,000 (an increase from the ALEC $250,000 cap) or the amount awarded in economic damages. Act 2 also adopts the ALEC "Reliability in Expert Testimony Standards Act", making it much harder for people to qualify as experts by adopting federal rules favored by corporations.
Passage of the bill was promptly lauded by ALEC in a press release. Walker had begun paying back corporations who put him in office.
A wide array of firms have an interest in pushing this type of legislation. The law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon is the corporate co-chair of ALEC's "Civil Justice Task Force." The firm represents tobacco companies and big pharmaceutical companies who have a specific interest in suppressing the public's right to sue. In addition, Altria/Phillip Morris, Pfizer, Bayer, R.J. Reyolds, PhRMA, GlaxoSmithKline, and Koch Industries all serve on ALEC's corporate Private Enterprise Board. In Wisconsin, pharmaceutical manufacturers and insurance companies lobbied on behalf of the bill, as did Koch Industries. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, pharmaceutical firms gave Scott Walker $48,710 in 2009-2010, and KochPAC kicked in $43,000 for Walker, along with $1 million from the Republican Governors Association, which was a big player in the Wisconsin race. Not to mention independent expenditures by David Koch's Americans for Prosperity group, which spent millions in the governor's race and subsequently in defense of Walker's agenda.
As though Act 2 was not enough, it was but the beginning. On May 23, 2011, Governor Walker signed into law one of the bills he requested, a radical deregulation of the telecommunications industry in Wisconsin. Under the bill, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) could no longer set telecommunication rates to keep prices low for consumers, perform audits of providers, or investigate consumer complaints. It is prohibited from regulating data services such as high speed Internet.
The law strips away 50 years of consumer protection for landline telephone subscribers. It guts the PSC's authority to regulate rates of basic phone service in areas with little or no competition. The Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy group, opposed the action. "We're very worried that customers who have no choice in landline service will see either very high rates for that service or see that service disappear," Charlie Higley, the board's executive director, said in a May 24 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article on the manner.
The bill follows ALEC's "Regulatory Modernization Act" which prohibits any commission from regulating rates and charges, terms and conditions of services, mergers or acquisitions and more. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, in 2009 and 2010, the telecommunications industry gave Walker $87,822 between 2007-2011, and others received funds from ALEC member corporations.
Walker recently named former state Rep. Phil Montgomery chair of the Public Service Commission. Montgomery was ALEC's "Legislator of the Year" in 2005 and formerly headed ALEC's Telecommunication and Information Technology Task Force's Subcommittee on Competition. AT & T serves on ALEC's corporate "Private Enterprise governing board" and lobbied hard for the bill in Wisconsin, along with other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, another ALEC member.
Then there was the "raping' of public unions, namely the teachers' union. Here, again, he took from the ALEC playbook and introduced the radical bill Wisconsin Act 10, that is designed to cripple public employee unions. Here, though, he made a couple of exceptions, the unions of the firefighters and police, because they supported his election campaign.
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