Ted Simons: The nonprofit center for media and democracy describes itself as an investigative reporting group with a focus on exposing corporate spin and government propaganda. Executive director Lisa Graves joins me to talk about the center's investigation of ALEC.
Lisa Graves: Thanks so much for having us?
Ted Simons: What's the problem that you see with ALEC?
Lisa Graves: They're voting behind closed doors to approve legislation and dramatically change the rights of hardworking tax-paying Americans without input from those members of the community in the ALEC meetings and then they introduce the bills, cleansed of any reference of the fact, that they were pre-approved by corporations.
Ted Simons: The idea of no representation of the public though, they would say, we're an elected lawmaker and we're the public and represent them.
Lisa Graves: It's true they're supposed to represent them and not global corporations not incorporated in their state and didn't vote for them. But the fact is that through global corporations like coke industries and Exxon and other global pharmaceutical companies have undue influence over them.
Ted Simons: Do you have evidence? Are they passing a big shadow, drafting what they heard. That legislation is not drafted at ALEC conferences and in these task forces.
Lisa Graves: In many cases, it's drafted by ALEC corporations and lobbyists and brought to the taskforces and voted on behind closed doors in tables closed to the public's eye and those debates that the representative talked about, they're not open to the public to hear the discussion what the corporations and politicians are talking about the bills, let alone to see the votes side by side on the legislation. If the shoe were reversed and the ACLU or Greenpeace or Sierra Club were voting behind doors, there would be calls from the right that you wouldn't believe.
Ted Simons: How many bills come out of these taskforces, how many wind up at a statehouse?
Lisa Graves: ALEC has bragged over the years that hundreds are introduced every single year. Over 850 bills currently active -- in a database of bills we've marked up and analyzed and brag that hundreds of them are actually passed every year.
Ted Simons: ALEC folks will say that this is basically a think tank. It educates lawmakers and gets a best practice scenario. And if I like what's going on in Missouri or Wyoming, you go ahead and appropriate that for your own benefit. Does that make sense to you?
Lisa Graves: We saw this spring what we call copycat legislation, or McBills, or bills from the bill factory, one size fits all. The same sort of bills to strip worker rights and change the rights of Americans killed or injured by corporations and the same bills to limit the ability of the government to raise income and even expand even virtual schools, those are copycat bills that come through ALEC.
Ted Simons: But the idea -- I'm trying to get to the other view here. Arizona elected a pretty conservative state legislature. ALEC obviously is pro-conservative. You have big business in there, which conservatives are usually in support of. What's wrong with this scenario? It sounds like they're getting together and doing work that they think the people want.
Lisa Graves: One of the things, at least from a moral standpoint, the corporations are underwriting ALEC. 90% of the funding comes from corporations or foundations and underwrite big trips to fancy resorts and get cozy with the legislators and get them to introduce their bills. We've seen the privatization binge that's taken the taxpayers' money and enrich the profits of private companies and then they turn around and underwrite Alec and lobby for more privatization, telling you they're the biggest in the state when it would have been the government.
Ted Simons: So it’s not the just the process, but the fact that the process has led to X, Y, Z.
Lisa Graves: I think there are procedural problems and substantive. Corporations have an extraordinary voice through ALEC, that far exceeds the voices of ordinary Americans and a lot of the bills drafted by corporate lobbyists with little input by citizens and rammed through legislatures without any chance for citizens to amend it. We saw in Wisconsin where the center is where there was little chance for a debate, those bills were ALEC-approved and ratified by ALEC members in the statehouse and signed into law by ALEC governors.
Ted Simons: Is there a liberal flip side version of ALEC?
Lisa Graves: There really is not. There's no corporate counterpart funded by major corporations to push through liberal legislation. It just really does not exist. There have been groups that have tried to come close over the years. But the fact is that ALEC is unique. It does provide a unique voice and ALEC said in its own propaganda to members, ALEC corporations and politicians have an equal voice and vote. That's unique.
Ted Simons: Is ALEC a lobbying enterprise?
Lisa Graves: Common cause filed a letter of investigation with the IRS because ALEC’s bylaws say they're charged with a duty to get these bills introduced in their states and they've bragged how many bills are introduced and passes and provide help, talking points and aid to get the bills passed.
Ted Simons: Do you see ALEC doing something illegal?
Lisa Graves: I think IRS should take that request for an investigation seriously.
Ted Simons: What about the lawmakers?
Lisa Graves: I think what we've seen across the state how lawmakers have changed the state rules to exempt ALEC about the rules about nonprofit funding. In Iowa, every member of the legislature is paid into ALEC as a matter of course. Taxpayers pay the dues in Iowa and other states and allow ALEC to provide scholarships to the politicians to go to the fancy resorts. I couldn't provide that to a politician to come and find out about the law. These legislators have written exemptions in the law to allow them to conduct this business with ALEC.
Ted Simons: Last question here. Do you think ALEC is something that needs investigated in terms of going away, because it's doing something illegal or something that you just want others to realize Arizona voters to know is happening and vote accordingly.
Lisa Graves: I think the American people have the right to know who is writing their laws and which politicians are voting behind closed doors with corporations on bills to radically change the rights of hardworking tax paying Americans. It's a networking tool on steroids.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here.
Lisa Graves: Thank you very much.