Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ALEC New Mexico - Anti-Democracy in the High Desert

 A Glimpse at the work of National ALEC

There has been no shortage of comments about ALEC on the national stage once enough of the organization's "pet projects" were collected and publicized.  As usual, the most egregious examples were the first to be cast into the light.  However, ALEC prefers to routinely operate as quietly and invisibly as possible.  It is the ultimate "back room" operation with just enough visible connections to succeed in accomplishing its reactionary goals amid a literal "army" of connections and associations in the background to provide the cash and enjoy the profits.  

Just a few ALEC's accomplishments in states under Republican control will sound familiar enough, but hidden just below the radar, we see a veritable cloud of similar antics now passed into law everywhere the opportunity materialized after the 2010 election.

ALEC = State Laws Against Abortion Rights Established Under Roe vs. Wade

ALEC = State Stand Your Ground Laws in 22 states

ALEC = State Voter Suppression by Registration and ID Laws

ALEC = Ending State Law Requiring Equal Pay for Women

ALEC advertises itself as a bipartisan organization which assists state legislators with bills which will benefit its corporate sponsors.  It isn't actually bipartisan, of course, it has an almost purely Republican membership.  There are one of two Really Stinky Blue Dog Democrats who routinely participate in ALEC's anti-democracy activities at the national level.

Although these so-called Democrats pay serious attention to being essentially invisible in ALEC's legislative moves, their association is revealed in legislation they sponsor.

In fact, ALEC is notable for this same kind of "invisibility."  The organization just bumped along below the radar until the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.  One defense bandied about for the shooter was derived from the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law.  This particular bit of legalized savagery was introduced in the Florida legislature by Republicans who got the text for the law from an ALEC conference.  The law was supplied to the ALEC conference by the executives of the national NRA who also provided staff to assist the legislators.

The law's journey after this beginning was well lubricated by financing from the corporate arms manufacturers and a small collection of 2nd Amendment crazies.

This basic story has been repeated in most of the states which emerged from the tea bag explosion of 2010 with a Republican take over of the Governor's mansion and both the respective state Senate and House.  In the most egregious cases, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, the corruption also spread to the state Supreme Courts.  

In these cases citizens found themselves with absolutely no Constitutional capacity to slow or stop the cascade of regressive ALEC legislative proposals which began to flow immediately.  MeanMesa must also note that this dismal predicament was made possible primarily by voters who did not vote in the 2010 election.  A rabid, semi-literate minority took charge.  Worse, it was a minority which had been carefully groomed by massive corporate financing and an utterly lurid, anti-democratic cabal of drooping evangelical, wing nut theocrats and an ugly batch of thinly disguised law firms such as Freedom Works -- along with an unsavory collection of millionaires and billionaires thrown in for good measure.

Commenting much more about ALEC's national priorities would amount to "water over the bridge," but MeanMesa is determined to prowl around a bit in the other side of the story -- the hidden side.  The outrages in Wisconsin and Virginia may be tasty headline material, but what about all the little creepy moves which have been made elsewhere across the country?

ALEC in New Mexico

New Mexico didn't take the plunge found in tea bag territory.  Yes, the state elected a Republican Governor -- a previously failed Democrat who attempted her elevation to "better things" while being a prosecutor.  Martinez found plenty more campaign contributors once she changed parties.  Further, she enjoyed the passing advantage of replacing a popular Democrat whose feet began turning to clay very quickly after he left office.

The State House and Senate remained in Democratic control after the 2010 race, although Democratic majorities decreased.  Unlike states where Republicans took control across the board, New Mexico maintained a Congressional Democratic presence at the national level and a generally respected State Supreme Court.

Further, unlike states where Republicans and ALEC were very interested in gaining a position from which they could launch another one of their predictable State Treasury "looting festivals," New Mexico has never been rich.  Of course, there were a few "jewels" which would catch ALEC's fancy, but much of the nut case evangelical parts faltered in the face of a long standing domination by the Catholic Church.

So what was left for the ALEC vultures in the high desert?

Although a MeanMesa visitor might, at first, assume that ALEC and its local Republican representatives would have encountered "slim pickin's" as they sized up the looting possibilities from such a poor place, it turns out that this is not the case.  This post is about what bills ALEC folks jammed through the State Government.  They are not exactly what one would expect, but the distinctive smell is still all around it.

The following list names State of New Mexico bills which were initially composed by ALEC legislative experts, handed to Republican New Mexico State lawmakers at ALEC "Conferences" and then introduced in the New Mexico legislature. What is shown below is the result of research done by The Center for Media and Democracy -- ALEC Exposed.  (Read the entire article here.)

(NOTE: In an effort to peacefully coexist with the mechanics of Blogger, MeanMesa has disabled the superscripted footnote references in this reprint of the source article.  All of this information is in the original research.  Access it by following the link.)

So, what did these bills have to "do" or "be" to show up on the list of ALEC legislation in New Mexico?

The reason they are on the list has a few different sides, each of which is important.  However, first, take a look at the bills.  (Read the entire article here.)

New Mexico

(This page includes tips from reporters, citizens journalists, and others identifying New Hampshire bills (introduced or passed) that resemble ALEC model legislation. CMD encourages the use of this forum and encourages further detailed research to verify all claims.)
  • HB 386 (introduced 2/7/11) "Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts" is similar to ALEC's "Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act"
  • HB 318 (introduced 2/2/11) "Crime of Organized Retail Theft Act" is similar to ALEC's "Organized Retail Theft Act"
  • SB 324 (introduced 1/31/11) "Licensure of Secondhand Metal Dealers" is similar to ALEC's "Responsible Scrap Metal Purchasing and Procurement Act"
  • House Joint Memorial 24 (introduced 1/27/11), "Requesting Governor to Withdraw New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative" is similar to ALEC's "State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives"
  • HB 229 (introduced 1/27/11) "Parental Notice of Abortion Act" is similar to ALEC's "Parental Consent for Abortion Act"
  • HB 105 (introduced 1/19/05) "Income Tax Deduction for Organ Donation" is similar to ALEC's "Organ Donation Tax Deduction Act"

Why ALEC Wants Bills Like These

We mentioned before that ALEC bills have a few revealing "similar" sides to them.  In fact, these "similarities" also explain why a little blog like MeanMesa would take such umbrage with the process and its results.  Let's look at precisely what we mean by these "similarities" because they don't seem to be exactly what we might have expected for routine GOPCon "looting" mischief.

Further, the "most interesting" of all the ideas which reach a legislator's office will almost inevitably have one or more of the following qualities:

1. they will increase the number of favorable votes in the next election
2. they will result in "campaign contributions" from the special interests 
who will benefit from them
3. they will directly benefit either the legislator himself or some of his good friends

...all without seriously screwing up the existing state economy or completely outraging any sizable existing voting block.

1.  The CONTENT of ALEC Bills

Normally, New Mexico elected officials receive letters and phone calls from their constituents requesting or suggesting new legislation that someone or other wanted introduced and passed in the State Legislature.  If these ideas are clearly something which would benefit the State, and if enough of these phone calls and letters arrive at the State Legislator's office, the elected Representative or Senator calls on staff and instructs them to write the proposed legislation.

No one particularly expects legislators to be able to just sit down with a marker and a napkin to rough out a final form with legislative content.

(Chart - MeanMesa)

Right here, we arrive at the first identifying quality of ALEC sponsored bills.  They are not written by legislators or by their staff in a normal way.  Instead, the "template" for the words, terms and text of these bills comes directly from ALEC.

This is the first reason that they have wound up on the list. Because they are clearly and unavoidably so similar to ALEC "templates" that there can be no doubt at all that the content originated there.  In most cases a few "cosmetic" adjustments are introduced to the ALEC form before it moves on to the New Mexico legislature, but usually not many.

2. The ORIGIN of ALEC Bills

As mentioned above, the basic idea of a representational democracy is that State Congressmen, once elected, have a good reason to respond to the needs and wishes of the New Mexicans who elected them.  Further, this is not just a handy "high flung" talking point extracted from a High School Civics text.  Believe it or not, this basic idea should be the "main engine" for legislation in the state's Roundhouse.

However, in the case of ALEC sponsored bills, this basic idea is not in place.  ALEC, in the organization's well financed "conventions" and "conferences," has already usurped this traditional idea of responding to constituents. 

In "think tank bunkers" far from New Mexico a process similar to the traditional idea of representative democracy unfolds -- however, those interests whom are being "represented" are not the constituents of the elected legislators in New Mexico.  Instead, the phone calls, emails and letters received in the "think tank bunker" all come from folks who, well, want something.

Anyone among these folks seeking to be "represented" who might be too timid to actually put his "wishes" in writing, can, of course, just send his lobbyist to do the dirty work.  Publicity-wise, this is very convenient.  The ALEC "go-to" scoundrels need not be prowling around the Roundhouse to accomplish this.  It can all be done very, very quietly at the "everything is on the house" bar at an ALEC "convention."

Although the New Mexico legislators enjoying those free drinks won't be paying anything, New Mexicans back home will be -- once the ALEC "template" becomes State Law.

(Chart - MeanMesa)
An Anecdote About ALEC "Conferences"

(Read this entire Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch here.)

Where Do Donations from Corporations or Corporate Foundations Go?

Campaign CashFor one, they help subsidize legislators' trips to attend ALEC meetings. ALEC has reported to the IRS that it has liabilities of about one million dollars a year for "scholarship funds." These are not scholarships for kids who do well in school; they are financial gifts called "scholarships" to help cover the costs of the family vacations that legislators and their families take to ALEC conventions at resorts every August, after their state legislative sessions end. For these conventions, legislative members are charged a registration fee that is substantially less than what corporate members pay. Some undisclosed number of legislators have their airfare and hotel costs for trips to these posh hotels paid by ALEC. As part of the registration process, legislators can arrange for childcare, which ALEC dubs "Kids Congress," for six-month old babies to teens for $250. ALEC reports that it has spent over $250,000 for childcare for meetings in 2009.

ALEC also spends about $600,000 a year on what it describes as the "recruitment and retention of ALEC State Legislator members." For an organization that claims such devotion to the free market, it is difficult to imagine an ordinary business justification for spending $600,000 to recruit and retain legislative members who only contribute about $80,000 a year in income to ALEC. But plainly, such a lop-sided loss must be covered by other returns on investment. Indeed, ALEC brags about how over 1,000 of its model bills get introduced in statehouses each year, but sticks to its claim that its bill factory does not count as "lobbying."

ALEC's corporate "state chairs" -- companies whose identities are not publicly disclosed by ALEC -- are expected to raise "state scholarship funds" for state legislators to attend ALEC conventions. ALEC's by-laws from 2007 also provide that the legislators who serve as state chairmen have a "duty" to work with the corporate state chairmen "to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative scholarship funds." In other words, select corporations work directly with legislators to raise money from other corporations to subsidize trips for legislators to ALEC events. State chairmen are also tasked with "working to ensure introduction of model legislation." The scholarship funds are apparently essential to ALEC's operations, because most state legislators work as public servants part-time and earn, on average, about $46,000 a year. Without ALEC's subsidy, not as many of them would likely be willing or able to use the ALEC convention as a family trip. But ALEC membership does provide other rewards for legislators. It allows them to rub elbows with rich, out-of-state potential donors to their election campaigns and also to build similar relationships with ALEC's state corporate members.

Right here, we may as well present the list of New Mexico State Senators and Representatives who have "ties" with ALEC -- lots and lots of "R's."  (Note: links are left enabled, but superscripted footnote references have been removed.  These can be found at the link privided.  Read the original article from SourceWatch/ALEC Exposed here.)

New Mexico Legislators with ALEC Ties

House of Representatives


(Image source - Congressional Web Sites)

So, if you're ALEC, and you have a few stinky little laws you would like to impose on the citizens of New Mexico, these are your guys.  More than likely, some of the legislation proposed by these two actually fits into one or more of the traditional reasons State legislators write and sponsor bills at the Roundhouse.  Some (check out the list of "ALEC Template" bills) clearly don't.

In fact, those bills being introduced which "clearly don't" fall into some combination of the three categories of "normal reasons" for a legislator to introduce something still have to come from somewhere.  So, where do they come from?

(Diagram - MeanMesa)

3. What ALEC Bills Are About - Follow the Money

When we see the phrase "follow the money," we usually draw a sigh of relief because we assume that in no time at all, we will be presented with a nicely convincing "smoking gun" to follow it.   Yet, when we look at the list of ALEC "template" bills these two have jumbled through the State Legislature, we just don't see the kind of outrage which we might have, at first, expected.


Yes.  A "legislative outrage" bill would simply hand over all sorts of state concessions to, for example, a corporation as an incentive to move here.  There might be tax breaks, state financed infrastructure, relaxed zoning, and so on.  It turns out that ALEC's think tank bill writing experts are far more sophisticated than this.

However, a single thread runs through just about every idea that can be cooked up by one of ALEC's "back room oligarchs."  Here it is:

"Any money which can be extracted from the State budget anywhere is a plus because, after it reverts back to the General Fund, it can be looted."

For example, when we see Southern states eliminating women's health services, the plan is richly lubricated with "red meat" anti-abortion schemes to further inflame the local evangelical base.  They like it because it kills Roe vs. Wade.  ALEC likes it because it eliminates state funding for women's health clinics.  Whatever money is saved by the change, you guessed it, flows back into the state's general fund where it can be looted later.

Other bills quietly eliminate expensive corporate costs arising from State laws.  Some add or subtract criterion to laws which deliver a benefit to an ALEC sponsor.  Some are "party favors" for single interest groups -- groups which, although they may travel under the furling banners of 2nd Amendment rights and the NRA, are actually the accountants for gun and ammunition manufacturers and marketers.

Done properly, almost no ALEC "template" bill has anything showing which might be a clue as it to its actual purpose.

(Diagram - MeanMesa)

We see the special interests of the oligarch class, each time, cleverly disguised as something else and also, each time, thinly coated with the latest "conservative" agenda element to placate the unthinking, uninformed and uninterested voters.  In fact, those "unthinking, uninformed and uninterested voters" are exactly the ballots these little skunks count on to get re-elected.  When these voters are properly inflamed over issues such as abortion, immigration, gun control (the popular "stand your ground and shoot first" justifiable homicide laws) and dozens of others, they show little interest in looking after their own interests when they cast their ballots.

This is the case across the United States, not just in New Mexico.

ALEC legislation routinely steals from both those who think these laws are great and those who think they are hideous.  It just takes a little longer than the shaky bank robber with the rusty pistol to "seal the deal."

What ColorOfChange is Doing About ALEC

Perhaps the most effective player among the main thrust to expose ALEC and publicize the organization's main contributors has been a relatively new group called ColorOfChange.  Another hero in this battle is Ed Schultz who has generously placed ColorOfChange speakers in front of his national network cameras often in the last months.

To their credit ColorOfChange publicity has already split away some of ALEC's largest corporate sponsors, but don't worry.  There is still a nice bunch of billionaires in ALEC's back room who know a good thing when they see one.  The ColorOfChange bunch knows where to hit something as invisibly grotesque as ALEC -- in the pocket book.

MeanMesa has posted a few links (below) for visitors wishing to read more on this subject.  There is plenty more waiting for you on your Google.

Links for Further Reading About ALEC


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  2. Unelected far right ideologs writing legislation for there political lackeys to submit is un-democratic and dangerous to our legislative process