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05/04/2006 The Lying (and the Buying) of the Right



Thursday, May 04, 2006

You're being bamboozled. That's the underlying message of an important new report from The Institute on Money in State Politics and top-notch reporting from Cleveland's alternative Free Times. The trade associations, special interests, and front groups of the right literally will lie through their teeth to prevent honest citizens and journalists from understanding how the government is really operating. Today's top two stories in this Dispatch look at these events.

The shameful behavior of the right in these incidents is only one more reason why government reform to fight corruption is so necessary. A week from tomorrow, with our allies, we are hosting the Cleaning Up Our Statehouses Conference in Concord, NH. Make sure to check out the event and register -- it's free -- to attend.

Finally, be sure to check below for two new features: "Research Roundup" -- a collection of recent reports of interest to state policymakers -- and "Beltway v. Reality" -- a look at how Washington, D.C., thinking ignores real-world progressive solutions.

Thanks,
Matt Singer, Progressive States Network

Strengthening-Communities

Ohio: ALEC Says, "It Wasn't Me!"

The Cleveland Free Times takes a long, hard look at the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) operating methods in Ohio. As usual, it ain't pretty. The right-wing, corporate-funded network of state legislators is exposed quite thoroughly.

The usual facts about ALEC are all there: the fact that corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars for access to the organization, that the companies in question "includ[e] household names like Pfizer, Philip Morris Management Corp., Proctor & Gamble Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., United Parcel Service and Verizon Communications." The story even got a representative of the National Conference of State Legislatures to say that ALEC's policy is developed "with, and for, the business community," something that no publicly-backed legislative policy organization would think of doing.

One of ALEC's most telling aspects also gets revealed in this story: the extent to which they are willing to lie to avoid scrutiny. The bill that prompted this article was a bill written to ensnare mainstream conservation organizations under eco-terrorism laws.

Needless to say, activists were outraged. And they started digging. Like so many heinous bills, what they found with their research as an organization called ALEC.

They called out the sponsor of the legislation, State Senator Jeff Jacobson, "and made a public records request demanding the names of those who'd been given input." As a result, Jacobson told a local paper that the bill was ALEC legislation.

But the next day, Jacobson recanted. He should not have mentioned ALEC, he told the Daily News. Instead, he should have said that the provision was based on a measure introduced in Arizona. A little digging by SERC revealed that even the Arizona bill had ALEC fingerprints all over it � and had also surfaced in the state legislatures of New York, South Carolina and Washington.

In its promotional literature, ALEC claims to introduce hundreds of bills every year and get many of them passed. Oddly, asked for specific examples, the organization is reticent. And even in cases like this where the ALEC connection gets admitted, lawmakers get pressured to backslide.

ALEC's members, leaders, and corporate backers like to claim that it's just a normal public policy group. Normal public policy outfits don't hide from scrutiny.

More Resources

Strengthening-Communities

Private Prisons Steer Money to Influence Sentencing Laws

The Institute on Money in State Politics, a tireless group of people who compile campaign finance data for all fifty states and regularly report national trends, have a new report "Policy Lock-Down: Prison Interests Court Political Players" looking at the $3.3 million private prison companies have donated to state-level actors in the last two election cycles.

The report specifically notes:

Analysis of campaign contributions made to state-level candidates and political parties also reveals that private-prison interests: [...] Concentrated their giving on legislative candidates who, if elected, act on state budgets and sentencing laws. These candidates received almost half of the money given to candidates � slightly more than $1 million.

So the priority is budgets and people who determine sentencing? This will come as no shock to anyone who has studied the origin of strict sentencing laws in America. As Nathan Newman noted in "Governing the Nation From the Statehouses: ":

For two decades, ALEC has been a driving force in lobbying for legislation to hand over prisons to corporate management, with 95,000 inmates in at least 31 states or 6.5% of all prisoners in private prisons, two-thirds of them in prisons run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of ALEC's leading corporate sponsors. Seven states place more than one-fifth of their prison population in corporate-run prisons.

ALEC also pushed heavily for "tough on crime" legislation. Amazingly, ALEC's task force responsible for this legislation was chaired for a time by CCA. In other words, this private prison company steers big contributions to legislators responsible for budgetary and sentencing decisions and also lobbies hard for private prison legislation and harsher sentencing laws.

Ironically, after costs skyrocketed due to harsher sentencing laws (prisoners being held for longer=higher costs), companies like CCA take advantage of the situation by pushing privatization as the way to respond to the increased costs. When it comes to picking the pockets of the public for the purpose of private plunder, few had it down to as smooth of a science as CCA and their competitors in the private prison industry.

More Resources

Valuing-Families

TX: Cleaning Up the School Finance Mess

Facing state Supreme Court decisions demanding both equitable financing of public schools and reforms to the state property tax, the special session in the Lone Star State accomplished one big item of business yesterday -- reforming the bizarre loophole-ridden state franchise tax and actually applying it to a broad range of businesses, thereby lowering the rate but also raising $3.4 billion when it starts in 2008.

Burnt Orange Report, a Texas community blog, has been following the ins and outs of the multiple bills piling up and do raise cautions that the new tax still gives special tax breaks to the restaurant, banking, oil and real estate industries and, if other bills being debated are passed, won't solve school funding problems and could starve districts of property tax revenue.

If Texas was ready to move forward on real broad-based reform, they should have been reading the recommendations of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, including enacting a personal income tax that could raise enough revenue in a fair way that could actually finance social needs like education.

More Resources

Research Roundup

Urban Revitalization, Toxics Security, and Wal-Mart Banking

Revitalizing existing existing urban areas is a key part of achieving energy independence for our country —and two new reports, "Federal Policy Ideas for Community Revitalization" from the Northeast-Northwest Institute and Unleashing the Potential of American Cities" from the Brookings Institute give local planners new tools for pursuing that goal.

If you worry that toxic chemical plants near your home are a target for terrorism, a new report on "Preventing Toxic Terrorism" gives the good news that hundreds of facilities have switched to less hazardous processes, but also the bad news that thousands of other facilities remain unchanged and still threaten our communities – and government have yet to act to require less hazardous conditions.

With Wal-Mart attempting to take over your local banking industry, a Financial Policy Forum report, Industrial Loan Banks: Regulatory Loopholes As Big As A Wal-Mart, will give you the intellectual ammunition to understand why allowing unregulated commercial entities into the banking sector is bad for the economy.

Beltway v. Reality

Real Solutions on Immigration

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that with the federal government failing to act on immigration issues, states are taking the lead. Unfortunately, the Post quickly turns the article into the same tired dichotomy of bills either "get[ting] tough" or "making life easier" for immigrants -- failing to consider whether any of the measures actually solve the problem.

Other publications haven't had this problem. As the Los Angeles Times reported recently and as we and our allies have been repeating to anyone who will listen -- when "LA began to enforce existing industrial laws more than other major cities", along with other factors, "they deflected about 1 million Mexican immigrants away from the L.A. region." They solved the immigration problem without demonizing immigrants, without spending billions building fences or attempting to deport, and while protecting wages and employment conditions for all workers. Other states, the federal government, and the Washington Post would all be wise to pay heed to the lessons of Los Angeles.

More Resources

Ohio: ALEC Says, "It Wasn't Me!"

Cleveland Free Times, "Capitalists' Tools: The American Legislative Exchange Council Helps Ohio Republicans Sell Out to Big Business"
Progressive States Network, "Governing the Nation From the Statehouses: The Rightwing Agenda in the States and How Progressives Can Fight Back"

Private Prisons Steer Money to Influence Sentencing Laws

The Institute on Money in State Politics, "Policy Lock-Down: Prison Interests Court Political Players"
AFSCME, "Prison Privatization Links"
Catholic Bishops of the South, "Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization"
Progressive States Network, "Governing the Nation From the Statehouses: The Rightwing Agenda in the States and How Progressives Can Fight Back"

TX: Cleaning Up the School Finance Mess

Center for Public Policy Priorities, "Texas Trilogy on Public Education and Taxes"
Burnt Orange Report, "Special Session Coverage"

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In Today's Dispatch:

Strengthening-Communities

Ohio: ALEC Says, "It Wasn't Me!"

Beltway v. Reality

Real Solutions on Immigration

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Eye on the Right

Today, we tell you both that ALEC is willing to lie to cover its tracks in Ohio and document yet another case of corporations buying public policy through the private prison industry. But don't accuse America's largest private prison company of pay-to-play. Humorously, when Wyoming's Casper Star-Tribune reported the facts -- that CCA oversaw ALEC's task force recommending stiffer sentencing laws -- they drew a quick response from CCA, claiming that CCA does not believe that mandatory sentencing laws help their business. CCA's lobbyists, executives, and directors contributed over $1 million to state level officials in 36 states in the last four years. For an organization that doesn't believe legislative influence matters, they sure pay for a lot of it.

Upcoming Events

May 8 | NYC, NY
Holding Corporations Accountable for Their Fair Share of Employee Health Care Costs

New York's Drum Major Institute for Public Policy hosts Maryland Senator Gloria Gary Lawlah, author of the Fair Share Health Care bill. Join her for breakfast and a discussion of health care reform. RSVP Required.

May 10 | NYC, NY
Campaign '06: The Year of the Hostile Takeover

Author and Progressive States Co-chair David Sirota, a veteran political strategist and Capitol Hill operative, has released a new book called Hostile Takeover showing how political corruption is creating policies that are intensifying America's middle-class squeeze. Co-sponsored by Progressive States and the Drum Major Institute. More details to follow.

May 12 | Concord, NH
Cleaning Up Our Statehouses

Join Progressive States and co-hosts for lunch and a conversation on state legislative strategies for government reform. Registration Required.

Internships

Progressive States' policy department is looking for interns for Summer 2006. We're looking for students interested in public service with experience in policy advocacy or community organizing. For details, visit the Jobs & Internships Page.

Suggestions

Please shoot me an email at msinger@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch