ALEC and Maine's 125th Legislature

Posted Wednesday, April 25, 2012 in Politics

ALEC and Maine's 125th Legislature

by Gina Hamilton

In the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, most Americans became aware of the existence of a 40-year-old shadowy think tank called ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — and the extent to which this organization is changing the laws under which we all live, and in some cases, sadly, die.

ALEC, on its website, claims to be for limited government, but also claims it is non-partisan. In fact, it is entirely dominated by the GOP and by corporate interests. And right now, ALEC is losing much of that corporate sponsorship.

One of the bills it sponsored was the so-called "Stand Your Ground" legislation in Florida and in two dozen other states, which is known by other names — "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will" — by its opponents. Strongly supported by the National Rifle Association and gun-manufacturing lobbies, as well as the militia movement, and passed into law over the strong opposition of law enforcement, Stand Your Ground was the law that seemingly allowed George Zimmerman to go free after he stalked and killed an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. National outcry was intense, Zimmerman was finally charged this month with second-degree murder, and Americans learned about ALEC, which had created the model legislation from which Florida's bill was crafted.

ALEC prefers operating in the shadows, and being exposed to this sort of negative scrutiny was not only uncomfortable, it was unhealthy for ALEC's bottom line. Corporations started dropping ALEC like a bad habit. Most of them had joined ALEC for very narrow reasons anyway, such as opposition to bottle laws or snack taxes or tobacco laws or some other business-related issue. Now, in their own self-interest, they really couldn't be seen to be supporting laws like Stand Your Ground. ALEC responded to the onslaught of bad press by disbanding its task force that dealt with non-economic issues, such as voter-identification and gun laws. So far, though, the dozen or so corporations that fled ALEC show no interest in returning.

But the damage was done. Although there are many corporations and organizations and state and federal legislators who are sticking with ALEC, a well-organized campaign is encouraging those remaining to leave. And ALEC is crying foul, and begging conservative bloggers to support it. But as people become more aware of some of ALEC's  legislation, it will be harder to coax fiscal conservatives who aren't already discounted by the majority for being strong social conservatives back into the ALEC fold, so to speak.

In the meantime, ALEC, which is essentially a lobbying organization for its member corporations, may now be in trouble with the IRS, because it is registered as a charity. What it is doing is not charitable, however, and since the IRS 501(c)3 rules specifically forbid lobbying or partisan politics, ALEC may soon find itself paying back an awful lot of money ... money it increasingly doesn't have as its corporations bail on it. It does still count among its donors (really guiding lights) the Koch brothers, and their pockets are fairly deep. But ALEC's secret power seems to be under a much brighter ray of sunlight now, and even the Koch brothers may find themselves scrambling for the cover of the nearest rock.

Because ALEC is such a shadowy organization, it is often difficult to get reliable information about who in Maine is a supporter or member. Indeed, lack of transparency is part of the problem with the organization, and part of the way it operates. To the best knowledge available, here are the members and supporters of this "non-partisan" organization in Maine's Legislature.

ALEC state chairs:

Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport

Ann Robinson, lobbyist at Preti-Flaherty, co-chair of LePage transition team


Known current members:

Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden

Rep. James M. Hamper, R-Oxford

Rep. R. Ryan Harmon, R-Palermo

Sen. Brian D. Langley, R-Ellsworth

Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden

Sen. Christopher W. Rector, R-Thomaston

Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport

Rep. Carol Weston, R-Montville, former ALEC state chair


In addition, the following current members of the Maine Legislature have served as lead sponsors of ALEC-linked bills:

Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples

Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon

Rep. Joyce Fitzpatrick, R-Houlton

Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn

Rep. Aaron Libby, R-North Waterboro

Sen. Garret Mason, R-Lisbon Falls

Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham

Rep. Wesley Richardson, R-Warren

Sen. Roger Sherman, R-Houlton

Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough

Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner

Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough

Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway

The various ALEC-written or supported bills that have been been introduced in the 125th Legislature can be found here. They include LD 199, the Voter ID bill, which was tabled this session (but may rear its ugly head before election time), and the same-day-registration bill, which was overturned by a people's veto last year. There are scores of bills that would pay taxpayer money for private education. There was a bill, ultimately defeated, that would allow Maine to use private prisons. There were bills that overturned workers' rights. There were bills that allow concealed firearms. There was a bill that restricted abortion. There was a bill that set a cap on safety-net support. There were bills that changed Maine's health-insurance laws. There are bills that will affect the environmental laws on the books in Maine.

None of these bills were written by the people who are being paid our taxpayer dollars to write them. They were lifted from templates written by a national think tank, whose funds come almost entirely from major corporations. None of them took into account Maine's own unique history or legal precedence. How could they? They were being written for the bottom line of corporations, many of which don't even have a presence in our state.

This is a strong reminder that elections have consequences. The real question is, did Mainers mean to sign their government over to the highest corporate bidder in the last election? And will they have changed their minds by November?

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