Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dark Money in Politics: ALEC's Way

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is well organized. One of its subgroups is the EEA (Energy, Environment, and Agriculture) Task Force with the declared mission of insuring as unregulated a marketplace as possible in the Libertarian belief that regulation and big government destroy prosperity and profit. EEA members cling to this ideology in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. The EEA’s ideology has led to a long list of model legislation, none of which serves individual men and women, the greater good, or the nation. 

For example, the EEA wishes to remove the federal government’s authority over seed with a model bill titled ”Pre-emption of Local Agriculture Act." The argument in support of the bill begins with the assumption that any regulation endangers a State’s abilities to thrive and grow so this bill would allow states to regulate or not, without regard to a federal mandate or law or policy.

In addition, ALEC has crafted and adopted Chemical Policy Principles from which legislation and resolutions flow. The first of these principles declares that chemicals in consumer products pose a very low risk to human health, and the Task Force uses life expectancy and the rate of cancer as proof. Such a position is antithetical to history and experience. In 2014 alone, this blog has noted numerous incidences of harm to humans, notably harms resulting from consumer products, a few involving chemicals. Furthermore, both Europe and the United States have regulated chemicals in consumer products by limiting the quantity or banning certain chemicals, all in the name of the public welfare.

We continue to use flame retardants on furniture and clothing because Corporate America has sold legislators on its efficacy even though decades of research and a recent HBO documentary, Toxic Hot Seat, advise us not to do so. We continue to find lead paint, toxic to children, in homes across the land because paint companies added it to their paints even though its harmful effects were known as early as the 1920s. More recently, Subway announced that it will no longer add a plastic used to make yoga mats to its freshly made bread recipes because consumers protested its use, allowed by the FDA to strengthen the loaf and shelf life of grain products even though when baked, the resulting tranformation of the plastic is carcinogenic.

We know also that First Responders and New Yorkers were assured that their air was safe, but it wasn’t. Widespread disease occurred among the First Responders. West Virginia’s citizens were told their water was safe before they were told it was not.  Widespread disease is likely among West Virginia’s citizens. In fact, cancer rates are rising with the World Health Organization predicting a 70% increase in the next decades. The increase results from an aging population and living conditions, including the air we breathe, the food we ingest, the water we drink, and things we contact. Even though we have better medicines to prolong life after contracting a cancer, its cost is unacceptable for it can lead to financial ruin in the U. S., early death in other nations without aggressive medicines available, pain, and suffering.

In other words, the optimistic spin given to the use of chemicals by the EEA Task Force simply does not merit our full faith. Both history and experience inform us that chemicals may first appear to save lives, extend shelf life, increase harvests, facilitate transporting fresh produce longer distances, and so much more, but over time, we come to know the harmful side effects of progress. We learn that living may not be better with chemicals.

Still, ALEC wishes to convene a conference to advocate for restricting the federal government's reach in regulating seed, for exporting more natural gas, using hydraulic fracturing to extract rich reserves of natural gas deep within the earth, and building long stretches of pipeline. Such a conference would not be open to anyone or even televised. It would be for members, especially legislators who would carry the message to their State houses and to Congress.

Al Griffin Photography
So what, you may ask? Legislators meet with constituents, statesmen, lobbyists, experts, campaign donors, and colleagues daily. How else will government gather information to make the best decisions? How else will the public and private sectors intersect?

But the truth is that ALEC-sponsored meetings are not simple exchanges of information. ALEC meetings function as quid pro quo; in other words, one thing in exchange for another. Just as a large campaign donor might reasonably expect something in return for his investment in a candidate, including but not limited to appointments to seats of influence and power such as ambassadorships, newly created positions within the Port Authority,  and sleepovers in the White House Lincoln bedroom.

Billionaire Tom Perkins has even pronounced an updated quid pro quo: one million dollars in taxes equals one million votes. Perkins reveals that a pay to play scheme should even extend to the Constitutional privilege to vote--as if lots of folks lining up to vote are, in fact, not taxpayers.  But Perkins’ notion is not far from ALEC’s practice. Legislators are compensated for their time with industry-paid trips to investigate issues of interest to ALEC. The Keystone XL pipeline is one.

So be wary, voters. If ALEC invites your legislator to an ALEC Academy, watch for model legislation to be introduced and count on it not being in your best interest. Regulators and regulation exist for the public good, and the federal government serves all citizens, no matter where they live.